A hero in the hands of the villains receives an indirect threat (and a spur to their own personal feelings of impotence and despair) by being shown evidence of a past ally's suffering
at the same villain's hands.
In fantasy, this is often put across by the display of an heirloom which the previous character owned and which was taken from him by the villains. In more modern or realistic settings, they are shown photographic or video evidence of the unpleasant changes the villains put the last hero through, often with a taunt of "Not very pretty now, is he?"
A frequent component of Revenge by Proxy
, since the point of that is making the hero, not the victim, suffer.
The villain may actually display the ally or his corpse.
If he is still alive
, this may provoke a Mercy Killing
on The Hero
See also Finger in the Mail
and Forced to Watch
Anime and Manga
- In Bleach, Kurotsuchi showed Uryu a picture of his mentor's soul after Kurotsuchi had finished experimenting on it. Made more horrific by the fact that said mentor was also Uryus grandfather, and by the careless manner in which Kurotsuchi talks about it; to Kurotsuchi, he's just making conversation, and when Uryu informs him about his relation to the victim, Kurotsuchi isn't bothered in the slightest.
- During the third season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Jail sent a taunting broadcast to the Time-Space Administation Bureau showing the rise of the Saint's Cradle, including a video of the suffering Vivio. This was most certainly among the worst ideas in the entire history of bad ideas, contending with heavy-weights like marrying Jocasta.
- Prettyboy Griffith in Berserk after a year of torture. While his horribly mutilated body is displayed, what is left underneath the iron mask that he wears is never revealed — but it made even the battle-hardened Guts recoil in horror.
- A variation: when the protagonist of GUNNM wakes up after her Heroic Sacrifice, she is asked by the Neglectful Precursors to become their agent on the surface. When she refuses, they show her a picture of what's left of her real body.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, this happens when Yamori first brings Kaneki to his Torture Cellar. His previous, dead "toy" is still chained to a chair with a bag over his head, and a bucket of severed fingers and toes in front of him. Kaneki is understandably horrified to realize the "task" his new superior has in mind for him.
- In the Ranma fan fic "Pride Comes Before The Fall", Ranma delivers Ryouga's shredded, bloodied bandanna to the Tendos.
- Galaxy Quest has a video of the aliens' former commander being tortured.
- In The Last Starfighter the assembled good guys were forced to watch a broadcast by the villain of the torture and execution of the good guys' master spy.
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: C3PO is told that Jabba the Hutt "became displeased with his former protocol droid and terminated it". We are shown its mutilated remains. The worst part was that it was still sufficiently functional to scream. The Expanded Universe book Tales from Jabba's Palace states that the droid in charge was actually adding pain sensors to the tortured droids and relishing their anguish.
- In Advent Children Kadaj does this with the bloody I.D cards of two of Rufus's former agents, saying, 'Fine, swear on these!'
- Bloodsport: "You are next." Said after the "Big Bad" pummels a fighter the main character befriended briefly beforehand.
- In The Scorpion King, Memnon gets a message by carrier bird, and everyone thinks the Akkadian is dead. When he opens the message, he discovers that it contains Thorak's amulet instead.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Sauron's messenger at the Black Gate shows Frodo's armor and cloak and Sam's sword to his companions; Sauron (who doesn't know about the Ring or that there were two hobbit infiltrators) wants to imply that their spy will be tortured if they do not surrender. Gandalf doesn't take the messengers offer, but does take the hobbit's things. Especially meta-effective because at this time the reader doesn't yet know about the real circumstances, and so is as clueless as the characters about the hobbits' and the Ring's fate.
- Emperor Ublaz "Mad Eyes" in Redwall does this to a pirate captain under his command when he reveals the body of the captain's brother. The captain immediately decides to go through with the revolt he was planning.
- In Under the Yoke, the second Draka novel, an Alliance agent is captured by the Draka, who send him back in a shipping container - horribly mutilated but still alive, with pictures detailing his torture and "Thanks for the lovely chat" carved on his forehead.
- When Able Team are first briefed on Neo-Nazi Corrupt Corporate Executive Unomondo (the closest thing that series had to a reoccurring Big Bad) they told how one of his accountants who turned state's evidence got a big set of pictures — his wife and children being lowered one inch at a time, one picture at a time, into tubs of acid. The man killed himself the next day.
- And in the original Executioner series, Mack Bolan finds that The Mafia has prepared a room to show their Sex Slaves what will happen if they've got any ideas of disobedience. It contains the tortured body of a federal agent (and former lover of Bolan) with photos showing all the stages of her torture. Bolan still has to put her out of her misery.
- The Pale Woman in Fool's Fate, the last book of the Realm of the Elderlings series, does this to Fitz when torturing the Fool to death.
- In the first Covenant trilogy, Lord Foul sends a tortured and broken Waynhim back to Revelstone as a messenger, with a threat to make the entire Land as broken as the wretch.
- After torturing Azil for over a year in Dragon's Winter, Kojiro sends him back to Karadur broken in both body and soul.
- In one Forgotten Realms novel, Entreri had stolen the statue that allowed Drizzt to summon Guenhwyvar, and let Drizzt see it just long enough for him to figure out what the small object was.
Table Top Games
- In Ruiner Pinball, The "Tower" board includes a previous victim who is shackled spread-eagled to a rack.
- Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith has the Chaos commander Sagittar Slaith broadcast footage of the captured and tortured Ghosts on screens in his captured city to the other Ghosts he knows are still out there.
- The 2nd Edition D&D supplement The Complete Book of Elves included several stories about elven attitudes and Time Abyss mindset. One of the most disturbing was about how an elf's children hunted down and captured the dwarf who'd killed their parent, then left a severed dwarf limb on the killer's doorstep every year as a warning to anyone who would dare to threaten an elf. The worst thing is, the vengeful children had also acquired a ring of regeneration. They've been invoking this trope each year for more than three decades and counting...
- Andrew Ryan does this to Jack in BioShock by showing him a room filled with those who'd opposed him previously, some of which Jack had learned about and gotten to know through the audio diaries but never met.
- Earlier in the game, Dr. Steinman has a gallery of his failed attempts at making a “Masterpeice”. We never learn if the women volunteered for these surgeries or Steinman kidnapped them.
- The trope reappears in Bioshock 2, where your friendly Mission Control was strapped into a Big Daddy suit and only had control of his mouth and part of his mind. You need to Mercy Kill him.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Ganondorf holds up Midna's broken helmet to demonstrate that he just defeated her — just before shattering it.
- Dawn of War: the Dark Eldar can upgrade some of their buildings to hang mutilated corpses outside, this causes constant morale damage to nearby enemies. Chaos buildings, what with their human-skin decorations, provide a similar effect (prevents enemy morale regen and increases your own).