Larry Wilson: Lomax told whoever he was talking to not to kill us while he's around.
Richard Parker: Yes, but Bernie's dead. He's not around anymore.
: Yeah. I know that. You know that. Nobody else knows that.
It's always a sad affair when someone dies... unless you're in a comedy, of course. In comedies, there may be all sorts of unlikely reasons why it's really not convenient for someone to be dead. So rather than face reality in a mature, responsible fashion, why not launch a Zany Scheme
where you pretend the corpse is still alive, or at least make sure nobody can check?
Cue all sorts of wacky hijinks: the corpse is dragged around, impersonated (either bodily or through ventriloquism
), made to move by strings, and stored away in the most unlikely places
. This goes on until such time as it's convenient to reveal that the victim is really dead (and that they died in circumstances that absolutely did not involve the protagonist in any way), or when the corpse is accidentally discovered.
A common variation involves a man who is unconscious or under a deep sleep rather than dead. Usually used when either the "corpse" is an already established character or in a show that refuses to acknowledge death
A serious version of this is the El Cid Ploy
. See also The Fun in Funeral
. Compare Mummies at the Dinner Table
and Dead Pet Sketch
. The opposite situation, usually played seriously, is Faking the Dead
. Dead Person Impersonation
is when a living person assumes the dead one's ID and doesn't bother with the body.
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- An office legend immortalized in a television commercial involves a recently deceased white-collar worker who was positioned at his desk with sunglasses on so that his wife could continue to draw his pension. Co-workers would come in and drop off work, and others would pick it up to work on. In most versions nobody even notices that he isn't actually doing anything.
- The Chuck Testa meme stems from an advertisement where taxidermist Chuck Testa shows how lifelike his taxidermies are by moving the stuffed animals around and fooling people into thinking they're alive.
Anime & Manga
- In Bowling King a man dies of old age during the opening of a restaurant. The workers go to great efforts to hide his body so that they don't get bad press.
- Detective Conan have a serious version of this (of course, being about murder and all that). A guy just murdered his brother and the Junior Detective League found his body. Next day, the brother tried to use the body manipulation to make it seems like that the dead guy is alive, trying to fool the League and the police.
- Also used by the title character (though they aren't dead) in each episode, since no one would believe the kid solved the crime, he darts his intended target then uses the unconscious body to finger the murderer. Considering how many cases he's solved, it seems everyone around him is just lugging crates of Idiot Balls behind them the whole way.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Kinzo has been Dead All Along, in fact for more than a year. His eldest son Krauss and Krauss's wife Natsuhi burned his body and are pretending he's locked himself in his room upstairs. Although Natsuhi completely lost it after Kinzo's death and hallucinates that he is still talking to her.
- In one case in the Ace Attorney manga, the killer uses wires to suspend her victim in a standing position and make him seem as though he's still alive some time after his death.
- Midori no Hibi uses the unconsciousness variation in one chapter: after Seiji gets knocked out due to drinking some tequila, Midori has to deal with household issues. This includes having to drag Seiji's body over to greet a pizza delivery man and a textbook salesman and fighting off a thief that broke into Seiji's home — not easy, considering she's where his right hand should be, with a size to match.
- The trope was made famous by Weekend at Bernie's, where a pair of losers find that their deceased boss has ordered a hit on them, to be carried out once he ditches them. Out of sheer audacity, they start hauling the corpse around to convince everyone he's still alive. Except the hitman actually killed their boss, and all they're doing is drawing attention to themselves, and freaking the hitman out...
- Another borderline example: Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry has a group of townspeople discovering a body out in the woods and attempting to hide it from the authorities. Some of the hiders did it because they thought they had accidentally killed the man, and others did it to protect a person whom they thought had killed the man. The corpse gets buried and dug up three times each. It turns out no one killed the man: his death was from natural causes.
- This is an adaptation of an old story which can be found, among other places, in The Arabian Nights. There the person in question is a hunchback who choked on a bone.
- A serious, dramatic example appears in the movie El Cid. The title character dies before he can win the battle, so they just put his body in armor, put him on a horse, and set the horse running so he can inspire the troops to victory... and he still ends up mowing down several enemies. This is based on a legend about the real medieval Spanish leader, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid. See "Real Life" for more details.
- In Beau Geste, as the soldiers manning the walls of a besieged fortress are killed, the insane commander sets the corpses of fallen defenders back up on the walls with rifles in hand to act as decoys.
- In the Clue movie, the characters attempt to hide about three dead people from a cop using this method.
- A dramatic example in Force 10 From Navarone. The heroes use the corpse of the commanding officer to trick the guards into letting them out of a Nazi controlled camp. The body is propped upright in a car and a hidden person raises its arm in the Nazi salute.
- In Waking Ned Devine, an elderly Irish man dies of shock when he wins the lottery and his friends have to do this in order to claim the jackpot to share between themselves. Somewhat downplayed, as they don't use the actual body; he gets a decent Christian burial accompanied by a Meaningful Funeral whilst another man of approximately the right age and physical description impersonates him when the man from the Lottery Commission comes to square away the administrative formalities.
- The final scene of Midnight Cowboy.
- In Fierce Creatures, the boss is shot through the head by accident and a scheme is quickly set in place to make it look like a suicide in front of some of his colleagues involving the dead man's son impersonating him. This worked particularly well as the father and son were both played by the same actor, Kevin Kline to be exact.
- Played with in Tsui Hark's Peking Opera Blues. After the new governor is assassinated by Sheung Hung (Cherrie Chung), the soldiers outside storm in. Trying to hide the death, Pat Neil (Sally Yeh) moves his body around, half covered by sheets, to make it look like the soldiers interrupted the two during intercourse.
- Example of sorts: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, in which an elderly babysitter arrives to look after a large family of kids while their parents are away for the summer. She promptly drops dead and the kids, who don't want their parents to come home and ruin their fun, agree to pretend that she is still alive. Problem being that all the money their parents left them is in the box they used to drag the old lady to an undertaker, so the eldest sister pretends to be 30 years old in order to get a full time job for the summer. Hilarity Ensues.
- The many, many deaths in The Happiness of the Katakuris.
- Played with in Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear is alive and well, but utterly depressed and unresponsive; Woody needs to prove Buzz is alive and with him for the rest of the toys back home to save them. One of Buzz's toy arms happens to be detached at the moment, and Woody pantomimes with it pretending to be Buzz. When it's revealed he's just holding an arm, the rest of the toys assume it's this trope and abandon him.
- Rover Dangerfield plays this for laughs, unfortunately, with a turkey.
- In Waterworld, the Smokers make the residents of a small trading post, whom they've recently killed, appear to be waving to the Mariner as the latter approaches, intending to draw him into a deadly trap. Unfortunately for them, the Mariner isn't fooled by the charade.
- In Ratatouille, Remy finds Linguini passed out in the kitchen, so he puppeteers him to clean up. Colette comes in and engages him in conversation, but interprets Linguini's silence as rudeness and slaps him awake.
- The nurse and doctor do this with the body of a patient they had recently killed (and buried, so they had to dig him up) in Death Nurse, when his case worker comes by to visit. Luckily for them, he was so sick he couldn't speak, so his silence goes unquestioned.
- In Used Cars the dealership's owner's brother, the owner of a rival dealership, is purposely given a fatal heart attack during an extreme test drive. The body is disposed of by propping the dead guy up in his favorite vintage car, setting the car in drive, and having it crash while a big sale is going on at the first dealership. The dead guy is subsequently buried in his car.
- In Commando, John Matrix breaks the neck of the bad guy who's supposed to watch him on the flight to Val Verde. Afterwards, John just puts his straw hat over his face and props the body in a way that makes it seems like he's sleeping.
(to a stewardess): "Don't disturb my friend. He's dead tired
- In a similar way, James Bond disposes of an assassin this way in Thunderball. She dances with him, he turns the gun on her, shoots her. And he uses the same line.
- It is a Running Gag in a Polish comedy "Ciało" ("Corpse"). There, a chain of people find the titular corpse, think it was alive and that they were somehow responsible for its death due to something random happening, and engage in a series of shenanigans meant to deceive other people and make them think it is still alive (but sleeping or unconscious), only to dump the corpse on someone else the moment it becomes possible and for the whole thing to repeat. The man whose corpse it is was dead from the very beginning of the journey.
- In one story from Arabian Nights the jester of a ruler dies from a fishbone in his throat; no less than three people try to shift the blame by getting rid of his body. When an innocent man is condemned to death for the alleged murder, all of them (in reverse order) confess what they did. At the end, it turns out that he wasn't really dead, just unconscious.
- In a different version of the story, he's really dead, but the sultan is so amused by everyone claiming to have killed him that he pardons all responsible, saying that this was the jester's last joke.
- Referenced in the Discworld novel Maskerade, where the philosophy of "the show must go on" is taken to truly ridiculous lengths; several characters allude to an incident some time ago in which a lead singer died in the Intermission but was made to finish out the show anyway.
- Soul Music parodies the Beau Geste example when Death joins the Klatchian Foreign Legion. As they're outnumbered, they do the same thing with their dead to make it look like they've got more soldiers...but because the Grim Reaper is on their side, the dead soldiers start fighting.
- Also used in Monstrous Regiment. The Duchess who is the figurehead ruler of the country of Borogravia, where the book is set, is officially alive and well and continuing to reign. Main character Polly is fairly certain that the Duchess must really be dead because she always looks the same age in her portraits. In the end the truth of the situation takes a third option. The duchess "is" physically dead, but is also spiritually alive, having been forced into a sort of reluctant godhood by the desperate prayers and beliefs of a population that has given up on its "actual" god ever helping them (or, in fact, being in any way sane).
- A serious example in Violet Eyes by Nicole Luiken, at the end, when the heroes try and convince a group of 'buyers' that their captor is alive and they are dead.
- A semi-serious variation happens in Wraith Squadron. When the Wraiths captured an enemy corvette, they managed to do so before the corvette could get a message off, meaning that the enemy was completely unaware that it had been seized. They decided to try The Infiltration, passing as the crew of the corvette to get close to the enemy. The captain - "a petty guy who reached his ultimate level of usefulness driving a minelaying barge for a warlord and then had to be scraped off the floor", according to Face - was killed and his body made unrecognizable, but he had such a massive ego that he kept a full-holo Captain's Log. The Wraiths proceeded to use it to impersonate him, with original flamboyance intact, over holographic communications.
Face (After a session where he deflects the suspicions of the petty captain's superior): "Thank you, thank you. Performances every hour, on the hour. Imperial madmen a specialty."
- A similar version is done in the Honor Harrington series, when Honor, having been captured and sent to a hellish prison, has the inmates take over. The Warden was naturally brutally murdered by the inmates that he'd been abusing the whole time, so Honor's crew use his holographic logs as a stand-in when they get visitors, including a messenger boat. This ends up getting turned on them, when the receiver of the message notes that the 'Warden' didn't send his play-by-post chess move, and moves in to investigate. Unfortunately for them, Honor has commandeered a small fleet of her own by then.
- Serious example: The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan, in which a family of children attempt to hide their mother's death so they will not be taken away by Social Services. The title describes their manner of achieving this aim.
- In one of the Dawn books by VC Andrews, an elderly guest dies at the hotel run by the heroine. In accordance with past hotel policy she agrees to have him taken away by an ambulance crew, with an oxygen mask on to make it look like he is alive so that the hotel won't lose guests. She struggles with her conscience over this as it is what her hated grandmother, the previous owner of the hotel, liked to do whenever a guest died on the premises.
- In one of the Stephanie Plum novels, when one of the titular character's busts goes awry, her boss Vinnie suggests she do this in order to recover the bond money.
- Ogier the Dane used the "dead men on the walls" version, when he found himself the last living defender of a besieged castle.
- Used in Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark, after an assault by the defenders of Vienna against a position of Turks that had got too close to the main city wall. One of the armored knights died from wounds taken in the charge. The commander had originally brought out some explosives to take down the small wall there, but instead jury-rigged them to the knight's corpse so he could trick the Turks into thinking he had left defenders behind and catch them in the explosion. It worked too, naturally.
- Powers uses a more extreme version in On Stranger Tides, in which one of the occult conspirators dies on shipboard, before he can give the signal to delay a ritual that will erase the mind of the captive Love Interest. The hero, a puppetteer by trade, has no choice but to convert the dead man's corpse into a marionette and make it nod and wave to the accomplice, who is watching via spyglass from shore.
- In The Darksword Trilogy, the unstable political situation in Merilon causes the royal court to keep up the pretense that the Queen is still alive for over a year after her death in order to prevent her brother from taking the throne. They royal wizards use their magic to prevent her body from decomposing, and even to make it move and appear to hold court as usual — but anyone looking into its dead eyes can see the truth.
- The Three Musketeers: Used by the musketeers during the siege of La Rochelle to escape from a (previously damaged and deserted) minor fort in which they had gathered to eat, drink and plot: they and their valets set the corpses around the fort, so as to be visible to the advancing enemy party; while their enemies were shooting, they slink away at leisurely pace. In the scene, Athos is particularly Bad Ass.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, during a battle in the Slaver's Bay, the generals of Astapor crudely try to use this stratagem with the dead king Cleon. They exhume the corpse, put it in its armor, strap it on his horse and have him "lead" the troops. This is a rather desperate attempt to save a hopeless situation, and it fails miserably, every man in the sortie getting killed. (Afterwards, the man who "slayed" the dead Cleon is ironically nicknamed "corpsekiller" by his allies)
Live Action TV
- There's always the music video of Joe Diffie's Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox If I Die
- Fall Out Boy's "Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown on A Bad Bet." is basically the very definition of this trope. Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith of Panic! at the Disco find a very dead Pete Wentz on the beach. They contemplate calling 911 (and Jason Tate) and then decide to go to a amusement park with his corpse, take photos and then steal his jacket, wallet, and phone. Just watch it for yourself.
- Aiii Shot the DJ by Scooter, featuring a dead Helge Schneider.
- Cage The Elephant's video for Around My Head. A man digs up his dead girlfriend. It's actually very funny, especially the ending:
(singer brings out dead girl in a shopping cart)
Bandmate: What the fuck is wrong with you?
Singer: Fine, I'll put her back.
- Foster the People's video for "Houdini" has the band killed when a rig lands on them, so their producers bring in a wealthy gentleman and his minions to stage a whole gig using men in black outfits to move the band's bodies like they were alive, and put robotics in the bodies to move their expressions. It works.
- In the play Lucky Stiff, a man leaves a fortune to his nephew, Harry — on the condition that Harry takes his corpse on a vacation to Monte Carlo under the pretense that he's not dead, just an invalid.
- In Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi Buoso Donati has died. His relatives find his will, and discover that he has disinherited them. They bring in Gianni Schicchi to impersonate Buoso so that the will gets changed. Gianni gives each relative the property that they desired, but then he takes the best part of Buoso's estate for himself! And Buoso's relatives can't do anything about it, because they would have to admit they were part of the conspiracy as well!
- In the Borderlands 2 DLC "Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty", the resort town of Oasis only has one surviving inhabitant, a rather sad and lonely Stepford Smiler named Shade. All the other inhabitants are preserved corpses set up rather crudely with rope and tape recorders in a pathetic attempt by Shade to convince others (mostly himself) that the townsfolk are still alive. He's gone so far as to recording his own marriage rejection for one of said corpse.
- This strip of Concerned: The half-life and death of Gordon Frohman.
- See the first panel of this VG Cats strip.
- A variation of this occurs in Homestuck that's (so far) without any playing with the corpse. John doesn't know that Vriska is dead, and several characters have avoided telling him this. The fandom then took the logical next step◊.
- In Will Save World For Gold, Ardon does this with his "temporary" adventuring party, as part of a crazy scheme. He fooled his actual adventuring party for a while too.
- Done in comedic manner in Magical Girl Hunters, puppeting the dead body of a Magical Girl to get the eponymous Hunters into a complex. Includes a Shoutout to Star Wars when they bluff their way past a set of guards, using ventriloquism to have the magical girl say they're prisoners being transported to cell block 1138.
- In The Nostalgia Critic's review of Baby Geniuses 2, he falls into a coma after watching said film. Brentalfloss and Uncle Yo puppeteer the Critic at a convention in order to convince people that he is still normal, but it is mostly Played for Laughs, with them not even bothering to try and hide the fact that something is up. Strangely, the Critic's fans don't question it. Subverted when we find out that he never actually fell into a coma. He was only pretending in order to get a discount on his hotel room. He then invites his puppeteers And Team Four Star to read Fifty Shades of Grey.
- In one Halloween episode of The Simpsons, after running down Ned Flanders during a foggy night, Homer "puppeteers" him just long enough to convince Maude that he's 1) alive and 2) having a heart attack.
- Used again in The Simpsons, in the episode "Weekend at Burnsie's". When Mr. Burns dies in the tub, Homer and Smithers operate him like a marionette for an investor's meeting. Eventually, his heart turns back on during a musical number.
- Hans Moleman has been mistaken for a corpse more than once.
- When Homer becomes Mayor Quimby's bodyguard and accidentally knocks him out the window, he quickly tells himself he'll "stage an elaborate farce a la Weekend at Bernie's." Fortunately, the mayor is still hanging on to the window ledge.
- A skit on Robot Chicken played with it in mocking Hannah Montana, when Miley gets shot by a Loony Fan and yet her friends insisted on dragging her corpse around to keep up the charade. It didn't go well.
- The Spongebob Squarepants episode "The Nasty Patty", where Mr. Krabs and Spongebob think they accidentally kill a health inspector, who they thought was a fraud. They try to hide his corpse from the police, but rather poorly with constant nervousness and False Reassurances.
- In Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is left the only one awake in Miseryville. After going mad, he resorts to controlling the sleeping citizens like string puppets in order to give himself company.
- A dramatic example occurs in the short film Overtime. What makes this situation so tragic is that the puppets aren't trying to convince a third party that their recently deceased puppeteer is alive — they're trying to convince themselves.
- The Dan Vs. episode "The Animal Shelter" uses the "unconscious" variation. Dan is so intent on having Chris help him pull off his revenge (or, more to the point, having him use his credit card to buy the dynamite needed) that he steals his friend from the hospital and wheels him around on a handcart, even taking him out for a milkshake when they're done. It gets genuinely creepy when Dan makes the unconscious Chris say "I love you", and Dan reacts by being sincerely uncomfortable. Keep in mind there's no one within earshot, so he's not putting on a show for bystanders.
- One episode of Drawn Together had Wooldoor accidentally shoot a truck driver (long story) so he "did what any good-hearted Christian would do"- that is, skin the corpse and pretend to be him so his wife and kids have closure.
- In the first episode of Slacker Cats a family has a reward for the return of their cat - who got run over so Buckley and Eddie have Dooper live inside the corpse and pretend to be the cat so they can have the money. Except the only way to rescue Dooper was to have him pretend to be dead which leads to The Fun in Funeral.
- In an episode of Family Guy, Meg and Chris are fighting and knock Stewie down the stairs, and he suffers a pretty bad head injury, rendering him unconscious for the remainder of the episode. They panic and try to hide it through use of this trope and increasingly ridiculous headgear.
- Stewie had to "animate" a corpse to fool a cop, before Lois had a chance to chuck it into the river. He posed as his head and moved the rest of the body. As a result, he managed to have an entire conversation with the cop, even convincing him that he was colleagues with his cousin.
- Stoked!: In "A Prank Too Far", Bummer pretends to be dead in order to teach the groms a lesson. The groms then lug Bummer's 'corpse' around to convince an investor that he is still 'alive'.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Family Appreciation Day", Applebloom is worried about Granny Smith embarrassing her in front of her classmates at an upcoming presentation, and her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders try to get her out of it. One of the efforts involves puppeteering a napping Granny Smith in order to convince the teacher, Cherilee, that she can't make it. Hilariously, Granny Smith seems to not notice, even after she wakes up!
- Regular Show has an episode referencing the most famous example of this trope, titled "Weekend at Benson's."
- This is an example of Truth in Television. The death of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang was kept secret for two months by his prime minister. The Emperor died on a journey in the middle of a blazing summer, so the minister hid the stench of the fast decomposing body by surrounding the imperial carriage with carts full of rotting fish. It was an indication of how feared the Emperor and his prime minister were that not one person questioned the driving arrangements.
- Or they most likely didn't care.
- As mentioned above, the Spanish leader El Cid Campaedor was killed by a Moorish crossbow, but legend has it his wife got the idea to strap on his sword Tizona and put him on his horse Babieca to keep morale from falling.
- Another example of a general pulling this would be Zhuge Liang, who crafted a plan which required every other general to follow posthumous orders to the letter, along with a couple alternatives in case things weren't going as planned, as he was growing too sick and knew he would not last the entire engagement. Rumours circulating about his death were quashed when his units began to move in a formation he commonly used, and namedropping him numerous times when orders had to be shifted. The intended gambit was that Sima Yi believe the rumours are false and that he is still in control, even from his deathbed. Sima Yi bought it and retreated.
- The infamous Cadaver Synod, which took place in 897. A year after his death, Pope Formosus was put on trial by his successor, Stephen VI, for breaking a minor bylaw of the church. The trial consisted of digging up his body, dressing him in his papal clothes, accusing him of the crime, convicting him of the crime, stripping him of his papal clothes, and throwing him in a river.
- They also cut off the fingers used for blessing, a permanent way of stripping someone of their priesthood.
- Persons who were posthumously found guilty of heresy by the Spanish Inquisition were likewise dug up, dressed in robes, and burned at the stake.
- That didn't work out well for Stephen VI, incidentally. It turns out that while blaming your predecessor is standard political policy, desecrating his corpse is considered to be a bit much. Stephen VI ended up deposed, imprisoned and killed for it.
- Novelist/philosopher E. Douglas Fawcett's wife died while they were doing a driving tour of Italy. He was afraid that the Italian authorities wouldn't let him take the body back to their home in Switzerland, so he dressed her in her normal clothes and drove her home. He took a picture of his wife "dressed as in life" in their car.
- Two women allegedly tried to sneak a corpse onto a plane in Britain in April 2010. They subsequently claimed that he had passed away in his sleep without them realising, and the police couldn't find any conclusive evidence to the contrary and had to let them go.
- A couple of guys wheeled a corpse into a bank to cash his Social Security check. They got arrested for fraud.
- In Soviet Russia, it was common for the dead leader to suffer 'ill health' until a successor was chosen.
- Philosopher Jeremy Bentham attended the 150th meeting of the College Council at University College in London...despite having been dead since 1832. When he died, he wrote in his will that he wanted his body dissected in a public autopsy, mummified, and put on display in the University. It is there that he still remains, occasionally coming out to College Council events when necessary.
- Comedian Lewis Black proposed that the United States re-elect Ronald Reagan as president. His thinking is that when America's enemies see them swearing in a corpse as president they would declare them too crazy to mess with.
- He further suggested that Reagan once again be sworn in by also-deceased Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
- In the early days of photography, when exposures took so long that few living people could sit still long enough for a portrait photo, it wasn't unusual for corpses to be posed in lifelike positions and photographed to give the mourners something to remember a person by.
- This article goes so far as to name drop Weekend at Bernie's in the title. Which makes sense, as it's about two men that loaded their friend's corpse into an SUV and used his credit card for a night on the town.
- Operation Mincemeat was a variant where the British simply lead the Germans to believe that the body they found had been alive a good bit longer than he actually had been. Taking from a morgue the body of a man who had died with no next of kin, they created an entire cover identity for him as a military officer before dropping him in the sea with some plane wreckage, off the coast of Spain, along with fake Top Secret documents, in order to throw the Germans off guard before the Allied invasion of Sicily.
- The death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a Sengoku period daimyo, was concealed by his liege until he could complete the unification of Japan. This was referred to by his namesake, Ushiromiya Hideyoshi in Umineko: When They Cry, while discussing the possibility that the family patron was already dead.