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The Living Dead
This has nothing to do with The Undead. We hope.

There are two ways to simulate corpses on TV — get a good dummy or model, or use a live actor.

The problem with using a live actor is that they're a live actor. Live actors need to breathe. Either they hold their breath, the camera doesn't let you see their chest, or you get The Living Dead — when you see a corpse visibly breathe on camera. Having the corpse concealed from view immediately after death can often help prevent this.

Modern special effects have introduced another option, of course; for that reason, this trope rarely appears in more recent movies (big-budget ones, anyway), which tend to have larger budgets and therefore can afford the special effects and editing to ensure that dead actors appear properly dead.

Related to Corpsing, which is when an actor breaks into a fit of unscripted (and almost always inappropriate) laughter during a take, whether or not said actor is supposed to be playing dead. The worst time to get a case of the giggles, of course, is when you're playing a corpse, and thus the term stuck.


Examples

  • Two cases in Dalziel and Pascoe — one involving a woman who had been dead for over a decade (she'd been embalmed).
  • In the premiere episode of Climax, an anthology of dramatic adaptations performed live, the corpse actually got up and walked away, unaware that the cameras were rolling. See this Snopes link.
  • On TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, a prank involving a visit to a funeral home was foiled when the casketed corpse at the center of the joke couldn't hide his breathing.
    • The fact that a prepared corpse in a funeral home looks nothing like a live person was evidently lost on the proprietors of that joke.
  • Not breathing, but equally revealing; in the Doctor Who episode 'The Unquiet Dead', a character opens a coffin and the corpse's eyes twitch noticeably. But to be tfair, "The Unquiet Dead" is about dead bodies turning into reanimated zombies when they are taken over by the Gelth.
  • One outtake of The X-Files had Scully declaring that a man was dead...just as he sneezed loudly. She continues to deadpan, "He's dead Mulder. He's dead and he's not coming back," as the rest of the production crew cracks up.
  • Dutch Longrunner Police Procedural Baantjer had actors hired to play dead bodies and actual Dutch celebs would feature as stiff of the week.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation used both dummies and living actors to play their corpses, and almost invariably during the scenes in which one of the investigators consulted the coroners, the "corpse" could be seen breathing if you kept an eye out for it. In one episode, the corpse even opened its eyes... then quickly closed them again.
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch, which had a corpse under a white sheet fart loudly and visibly. This one may be a parody, but it's also Truth in Television: bodies can still exhale methane after death. And yes, that includes through farting.
  • Seen in Santa Sangre with the corpse of the Tattooed Woman, who's been stabbed absolutely full of holes but whose stomach is still very obviously moving with breath when Alma finds her.
  • Parodied in the Smosh video If Scary Movies were Real.
    Ian (in a Saw torture chamber): Why is that dead body breathing?
    Body (punches the floor): DAMMIT!
  • Brazilian play Duas Mulheres e um Cadáver (Two Women and a Corpse) revolves around the wife and the lover of a murdered psychoanalyst meeting at his office after the death. In the original production, not only the corpse was a big man (abusing the actress who had to carry the actor all around) but remained with open eyes - the actor had to teach himself not to blink to be more convincing.
  • Uwe Boll's adaptation of Alone in the Dark had a character get killed, and as the heroes were leaving her body the actress starts getting up a split second before the camera cuts as if the scene was over.

Little Dead Riding HoodDeath TropesLiving on Borrowed Time

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