There are many ways to kill off a character, but ever since Thomas Edison
invented the electric chair, creators have learned that a particularly flashy way to do it has been to run a high voltage current through them. The circumstances may vary, the character may take a nasty fall into some high voltage equipment, grab an electric fence, or wires, or their death may be something more mundane like dropping a toaster into the tub
. The fact is a lot of characters get a nasty shock, and they die, and there's a million ways to do that.
There are a couple of different reasons a character might die by electrocution. The main reason is it's a very “clean” way for creators to kill a character off without having to resort to Bloodless Carnage
or Symbolic Blood
. Thus a High Voltage Death is often used when creators want to get around the censors
in a more realistic way; especially in kids shows. The other reason is it's also very easy to make a High Voltage Death look like an accident
, which makes for a great Karmic Death
. One reason to accidentally die by electrocution is for it be an Accidental Murder
where the "killer" only intended to rough them up a bit, but one thing leads to another, and the "victim" ends up turning on the power and unintentionally killing themselves. Or the electrified character ends up being oblivious to the fact
that electricity was running through the thing that ends up killing them. Despite all this dying by electrocution can often be a more painful, and horrifying way to die than other kinds of deaths, so it ends up being affected by Values Dissonance
Strangely it's pretty rare for a High Voltage Death to be caused by Elemental Powers
, since there are so many other ways to die by electricity. Killing someone intentionally with Electric Elemental Powers
is usually a privilege reserved for the most evil of villains, because of how horrifying it looks, and how painful killing someone with high voltage can be. You could say it's a twist saved for when you really want to shock
This is a death trope so spoilers will be unmarked
The polar opposite to Harmless Electrocution
. Related to Accidental Murder
, Bolt of Divine Retribution
, Karmic Death
, and Make It Look Like an Accident
. Electrified Bathtub
is a subtrope. In more comical instances can lead to X-Ray Sparks
. For cases where electricity is not
harmless, but doesn't cause death either, see Electric Torture
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- The Bad Seed: In the original book, and play versions, the story's Enfant Terrible Rhoda, survives an attempted murder by her mother and it's implied Rhoda goes on to killing her next victim. In the film version due to Hay's code being in effect at the time, and Executive Meddling they couldn't allow a criminal to get away with their crimes, so they tacked on a scene at the end where Rhoda is killed by a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
- Batman Returns: Max Shreck dies this way, courtesy of Catwoman overloading the power generator at Penguin's Arctic World, and frying him with one of the wires while giving him one hell of a Kiss of Death.
- In the movie Dick Tracy's Dilemma, the villain, The Claw, dies when his Hook Hand snags on some high voltage wires while he is trying to kill Tracy.
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch has Billy killing off the Gremlin hoard by getting them wet (normally a bad idea) but then unleashing the gremlin that had Shock and Awe Elemental Powers on them. ...it's not clear what happened to the electric Gremlin. Maybe being grounded absorbed him into the ground?
- Double Subverted in Hellboy when the title character is battling Sammael the first time. Hellboy grabs the third rail of a subway. He just gets a little jolted, but Sammael gets barbecued. Hellboy then lights a cigar off a flaming bit of Sammael stuck to his stone hand.
- James Bond
- Goldfinger. Bond kills The Dragon Oddjob by applying a live electrical cable to some steel bars as Oddjob is retrieving his metal-lined hat from the bars. Watch it here.
- Thunderball: In the first scene after the opening credits, Ernst Stavro Blofeld electrocutes one of the members of SPECTRE's ruling council in his chair, in the middle of a meeting, for embezzling from their drug-dealing operation in the United States.
- Last Action Hero. Jack Slater dispatches the Ripper using this method; While on a rainy rooftop The Ripper throws an axe at him, Jack takes the axe and uses it to chop open a nearby powerbox. He climbs onto the side of the building and pushes the cut power lines into the puddles Ripper is standing in, electrocuting Ripper to death.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes has Landon, the son of the owner of the ape sanctuary. After Caesar has enough of his abuse and speaks, he turns the kid's hose on him, and since Landon is still holding his activated cattle prod...well, guess. Combined with a bit of Hoist by His Own Petard, it seems.
- Star Wars: Quite a few Sith lords have used Force Lightning to kill their opponents or have had similar attempts made on their life. It's such a common technique among the dark side that it's controversial in the Star Wars universe for someone working on the light side of the force to use it.
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: The movie's mastermind chooses to commit suicide rather than be captured by the police, because if convicted he was likely to face life in prison, and he preferred dying to that. He fries himself by stepping on the live third rail in the subway.
- Manon in The Alligator People dies when he is caught in wiring attached to the radioactivity dispersing equipment, which electrocutes him.
- James Bond
- Bond manages to kill several bad guys in Death Is Forever by turning back on the electricity of a railtrack while they are all standing on it. The resulting stench from their crispy bodies makes him sick and and he starts vomiting.
- As Bond and the evil special effects man Fripp fight on the catwalks in the Cannes Film Festival in Never Dream of Dying, they topple over and end up dangling from wires. Fripp grabs a broken one, and is electrocuted to death.
- All of the victims in the Simon Ark short story "The Avenger from Outer Space" are electrocuted, with the killer attempting to make it appear they were struck by lightning.
Live Action TV
- In The Adventures of Superman episode "Double Trouble", the villains of the week sequester Jimmy in a room which can become electrified if they throw a switch. They try it, but Superman is too fast for them.
- Attempted but averted in an episode of The Incredible Hulk, where a KISS-like heavy metal singer (played by Mackenzie Phillips) plans to do this and make it look like an accident during a concert in order to teach her fans a lesson about...something or other. But when she sees David Hulk Out and the fans are still screaming for more, she realizes that her death will make no difference to them.
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In the episode "The Ripper", Kolchak manages to destroy the spirit of Jack the Ripper by electrocuting him.
- 1000 Ways to Die had this happen multiple times, including to a man who zapped his penis off peeing on an electric fence.
- Played for comedy of all things on Supernatural, where in one episode Dean dies multiple deaths while Sam is trapped in a Ground Hog Day Loop. One of the ways he dies is by plugging a electric shaver into a faulty outlet. And yes we do see X-Ray Sparks.
- Happened to at least two villains in Adam Adamant Lives: Melville in "Sing a Song of Danger" is killed when he spears a high voltage cable with his sword cane, and Dr. Mort collides with a generator while attempting to wrestle Adam in "The Doomsday Plan".
- Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Asylum". Doctor Freygan's laboratory has a tub into which victims are placed in order to turn them into proto-shoggoths. If a living person is in the tub when the apparatus is activated, electrical bolts slam into their body and instantly (and horribly) kill them by electrocution.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Over the years many characters have been killed by the various electricity-related spells such as Shocking Grasp, Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning and others.
- 1st Edition module S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. In Level II (Service Deck 5) there are areas that contain electrical equipment such as generators and transformers. If a PC decides to touch these devices with metal objects (e.g. weapons), there's a 10% chance that the character will be electrocuted and killed.
- Ace Attorney: Phoenix is accused of killing Doug Swallow this way by pushing him onto live wires. It's not true though.
- In the BioShock series, any enemies hit by electricity in water are instantly killed.
- Occurs in the Borderlands games when you kill an enemy with a weapon that deals electrical damage. In the first game, doing so to most human enemies would result in the flesh being fried off of their skull, which would then shatter after their lifeless body falls to the ground.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has electrified water as an occasional hazard. It does gradual damage but it can still kill you if you're not paying attention. Although you can get an augmentation that renders you immune.
- Evil Genius allows you to build traps to electrocute heroes infiltrating your lair.
- inFAMOUS: courtesy of Cole's electric powers every enemy suffers this (as does Cole if you fall into water)
- Jumper games feature very common electric currents which are an instant death for Ogmo (like anything else) if he comes into contact with their yellow sections.
- In LittleBigPlanet, if Sackboy touches an electrified material, his seams burst and he has to restart from the previous checkpoint.
- Metroid: Fusion has electrified water as a hazard that damages you over time in the third zone you visit, where you get the Speed Boost. The player can accidentally kill themselves falling into it if they have low health.
- This is the "easy" way to defeat Draygon in Super Metroid, Samus touches current while Draygon is touching her; and then gain Victory By Endurance while both are electrified.
- This trope is used to justify Chell's Super Drowning Skills in the Portal series; falling into water causes the portal gun to short out and (presumably) give her a fatal dose of electricity.
- The Punisher: In the Rykers Island level Frank comes across a inmate strapped into an electric chair. After interrogating him the player can then choose whether or not to fry him.
- Resident Evil 3: Nemesis after collecting an item from the power station needed to advance in the game, The player will then see a cutscene of a group of zombies trying to break in via the front gate.The player is then given two options, either escape through the back door or redirect power to the gate electrocuting the zombies and killing them.
- Silent Hill 4: Walter kills Richard Braintree by strapping him to an electric chair.
- This is one way your sims can die in The Sims, by trying to repair electrical appliances with poor mechanical/handiness skills, or (in the Seasons expansions for the second two games) being struck by lightning. Comes complete with X-Ray Sparks.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:One of the most notoriously annoying levels in the game is an underwater level where you have to swim through obstacles that can zap the turtles with electricity if you don't time your movements right. There are many of them, they're hard to avoid, and they will kill you over time if you're not extremely careful with timing your movements.
- When final blow is dealt on the final boss of Final Fight 3, it sends him flying to the fuse box nearby which doesn't just electrocute him, it somehow destroys the entire skyscraper where the fight takes place.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender subverts this. Azula uses lightning bending and strikes Aang in the back as he is entering into the Avatar state, threatening to end the avatar cycle for good. It at least looks like he died until Katara revives him with water from the Spirit Oasis, subverting a permanent version of this.
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker: After The Joker kidnaps Tim Drake (Robin), and brainwashes him into being insane like himself. The Joker tries to get Tim to to kill the Batman and prove Tim is like him. In the censored version of the scene Tim pushes The Joker into a glass container full of water, breaking it, which causes him to get tangled in electrical wires attached to the container. The Joker slips on the water and accidentally pulls an electrical switch, and the wires electrocute him to death.
- In the Happy Tree Friends episode "In A Jam", Russel is electrocuted and reduced to ashes by a shorted amplifier at the beginning. Notable for being one of the most cartoony and least gory deaths in the series.
- The Legend of Korra: The waterbending Red Lotus Ming-Hua fights using water tendrils that are connected to her body. However, this gives her a crippling weakness to electricity, because Mako's lightning traveled up her make-shift water limbs and electrocuted her to death immediately.
- Metalocalypse: One of Dethklok's songs, "Bloodrocuted" is about an electrician who uses a pool of his own blood and an electrical outlet to fry some mercenaries who are after him.
- In Oliver & Company Sykes' dobermans are knocked off a speeding car onto some subway tracks. One of them, named Roscoe, dies of electrocution when he falls onto an electrified subway rail. This is also a blatant case of Getting Crap Past the Radar since Roscoe's death is pretty graphic and painful. While another dog who is killed is only heard not shown, and Sykes, who dies by being crushed by a train, is only barely shown.
- The Simpsons: At the end of the episode “Homer's Enemy” Frank Grimes outraged at how Homer is constantly rewarded for his stupidity, goes insane, and starts mockingly mimicking risky things Homer would do and saying he's “Homer Simpson”. While doing this he grabs a high voltage cable without safety gloves in Homer's office and unintentionally electrocutes himself to death, ironically committing suicide.
- Titan A.E.: This Don Bluth movie has a Heroic Sacrifice variant. Captain Korso repays Cale Tucker for saving his life by making a Heroic Sacrifice, using himself as a shunt in a huge circuit breaker so that Cale can power up the Titan spacecraft. He is seen momentarily roaring in pain from the massive current flowing between the contact points.
- Thomas Edison invented the electric chair when he was asked to come up with a new humane execution method to replace executions by hanging. As Edison battled with Nikola Tesla, he insisted that the first execution by electric chair be carried out with the Alternating Current Tesla promoted to show people how lethal Alternating Current was. The first attempt failed however when the electrocution caused the convict to become unconscious but failed to stop his heart and breathing, and his blood vessels underneath ruptured and bled causing unnecessary suffering. They had to charge electricity and try again making the whole execution take 8 minutes to kill the convict. The public seeing this instead associated ALL electricity as being bad and lethal to people, not just Alternating Current. This set back electricity's reputation for awhile.