Moriarty: That's what you get Mr. Holmes, when industry marries arms.
: My horror at your crimes is matched only by my admiration at the skill it took to achieve them.
When the bad guys aren't satisfied with killing one or two people at a time, and couldn't care less about appearances, they may hit upon the "creative" solution of applying industrial efficiency to their vile practices. Rather than spend time crafting personalized tortures for their victims, they will automate their evildoing to an efficient and loveless routine that is all the more creepy for its impersonal detachment.
Why should vampires spend hours hunting a juicy bloodbag
when they can just breed and slowly exsanguinate people in People Farms
? Or for that matter, the repressive police state
may just build an all purpose Agony Beam
rather than bother with psych evaluations to put political prisoners in tailor made torture chambers.
A werewolf may decide that rather than wait for college students to wander into his forest to hunt, he could just kidnap people off the street and release them for sport.
As with Real Life
automation, one of the "benefits" of this approach is a potentially vast scale of application. While even the single murder of an undeveloped Innocent Bystander
can be tragic thanks to the Rule of Empathy
, mechanizing/serializing it and putting it on a national or even global level gives a sense of extra dehumanization and elevates the horror to near incomprehensible levels. And it's precisely because A Million Is a Statistic
that using this trope can be risky; the flippant treatment of human life and lack of "anchoring" individuals can alienate audiences. It's not even a case of Show, Don't Tell
, unless the threat or horror is represented as tangibly real it can't be conveyed even by dialog.
Add Horror Hunger
, Powered by a Forsaken Child
, Human Resources
, or And I Must Scream
with this trope for extra (evil) fuel economy. Since the execution of this idea requires order and discipline, the perpetrators will usually be Lawful Evil
unless they are an uncharacteristically well organized Neutral
or Chaotic Evil
, or they represent Blue and Orange Morality
. Less vile examples may be Obliviously Evil
or an example of Humans Are Cthulhu
. Compare Ludd Was Right
, where technology and science are considered bad
in and of themselves.
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Anime and Manga
Films — Animation
- In Ferngully The Last Rainforest, the forest is threatened by a gigantic automated logging machine capable of converting acres of pristine wilderness into barren wasteland and piles of wood. The human operators are Obliviously Evil, but the Big Bad turns out to be a Card-Carrying Villain.
- In Meet the Robinsons Doris the hat has turned the future into one giant Matrixesque factory creating bowler hats, with everyone enslaved by bowler hats like it.
- Played for laughs (somewhat) with Lord Business' "Think Tank" in The Lego Movie. It's a giant structure where the LEGO world's Master Builders are plugged into a Hive Mind matrix to think up new instructions.
Films — Live-Action
- In Disney's The Black Hole, the humanoid robots are actually the mass-lobotomized crew of the Cygnus. Dr. McCrae finds herself on an assembly line, where she is about to be turned into one.
- In Daybreakers, a Vampire Apocalypse has forced humans to near extinction, and the remaining people are plugged in as living plasma batteries in farms◊.
- Blade: Trinity: the vampires' 'final solution', see Daybreakers above.
- The Machines in The Matrix famously turned humans into batteries (physics notwithstanding, due to Executives thinking viewers wouldn't understand Wetware CPU).
- And keep in mind that this was the machines being merciful to the humans who had treated them like crap.
- In The Chronicles of Riddick, the evil Necromongers have a highly automated process to convert the inhabitants of conquered planets.
- Metropolis is probably the Ur Example of this trope.
- The Cabin in the Woods: The organization needs to ensure that, every year, a group of at least five young people accidentally induce their own destruction as part of a ritual sacrifice. Bad things will happen if the sacrifice is not made. Solution? Stick five teens in the woods and hope for the best? No. A cabin rigged with pheromone sprays, intelligence-reducing drugs and other special effects to enforce Genre Blindness when the basement full of artifacts of doom is finally discovered? Still not enough. Instead, the organization has dozens of horror projects across the world, killing multiple victims every year (including children in some cases), for possibly thousands of years to ensure they get the sacrifices they need. If in doubt, repeat, repeat, repeat.
- The focus of the Cube film series is on a network of giant, mechanical Cubical mazes built up of thousands of smaller cubes, some of which are boobytrapped. It's inferred that they're some way of testing human behavior under stressful conditions, punishing dissidents of the regime and/or testing chemicals and other weapons, with one captive deciding that they have no purpose but were simply the product of a senseless, secretive bureaucracy gone mad.
- In the Discworld book Eric, the new lord of hell tried this approach — since people get used to pain, he established a lot of rules that changed hell into a tedious, bureaucratic horror. Even the demons were horrified and quickly arranged to have him Kicked Upstairs.
- Similarly, the Magpyr family in Carpe Jugulum. They turned their predation upon the local townsfolk into a mechanical process in which everyone, including children, were drained slightly, transforming the fear of them from an occasional thrill to a daily banality of horror. When given the chance, the people turned against them very quickly.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Mordor and especially the post-Face-Heel Turn Isengard are depicted in an early industrialization stage. This is an oft-repeated trope in J. R. R. Tolkien's work because Tolkien had an intense dislike of industralization.
- In Cloud Atlas, the Archivist uses this trope's very words to refer to Sonmi-451's description of fabricants being slaughtered and recycled.
- The Big Bad of The Gates of Sleep has a very ingenious way of sacrificing souls to Satan: she hires impoverished girls to work in an Edwardian paint shop that doubles as a brothel. The girls' souls are corrupted by degrading sex work while they waste away from lead poisoning.
- The Babylon 5 Technomage novels described this as being the ultimate source of Shadow vessels and Technomages.
- In The Time Machine, by the year 802,701, the machinery and industry operators have become Morlocks, beast-like creatures who live in darkness underground and surface only at night to feed on the helpless Eloi. This is evoked as social commentary on the brutalization of the Victorian working-class.
- In the setting of Pact, magical power is gained primarily by making deals with various supernatural creatures, or Others. The type of currency varies with the Other, but a lot of the more unpleasant ones enjoy human suffering of some stripe. Johannes Lillegard, a lone practitioner already possessed of impressive power, took this rule and applied some basic economic theory to it by creating a vestige, a copy of a large section of a mid-sized town, where the population could be tormented until death and then restored, and then marketing it to Others as a sort of amusement park, where they can hurt people all the time without concern for The Masquerade.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "A Taste of Armageddon", the Enterprise discovers two planets are involved in a bizarre war in which computers simulate the conflict, and civilians deemed "killed" in the simulation are required to report to disintegration chambers. The people willingly go to their deaths, believing that in doing so, they are preventing an actual war from breaking out.
- The process of assimilation employed by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Wish" shows how The Master might have adapted to modern times by "evolving" vampire practices, replacing hunting humans with a literal abattoir.
- Exalted has The Guild, which engages in a variation of this, transporting thousands of slaves to the homes of The Fair Folk at the edge of the world (where their souls are consumed) for profit. They even get to take the Empty Shells off their hands and put them to simple hard labour.
- The Vampire Kingdom of Muluc generates blood for its vampire population through a "blood pool." Humanoids are drained of most of their blood each day, and then they're magically healed to restore their blood supply, to be drained again the next day. Horrifyingly, an inmate at the blood pool can live on for several years before finally giving up the ghost.
- The Vampire Kingdom of Mexico is a subversion. Every humanoid is required to donate a pint of blood every three weeks, but the process is routine and painless, Mexico's leader is practically a poster child for Pragmatic Villainy, and Mexico is one of the safest places to be a human in Rifts Earth.
- Given the scale of Warhammer 40,000, this crops up a lot. Most notable are a number of Chaos factions: the Word Bearers enthusiastically work entire planetary populations to death building monuments to the Chaos gods; the Iron Warriors herd captives into sacrificial trucks just to establish the maximum range of the guns of fortresses they're besieging - and that's the easy way out compared to what their slaves get; the Emperor's Children render down entire cities for combat drugs. Of course, the "good" guys aren't much better - to be a citizen of the Imperium is just to be a tiny, replaceable cog in a galaxy-spanning war machine, and citizens are worked to death, slowly poisoned with industrial toxins, or sacrificed for a minor tactical advantage on an hourly basis, to the point where more than one world has been left to its own devices in the face of an Ork invasion because the mines didn't have enough material left in them to justify committing troops to defend it.
- In Prey, the Sphere pretty much runs on this.
- In Quake IV, the Strogg takes captured humans and puts them through a industry line that saws off body parts and attaches cyborg limbs. The player even goes through this, in first person.
- The Reapers in the Mass Effect franchise. Ambiguous Robots Mechanical Lifeforms operating on Blue and Orange Morality, every several thousand years they awaken from their slumber in the dark space between galactic spiral arms to "harvest" all star-faring civilizations. Their process is extremely methodical, with their own Mass Relay technology left behind as Lost Technology for ascendant civilizations to find as part of a Batman Gambit to nudge those civilizations into developing along predictable lines. This helps ensure that galactic leadership becomes centralized at the Citadel space station, which is the first thing they take control of in a surprise attack, simultaneously decapitating galactic leadership and giving them access to the records of how those civilizations have been spreading. The Reapers will then sweep away all space-born resistance and prioritize targets based on what can offer the biggest military challenge. Following this, a combination of Mass Hypnosis and military dominance allows them to round up survivors and render them down into organic liquid that will then be "archived" into new Reaper hulls. When all is harvested, they retreat to dark space, go back to sleep, and wait for the cycle to begin again, like clockwork.
- The infamous "merperson farming" in Dwarf Fortress. It involved making a pool filled with merfolk, then draining it, leaving them (including the children) to suffocate so you could collect their valuable bones. Even the game designer found the practice so sickening that he greatly lowered the value of merfolk bones in the next update.
- Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs unsurprisingly is focused on traversing the titular machine - a giant, sprawling monster of pipes, gears and pistons, buried beneath the streets of London that was designed to streamline the butchering of human sacrifices. Furthering the trope, the protagonist first designed the machine as his own answer to the approaching horrors of the twentieth century (that he had seen in a vision), such as the great World Wars. He viewed that as an even more terrifying industrialization of inhumanity and became so disgusted with mankind, set out to "make pigs of them all".
- Minecraft of course with "mob farms" or "xp farms", which are all centered around the idea of breeding, trapping, and ultimately killing massive waves of living mobs with little effort on the player's part so the player can gain experience and cool loot. You Bastard.
- The whole Oddworld series is built on this, with the first opening in RuptureFarms No. 1029, an enormous slaughterhouse that is consuming the region's fauna to extinction. Spying on a boardroom meeting, Abe the Janitor learns that the company is so villainous, they're going to turn the Mudokon cleaning staff (Abe included) into meat products for higher profits.
- World of Warcraft's latest (at the moment this entry is written, at least) expansion, Warlords of Draenor, features the Iron Horde, an Alternate Timeline version of the original, antagonistic Horde from Warcraft and Warcraft II. However, instead of utilising Black Magic like its prime universe counterpart, the Iron Horde instead uses the technology taken from the main Warcraft universe by its founder, Garrosh Hellscream - and takes it to a new level, turning its homeworld into a wasteland through industry just as surely as the original Horde did through demonic magic. For example: whereas the Warcraft II orcs used ogre magi, dumb brutish creatures given magical ability and intelligence through corrupting elven runestones, the Warlords of Draenor orcs use ogre ''gods'' with ''battleship-sized cannons'' mounted to their backs and supported by what seems to be tanks.
- In The Order of the Stick, the vampire and Sinister Minister Malack drops his Affably Evil act when he reveals to Durkon that once he inherits the rule of the Empire, he intends to sacrifice a thousand sentients every day to his God of Death. He's thinking of developing some sort of special chamber for maximum efficiency.
- In The Legends Of Treasure Island, at one point Long John Silver is killed and sent to Hell. He's given the tour of place and shown the demons "torturing" (in the Bowdlerized way you'd expect from a kids' show) the damned. Silver scoffs at this and claims he can implement a much more evil system in exchange for being released from Hell. He is allowed to do so, and when he is finished, we see that he has basically turned Hell into a huge machine where the damned are placed in conveyor belts. The machine itself doesn't even seem to do that much torture, which the head demon comments upon. Silver replies that that's the whole point: the damned are simply shuffled around from place to place by an indifferent machine with no rhyme or reason and fully aware of the pointlessness of it all. The head demon calls it brilliant and Silver is returned to Earth.
- In one Itchy & Scratchy short in The Simpsons, Scratchy has died of illness. Itchy, sad that he'll never see his frenemy again, is inspired by a news story about scientists cloning a sheep, and builds a machine to clone Scratchy... so he can keep killing the clone again and again. However, the clones come out so fast that killing them all gets tiring, so Itchy sets up a killing machine right next to the cloning machine to automatically kill the Scratchies as they emerge.