Murder Is the Best Solution
; sadly, it's not always practical or possible to simply shoot the target
. Either because they want to avoid being incriminated in the murder or have no corporeal body, the murderer will use a Fright Deathtrap to figuratively and literally scare someone to death. The Fright Deathtrap consists of scaring someone at just the right moment so they end up dead in circumstances that Occam's Razor will imply was an accident rather than foul play or the supernatural.
This usually requires a bit of set up, though; the murderer has to know the victim's routine
, surroundings, and/or reactions
well enough to manipulate them into a nearby danger, often one they have to identify or place themselves. For the sake of The Perfect Crime
, it should be something that was always there, but a harmless gift (or abandoned object) serves just as well if it's in a place that can help kill the victim.
A few common variants:
- Deadly Fall: Scaring a person at the top of a staircase so they fall and break their neck.
- Run to your doom: Scaring a person into fleeing into a deadly trap, oncoming traffic, or another enemy. Often, they'd have lived if they simply stayed put or moved slowly.
- Deer caught in headlights: Scaring a person motionless so that they ignore or fail to dodge or escape an approaching danger or falling object.
- Scared Stiff: The victim is in such poor health, either mentally or physically, that the shock of a good scare itself may be enough to push a near-fatal condition over the edge.
This isn't anywhere near foolproof, of course, and runs the risk that failing to scare the victim into a Fright Deathtrap puts the thwarted murderer out in the open. If he could die a second time
, a ghost might die of shame at being as ineffective as a Peek-a-Bogeyman
. The would-be victim now knows someone (or thing) is out to get them. ...Unless the would-be murderer used a spring loaded cat as the scare.
Then again, maybe the murderer was going for a long-term frightfest...
Anime and Manga
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, during the last part of an arc, Mion is hiding under Keiichi's hospital bed, waiting for a chance to attack him when he's alone. But, much as it is a surprise to say, first, the REAL murderer was Shion, and second, in the first of the answer arcs, it's revealed that it was actually a hallucination that caused him to see the same thing over and over again until he finally died of a heart attack.
- Mixed with Elevator Failure in the first Tokyo Babylon OAV. The Born Lucky Shinji Nagumo tampers with a lift at his workplace to make it plummet several stores down and stop at the VERY last moment. As a result, Nagumo gets a broken arm... and his boss dies of a heart attack, putting him in the direct succession for his seat.
- A standard tactic for the Scarecrow in the Batman comics.
- Used in Ramba when she is hired to kill a mob boss and make it look like natural causes. She breaks into his doctor's office and learns that he has a weak heart. She then breaks into his bedroom and throws a knife at him. The knife is tied to a string around her wrist and stops short of his chest, but the fright triggers a fatal heart attack.
- In the Golden Age, heroes occasionally did this, although usually unintentionally. The original Green Lantern (Alan Scott) terrified a villain into confessing that he had masterminded blowing up the bridge that Scott had designed, killing everyone on board the test train except Scott - and then the villain drops dead of a heart attack.
- In the Batman mini-series The Legend Of The Batman, it's revealed he's accidentally done this twice. The first time is when he confronts Joe Chill, revealing his identity to him. In a panic, he runs and confronts his cohorts, who shoot him when they realized he's the reason Batman exists. The second time is when Batman decides to confront the mobster who ordered Joe to murder the Waynes. Having no other costume except his father's halloween costume, he wears that to confront the mobster and, his memory being jogged by it, the mobster runs right into a semi thinking that the ghost of Thomas Wayne had arrived.
- In Ghost, Sam's very limited ability to interact with the physical world means that his primary means of fighting both of the film's villains is based in poltergeist scares. Both villains of the film meet their karmic ends this way, one by running into oncoming traffic and the other when his own panicked actions break the window he's trying to climb out of into deadly shards of glass - although judging by Sam's reactions, neither death was what he'd intended to accomplish with his hauntings.
- The Run to your doom variety is used frequently in Young Sherlock Holmes, as several elder gentlemen who pissed off the wrong Egyptian cult as younger men are drugged with blow-darts, causing them to see terrifying hallucinations and run into traffic, leap out 3rd story windows, etc.
- In the film and play Deathtrap, wife Myra Bruhl is literally frightened to death after witnessing a staged murder victim return from their grave. She collapses from a fatal heart attack, and the conspirators shake hands over the body.
- The last variety occurs in Les Diaboliques.
- In The Tingler, the theater owner's mute wife is frightened to death while alone in their apartment - hints suggest it may have been the work of coroner Vincent Price who may have 'medicated' her with LSD to get a 'scared to death' subject for his work but it turned out to be the work of her husband, caught red-handed with the spook show props that killed her.
- Benoit in Man Bites Dog is a Serial Killer who often kills old people to rob them. At one point in the movie, he notices that his intended victim has a heart condition, so to save a bullet he pretends to be interviewing her for TV and suddenly shoves his gun to her face and screams at the top of his lungs that she's going to die. She drops dead on the spot.
- In a definite Crowning Moment of Awesome, a young Lord Vetinari does this to Lord Winder in Night Watch. The Properly Paranoid Winder is expecting to be poisoned or otherwise assassinated, and his nerves are so on edge that the sight of an Assassin walking calmly towards him while everyone else at the party does nothing is enough to cause him to die of fright.
- How Sir Charles Baskerville was killed in The Hound of the Baskervilles (by the scared stiff variant).
- Though an accidental victim, Seldon was killed by the deadly fall variant.
- Agatha Christie does this a few times, though she's just as likely to subvert it:
- In "The Blue Geranium", a woman is told by a fortune teller, "Beware the full moon. The blue primrose means warning, the blue hollyhock means danger, the blue geranium means death." At the next full moon, one of the primroses on her wallpaper turns blue, and at the full moon after that, one of the hollyhocks turns blue. The woman dies of a heart attack on the night of the third full moon, with the implication being that she was frightened to death by the threat. She was actually poisoned by her nurse, who switched her bottle of smelling salts with cyanide crystals. The nurse set up the whole blue flowers motif as camouflage.
- In "The Case of the Caretaker," a woman dies when her horse is frightened by the aforementioned caretaker, causing the animal to rear and the woman to fall off. Here again, the horse hadn't been frightened but rather had been shot by a BB gun. And the woman died from poison rather than from the fall.
- John Dickson Carr's locked room mysteries, which might be called "howdunnits", included a couple like this, where the mystery was largely just how the victims had been scared to their deaths.
- In The Case of the Constant Suicides, everyone who stayed in a certain room in a castle for a night would wind up falling down to their deaths from the dangerous balcony, as if something scared them into attempting to escape. There was nothing special in the room aside from a box with a cage door such as might be used to carry a small animal that had been brought in recently and left under the bed — but which people had looked into and found it to be empty. Actually it wasn't empty, but contained something nearly invisible — carbon dioxide ice, which would start to vaporize as the temperature got lower at night, leaving the occupant of the room unable to breath and cause them to panic for some air.
- In He Who Whispers, just after it has been suggested that one of the characters is a vampire and was able to commit a previous impossible murder by flying, a shot is heard, and one character is found in her bed scared so badly she has nearly died (and is incapable of explaining what has happened, of course). She's holding a gun and appears to have shot at something ouside the window, which is, of course, so far above the ground and inaccessible that only something flying could have been behind it. The would-be-murderer — who would have succeeded if he had had the right, much more sensitive target instead of the wrong person in the dark — had in fact been in the room with the victim, pressed a gun to her head in the dark, and whispered to her a long time about how he was going to shoot her — then fired the other gun he had towards the window, expecting her to die of shock when she thought she was being shot, but with it looking like she fired the gun herself.
- In Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz, the Proctors took advantage of their rich uncle's ailurophobia and heart disease and bought a ton of cats under a false ad. They set the kitties loose in his room during the night, and a fatal heart attack ensued. The cats were drowned afterwards, and only one escaped. Fortunately, the owners of the cat that escaped had befriended a traveling salesman, who got really suspicious.
- Night Gallery episode "The Ghost Of Sorworth Place". A ghost appears near the top of a flight of stairs. A man pursuing the ghost tries to grab it but falls through it and down the flight of stairs, breaking his neck.
- Attempted in one episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) by a ghost villain, who appeared in the middle of the road while his target was driving. But his target knew he was a ghost and just drove straight through him.
- The Scared Stiff variant is attempted in an episode of Monk, where someone wants to keep the Worlds Oldest Man from reaching his next birthday.
- The Sacred Stiff version is used the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse", with a fatal fright being delivered to a man with a weak heart.
- The 'Run to Your Doom' version is used in the opening of the Grimm episode "Sweethearts". The Victim of the Week is suffering terrifying hallucinations that cause her to run onto a bridge and into the path of car. She might have survived, but the monster shows up to finish her off.
- In "The Killer" - the first episode of the 80s revival of Mission: Impossible - Drake does this to Tom Copperfield; shooting him with a hallucinogenic drug that causes him to think that he is on fire. In panic, he throws himself off the balcony of the penthouse.
- MacGyver: "Deadly Silents" used the 'Scared Stiff' version. The villains set up several stunts (a suitcase full of snakes, leaving him Chained to a Railway, etc.) to attempt to trigger a fatal heart attack in an elderly silent movie star.
- Whodunnit? (UK): In "Future Imperfect", the Victim of the Week is murdered when the travel tape he was supposed to experiencing is swapped for a tape of a tiger attacking, triggering a heart attack.
- The 1979 TV-Movie Murder by Natural Causes concerns a woman and her lover planning to scare to death her mentalist husband (Hal Holbrook).
- One episode of the Poirot TV series features a Gold Digger who attempts to make use of her husband's heart condition to scare him to death with a ghost story. When he proves sturdier than she thought, she shoots him and uses the ghost story to make it look as though she is being deliberately frightened by someone else.
- The Shadow adores this trope. He uses his powers to cause hallucinations that make the villains kill themselves or their partners, or just freaks them out so badly that they're driven to do something suicidally stupid.
- In "The Three Ghosts" the villain is trying to do this to his wife, and apparently did it to his last one.
- In Ironclaw necromancers can push a Dying character over the edge with a Scare stunt. It's also one of the potential random effects that can result from casting black magic.
- In Illbleed, many of the traps are meant to scare the target instead of physically injuring them. Your character will die of shock if their heart rate gets too high.
- In World of Warcraft, Fear is one of the Standard Status Effects that does no damage by itself, but a few dungeon bosses count as this trope: they fear the Player Characters, making them run around at random, so that they risk running into a group of unengaged mobs and aggroing them. Onyxia is the most notorious for this.
- The Elysian Box in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box seems to function this way. Rumors surrounding the box say that it kills all who dare open it, and the game begins with the death of Layton's old mentor while investigating the rumors it turns out that the box's "power" actually comes from the victim being exposed to a type of fume that causes the inhaler to be highly susceptible to suggestion to the point of perceiving whatever he thinks might be in the room as actually being there. Schrader actually recovers from his death at the end, but it's speculated that he may have been one of the lucky ones who wasn't say, chased out of a tenth story window by the imaginary thirty foot python lurking in the box, much like the Young Sherlock Holmes example.
- The 1999's Disney short "How to Haunt a House," from House of Mouse: at the beginning, we hear Goofy getting hit by a car so that he can be a ghost and demonstrate how to haunt a house, with Donald Duck as the hauntee. After many amusing attempts that end in failure, he finally succeeds in scaring Donald, who runs out the door, is also hit by a car, and comes back inside as a rather angry ghost.
- The Futurama episode "Ghost in the Machines" has Bender (as a disembodied software ghost) attempt this on Fry as part of a deal with the Robot Devil.
- In Justice League, "Only a Dream", Dr. Destiny's powers work on the same principle as the "Scared Stiff" variant — with the exception that you don't have to be in poor health for it to work.