I'll bet there's treasure in there!
"I've got a hole in me pocket!"
(turns pocket inside out to show hole, then pulls huge item from Hammer Space
out of the hole)
So. There's a hole in a wall or floor filled with an impenetrable, inky blackness and the vague promise of a great reward to those who stick their hand in. Should the character go for it?
Was that a question? Of course! Treasure!
Well, that or a giant catfish
ready to bite off the whole arm and/or deliver an incredibly lethal and painful poison.
This conundrum has plagued protagonist and player alike for eons. At best, Curiosity Is a Crapshoot
which will yield a Plot Coupon
, and at worst it will kill the cast
because it's a Death Trap
. Even when there's nothing dangerous there (or there is, but the character pulls their hand out just in time) expect another threat to use Offscreen Teleportation
while they were distracted. You can also bet most villains and Temple of Doom
architects will count on the protagonist/player's greed to make them go for it.
And of course, you can expect the Jerk Ass
high on the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
to pretend to have his arm bit off to scare his companions... only to have it really
bitten off or something even worse befall him.
The "modern" version involves a garbage disposal that's "on the fritz" and the owner sticking their hand in to remove the jam. In that case, the tension comes from "will the bad guy (usually some supernatural evil) turn it on and cut up the hand?"
Can be a type of Schmuck Bait
. A more sexual-nightmare-type example incarnates as Vagina Dentata
. Compare Clutching Hand Trap
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- This figured into a series of ads for Vanilla Coca-Cola. There's a clip at Metacafe.
Anime & Manga
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, one of the portions of Seto Kaiba's sadistic "Death-T" course has a contraption with a hand-hole for each of the four characters running the course, each marked with some two-digit binary code (how Kaiba knew to use four holes when he was after Yugi specifically is anyone's guess). The contraption turns out to be a miniature guillotine ready to cut off their hands at the wrist if they don't press the button in the right hole before it drops. The proper hole is the one that Anzu puts her hand in, marked "11". The only clue is a sign marked "bllood". Yugi realizes at the last second that it's spelled wrong, and is a clue that it is made up of binary symbols (10,11,00,01). The misspelling is a clue as to the right button.
- In Macross II, Hibiki re-enacts the belowmentioned Roman Holiday scene with Ishtar (it is even implied to be the same carving, La Bocca della Verità).
- One of the first indications that Tsukasa actually has a sense of humor in .hack//SIGN is when he reaches into a one of these holes; and then pulls out just his sleeve; with his hand hidden tucked inside it. For the record, it is also a reference to Roman Holiday as Tsukasa's mother used to watch Audrey Hepburn movies.
- In a Naruto manga chapter, Naruto is told to place his head in a statue's mouth. If he's overcome the darkness in his heart, the way forward will open. If not, the statue will come to life and bite his head off. Yeah, things didn't go well for Naruto. Gotcha!note
- Hamtaro uses this in "The Reconciliation", when Oxnard appears to get his paw caught in a miniature replica of the Mouth of Truth (see "Real Life" examples below), only to find that it was actually his sunflower seed that had gotten stuck. Much groaning ensues from his fellows.
- There was a hilarious one-off story in Knights of the Dinner Table where the characters found a hole in the wall with a big ruby visible behind it. Bob's character immediately reached in to grab it, only to have his arm guillotined off by a trap. Dave reached in to retrieve Bob's arm, and lost his own arm to the trap. Then, a rat started to drag the severed arms away, and Bob's knee-jerk reaction was to reach in with his remaining arm to stab the rat, with predictable results. The last line of the comic was Brian saying to Sara, "We're going to pick their pockets while they stand there and watch."
Films — Animation
- As the page quote notes in The Beatles full-length animated feature Yellow Submarine, they find holes that you can reach in — or even jump in — that are basically hammerspace's version of a computer jump drive or Doctor Who's TARDIS, something a lot bigger inside than outside.
Films — Live-Action
- In Dune, the ritual of the gom jabbar is a test employed by the Bene Gesserit, performed by requiring the examinee to put her hand into a box that causes excruciating pain by nerve induction. A poison-coated needle is then held to the "victim's" neck with the threat of instant death should she withdraw her hand without permission. The test is whether the person can master her instinctive desire to flee the pain, thus proving her "humanity". Paul Atreides is one of the few males to be administered the test, and his passing of it is seen as a sign of his future role as the Kwisatz Haderach.
He thought he could feel skin curling black on that agonized hand, the flesh crisping and dropping away until only charred bones remained.
- There's a book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, The Cestus Deception, which is not dissimilar to the above. Obi-Wan has to prove his goodwill by reaching into a basket with something moving inside. He wonders if it's something venomous and this is a test, but although there's something alive and moving and wet inside, it doesn't hurt him. It's one of the native Force-Sensitives testing his intent.
- Played with so frequently in Goosebumps books that this line of a review sums it up best:
This event comes at the end of a chapter, so I'll let you be the judge as to whether Carlo really did get his hand bitten off or whether he I really shouldn't have to finish this sentence.
- In book 1 of 99 Fear Street, the garbage-disposal variation occurs, apparently because a ghost turned it on at the worst possible moment. In book 3, a(very fictional) movie about the haunting is filmed on site, and an actor puts his hand in a fake garbage disposal to film a scene of this—which cuts off his hand anyway, despite the lack of an actual blade. A ghost did it.
- In Joel Rosenberg's Keepers of the Hidden Ways trilogy, the heroes are required at one point to have one of their members take part in an initiation ceremony with the "Brothers of Fenris". The ceremony involves sticking one's hand in the mouth of a statue of Fenris, which will cause it to be burned off. A somewhat shell-shocked war veteran volunteers to undergo the ceremony and comes out of it stronger than before. The burning was caused by Mjolnir, and weapons of the gods could only be touched by gods without harm; mortals would be burned. But the being who had made Mjolnir admitted he had been distracted while making it, which led to it being able to be picked up by some mortals, though the reason the soldier can and others can't isn't explained in that book.
- In R.A. Lafferty's "Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes", Austro claims that in his day, neighbors would retaliate for potentially-lethal Halloween pranks by replacing their doorbells' black buttons with booby-trapped holes. He professes that he lost his fingertip trying to ring a "doorbell" that concealed a miniature guillotine.
- A variation of this concept occurs in Where the Red Fern Grows. A simple way to catch raccoons involves drilling a hole in a log just big enough for them to get their hands in, and placing a bit of butter at the bottom. Then some angled nails are installed that would prevent the raccoon from getting its fist closed around the treat from getting out. The main character only does this once, as he finds the practice needlessly cruel.
- In Jean Ray's short story "Gold Teeth", a professional graverobber cuts four-inch holes in coffin lids to reach in and remove the occupants' valuable dental work. This works fine, until someone who's figured out how he makes a living beats him to a target and installs a small wolf trap...
- In Legacies, a thug who's searching Repairman Jack's booby-trapped decoy house reaches into a safe to retrieve the money he sees inside, and gets his hand pinned by a mechanical spike. And that's just the start of his troubles.
- In Firestarter, there is a concept known as a psychic "ricochet". If someone exerts psychic influence on another too carelessly, a single concept or idea will bounce around in their mind until they are driven to act in dangerous extremes in deference to this concept. For Dr. Pynchot, the ricochet involves an incident of sexual hazing in college, so he becomes obsessed with his new "vulva-like" garbage disposal and suicides by forcing his arm inside.
- The IT Crowd: When Douglas sticks his arm in a stone face's mouth, he pulls it out seemingly missing a hand. He reveals it was just a joke only when he's already being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, making this an in-universe usage of Overly Long Gag. Although it's implied that he's so stupid that he doesn't realize it's a joke.
- One of the trials on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, under the title of "Hell-Holes". Most memorably played by Paul Burrell, whose frantic squealing at everything he touched (ants, snakes, spiders) had Ant And Dec in hysterics.
- Frasier. One of the funniest moment of the series is when Daphne asks Niles to retrieve a ring from the garbage disposal. Niles proceeds to look for it, while complaining about the ickiness. Unfortunately, Martin picks that point to use the coffee grinder; when he starts grinding beans, Niles reacts predictably at the noise, thinking the disposal was turned on.
- Heroes. It's a nice way to test your invulnerability - stick your hand in the garbage disposal - then turn it on.
- One opening scene of Malcolm in the Middle showed Francis reaching into the garbage disposal to remove a jam and not paying attention to how close he is to the on switch, until he accidentally turns on... the garbage disposal in the other sink. After breathing a sigh of relief at the close call, he goes right back to trying to remove the jam.
- Herpetologists on Animal Planet regularly deal with this trope, either while extracting reptiles in the wild from holes in the ground, or removing trespassing serpents from under the junk in somebody's garage. Often averted by using a snake-handler's hook.
- Jeff Corwin was fond of sticking his hand in dark holes and then pretending to have been bitten by something horrible.
- On his trip to the Congo, Jeremy from River Monsters had to reach bare-handed into a basket containing an unidentified eel-like creature, without knowing if it was aggressive or not. In this case, the uncertainty came from the language barrier between him and the man who'd trapped it, not an inability to see the fish was there.
- Done with a booby-trapped vending machine in the miniseries of The Tommyknockers.
- In the Supernatural episode "Home", a repairman suffers the full-on gruesome consequences of reaching into a garbage disposal in the Winchesters' childhood house.
- In Star Trek: Voyager ("Sacred Ground"), Captain Janeway has to stick her hand into a basket with a nesset — some creature that makes hissing noises — as part of an alien Vision Quest. It bites her.
- Total Blackout often require contestants to reach into tanks or cages without knowing if what's inside is alive and/or dangerous.
- This is one of the standard challenges on the British kids game show Trapped!.
- On Lost Girl episode "Vexed," vampire Siegfried is hypnotized into sticking his own hand in the garbage disposal and turning it on, as punishment for selling secrets.
- In the pilot of Smallville Clark, who doesn't know he's an alien, demonstrates his invulnerability to his father by sticking his arm in a running wood chipper.
- In the Castle episode "Get a Clue", Castle and Beckett follows the clues to a church and a mural with a hole inside the mouth of a figure. Castle slip his hand in the hole to find the mechanism of a secret passage. Of course, he can't resist yelping to scare off Beckett.
Myths & Religion
- In Norse Mythology, Tyr puts his hand in Fenrisulfr's mouth to prove that the Norse Gods are sincere about their promise to let the Wolf go if they manage to hold him in their bondage games. They weren't, which is why Tyr is depicted with only one hand.It differs in that Tyr knew exactly what was going to happen to him and so it can be considered a Heroic Sacrifice; Tyr not only had strong feelings in the matter (having raised Fenris from a pup), but also the fact that as the God of War, his hand is pretty important to him.
- Dungeons & Dragons adventures:
- "The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan". A bat statue's mouth (which will bite down and drain blood) and a stone head (which will bite down if the PCs try to grab a ring in its mouth).
- "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth". A stone head, which will bite down if the PCs try to grab a gem in its mouth.
- The Tomb of Horrors module has this as one of its more infamous Death Traps. The hole in question contained a sphere of annihilation (which annihilates anything it touches), and stories abound of hands or even heads being lost to the hole when they were stuck in; in the original first edition, the sphere only destroyed what touched it. Stick in a hand, pull back a stump. The Baldur's Gate reference below may be a Shout-Out to it.
- The book Fiendish Folio II has a bas-relief of former Devil Prince Geryon, which is missing its head and hand. Sticking one's hand into the hand-hole gets it cut off, but a new one grows in its place that has supernatural powers. Sticking one's head in the head-hole is instant death. Probably a reference to the infamous Head of Vecna incident. The reference is supported by the relief's Knowledge listings; the second-highest result informs the adventurer that placing your hand in Geryon's hand replaces the hand with a powerful one, "and rumor has it that even greater powers await those who offer their heads to Geryon". The highest? "None who have offered their heads to Geryon have ever gotten them back."
- Call of Cthulhu, adventure "The Underground Menace". A farmhouse has a hole in the wall: if a character reaches into it to grab the book inside, he's bitten by black widow spiders and could die. Multiple black widow spider bites might be lethal even to a healthy adult.
- The Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster at Universal Studios in Orlando has a conspicuous hole in one part of the queue line with an image of the key to the Book of the Dead inside. Reaching a hand inside causes a puff of air to blast your hand and makes the lights flicker and dim.
- From a YouTube video, The Black Hole.
- The web novella Teds Caving Page revolves around the title character, an amateur spelunker, discovering a fist-sized hole in a cave and endeavoring not just to stick his hand in, but to open it up and crawl through to find out what's on the other side. Cosmic Horror Story ensues.
- SCP Foundation:
- SCP-645 references the Bocca della Verita sculpture mentioned below. Then takes it to its logical conclusion of sorts.
- SCP-688 can easily produce this.
- A little rhyme once heard at an aquarium, regarding certain eels: "Stick your hand in a crack and you don't get it back, that's a moray."
- A number of kids games, like "what's this slimy object?" Also "Lucky dip"
- A coin-operated fortune-telling machine exists that challenges people to stick their hands into the mouth of a carved stone face to have their fortunes told. That stone head is "La bocca della verità◊" (the Mouth of Truth), a stone face made in ancient Rome that originally was probably a waste disposal. Many legends from medieval times tell that if you insert your hand into the face's mouth and tell a lie it will eat your hand whole (even if some people managed to trick it through Logic Bombs), and even nowadays it's a major tourist attraction. (Incidentally, it's the one used in the Roman Holiday example above.)
- The practice of "Noodling," a sort of redneck extreme sport that involves catching catfish by hand. It's done at a time of year when the big she-cats dwell in holes at the bottom of lakes. You swim down to the bottom until you see a likely looking hole, then reach in and try to taunt the catfish into biting down on your arm, so you can drag it out and wrestle it to the surface. (A catfish you catch by noodling is likely to weigh upwards of sixty pounds and have jaws nearly a foot wide.) This is particularly insane for two reasons: first, that the hole could very well contain a nest of poisonous snakes, or a large snapping turtle that could de-finger you with one bite; and second, even though catfish don't have sharp teeth, they have VERY strong jaws. There is an account of a noodling expedition where one fellow caught an ENORMOUS catfish... and had to have it removed from his arm with a car jack, losing a good deal of skin in the process.
- In an episode of Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls demonstrates this procedure, although he doesn't dive all the way underwater to do it.
- This was also featured on an episode of Wreckreation Nation. There they made it clear that noodling is a catch-and-release activity, so after going through that insanity you don't even get dinner to bring home.
- And, of course, Dirty Jobs did it. It was apparently not catch-and-release there, and Mike did get a nice dinner out of the deal.
- Also done in Survivorman. Les quits after a few minutes when he decides it's a pretty stupid thing to do.
- Hillbilly Handfishing is a reality show competition built entirely around doing this.
- Not exactly noodling, but the principle's the same.
- Try this in Australia and you will either get your hand crushed into a bloody pulp by a wombat, or be bitten by a spider with half-inch long fangs. This is because the Land Down Under is an Everything Trying to Kill You level.
- This is one way to catch a monkey. Put something that the monkey wants, like a piece of fruit, into a hole in a tree where the hole is just the size of the monkey's hand. The monkey reaches in and grabs it but then it's fist is too big to pull out of the hole. Then you run up and grab the monkey before the monkey realizes that it has to let go in order to run away.
- This also works on Racoons, and any other animal with vaguely thumb-like appendages and a love for food or shiny things.
- Also, a climbing technique called "hand jamming" involves sticking your fist into a small hole, and clenching it, much like the monkey, but specifically so that it can't be pulled out. Done right, it can save you a lot of energy that would otherwise be expended in holding yourself against the wall. Done badly, it could rip most of the skin off your hand.
- In the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum there is a hole that says Don't stick your hand in here or something like that.
- Censored for those who don't like discussing sexual things: Glory Holes. For men to stick their penises in, and "hopefully" receive some sort of "sexual gratification".