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Cruel and Unusual Death

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"If he was a cut above the rest, he'd have picked rock."

"The Council decided to have you hung by your entrails and your corpse paraded through the city. But ultimately, the terms of your execution are up to me."
The High Prophet of Truth, Halo 2
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Some people die of old age, or gradually succumb to one of a number of illnesses. When death comes, the lucky among us will go out peacefully with dignity. Some of us might go out fighting the good fight, saving the lives of some unfortunate person whom our consciences cannot ignore and force us to help. They'll all die "good deaths" (and in some cases, heroic deaths).

This trope is not about those people.

Some deaths not only suck, they suck beyond the telling of it. These deaths are extremely painful, particularly gruesome, and morbidly embarrassing, so horrific that they leave the deceased absolutely no chance to retain any sort of dignity, forever. These deaths transcend from being merely "bad" into the realm of being "ugly."

This trope isn't about just any unpleasant death. Sure, it's bad to get shot in the head...your blood spills all over the floor and you may void your bladder or your bowels. But compared to... oh, being eaten alive from the inside out, getting shot is a walk in the park. It is worth noting that for the most part, creators reserve these events for use as villainous karmic deaths (where the level of horror involved with the death is often part of the karmic punishment) and to get rid of unpleasant people who are Hoist by Their Own Petards... especially the embarrassing type. If this is done to a sympathetic character, on the other hand, it is usually the point where the killer crosses the Moral Event Horizon, if he or she is not on the other side of it already. If someone kills people like this on a regular basis, chances are they're a Complete Monster.

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There isn't necessarily a correlation between the visible gruesomeness of the death and the actual nature of the character's death, some deaths that fall under this trope happen offscreen, and it's the very idea of it that makes it horrific. Deaths with a high horrible factor with less visible content can just as easily fall into scary, though.

Deaths like this tend to fall into two categories: The first one is where the victim is a rather sadistic villain who deserves it, who you really aren't going to feel sorry for (well, maybe a little...). The second one is where the killer fits that description, and the intent is to show the viewers how sadistic they are (more often than not, it's convincing). Occasionally, the two situations happen in the same work of fiction, with the killer in the second type becoming a victim in the first, which is very much a Karmic Death.

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Warning: Many of the examples below contain some serious Nightmare Fuel and Nausea Fuel, with a liberal dosage of Squick. Read at your own risk.

As this is a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware!


Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • The four animals showcased in this Tearjerking environmentalism PSA suffer manmade (and thankfully not too graphic) deaths that, to add extra heartbreak to it, are all too common in real life. More specifically:
    • A mother rhinoceros who gets her horns cut off by poachers.
    • A whale suffering a Death of a Thousand Cuts via whalers.
    • A pelican drowning in an oil spill.
    • A baby seal who is last seen about to be bludgeoned to death by hunters.
  • Some of the deaths in Dumb Ways to Die include your head exploding in outer space, getting your private parts eaten by piranhas, being electrocuted until you're reduced to a skeleton, and having your eye bitten by a rattlesnake.
  • One Partnership for a Drug Free America PSA uses a photo, captions, and the recording of a 911 call to tell the story of a couple who got lost in a blizzard while high on meth and wound up freezing to death before help could reach them.

    Arts 
  • Jael and Sisera by Artemisia Gentileschi depicts Jael about to drive a tent peg into the neck of the sleeping Sisera.

    Asian Animation 
  • The Simple Samosa episode "Samosa Mama" almost has Mayor Royal Falooda punishing Samosa for a kidnapping he never did before Vada proves the judge wrong. The punishment? "You will not be fried, you will not be cooked... no, you will be served!", the idea being that since they're all food, Samosa is about to be eaten. Made worse by the fact that Samosa is just a kid, probably around 8- to 12-years-old. Made worse still since Cham Cham, who frames Samosa for the crime, hates the guy with a burning passion and is never shown reacting negatively to this.

    Films — Animated 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: When it senses danger, the Mother Crystal emits a strange energy that transmutes any foreign substance into crystal. Later, Milo slashes Rourke with a shard of crystallized glass, and the effect spreads through the bad guy's body, mutating him into a still living, agony-ridden crystal humanoid that's visibly cracking apart as he moves. And then he goes flying into his airship's propellers, causing him to explode in a burst of energy. Given that Rourke was about to wipe out the Atlanteans by stealing their life source after murdering their king, and that said source was sentient and pissed off, he was not getting the easy way out.
  • One cut scene shows what happens to anyone who comes into contact with the mist of The Black Cauldron: one of the Horned King's henchmen, doesn't get stabbed to death by the Cauldron Born, but has his flesh melt instead slowly until he is reduced to a skeleton.
    • The Horned King himself gets a messy death; he's drawn into the Cauldron cursing and struggling, and the power quite literally rips him apart, tearing apart his skin, stripping him down to the bone, and finally vaporizing what remains. It's technically bloodless, but it's still one of the most chilling Disney villain deaths ever. It's also as nonsensical as it is violent - storm-force winds cannot kill someone in this manner
  • A Bug's Life: As vile as he may have been, it's hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for Hopper given how gruesome his demise — being eaten alive by birds, and implied to have been ripped to shreds by the chicks in the nest beforehand — is, regardless of it not being fully shown. Even Flik and Atta, the former of whom set it up in the first place to stop him killing them, are both visibly disturbed when he is about to die.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Red Death gets one. Toothless shoots a fireball directly into her mouth, causing her inner methane fuel to ignite and tear her apart from the inside, then due to previous fireballs being shot at her wings, she falls to the ground and her head explodes into flames
  • The Incredibles:
    • Syndrome is run through a jet turbine. Feet first.
    • The same thing happened to teenage super-heroine Stratogale, though she went in head first.
  • The Lion King (1994):
    • King Mufasa, when he is thrown into a gorge by his treacherous brother, Scar. If the fall didn't kill Mufasa, being trampled to death by a stampede of wildebeests did.
    • Scar, after he attempts to blame the hyenas for his crimes, is betrayed by his former "friends" and eaten alive.
    • Averted with Simba: He barely escapes death by dehydration and exhaustion (after fleeing for days from Pride Rock), and later Scar nearly throws the adult Simba into an enormous fire of dead trees and bushes.
  • Mulan: Shan Yu is hit by a huge rocket that flies towards a pile of fireworks. Impressive Pyrotechnics ensue.
  • Padak: The main character, a wild mackarel captured by a Korean seafood restaurant, is eventually served as Ikizukuri. Which means her flesh is cut up into sashimi and served up while she is still alive and aware she is being eaten. Adding insult to injury, the customer sticks a lit cigarette in her mouth as a joke before he tucks in.
  • The Transformers: The Movie brutally killed most of the old Autobots to promote the new toyline. Possibly most notably, we get a nice view of Prowl's innards burning, and a crippled Ironhide being callously shot point-blank by Megatron's Fusion Cannon in a manner highly reminiscent of an execution. One new character (Ultra Magnus) was supposed to be torn apart, but it was changed to something less traumatizing.note 
  • Treasure Planet:
    • First Mate Mr. Arrow gets thrown overboard during a solar-storm by treacherous crewmate Scroop, right into the mouth of a Black Hole. Look up, "Spaghettification", and you'll understand why this warrants mention.
    • Scroop himself gets a similar but karmic fate later on when he tries to kill Jim, as he's ejected into the vacumn of space. And since this universe is one where space is somehow breathable, Scroop will instead slowly succumb to extreme cold and dehydration, if he isn't hit by floating debris first.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • In the Book of Judges, an unnamed Levite man's concubine runs away from him and goes to her daddy. Her husband comes to drag her home, and they pass by the town of Gibeah on their way back, where they were offered a place to stay by an old man. Later, the men of the town come knocking on the door (deliberately mirroring the story of Lot and his daughters back in the Book of Genesis), seeking sexual favors from the Levite man. The host offers up his virgin daughter and his guest's concubine, at which the Levite hands over the concubine to protect his own ass. They take her as their new sex toy, and they brutally gang-rape her several times over, until she dies. Then they just leave her body on the doorstep. As if that wasn't bad enough, she doesn't even get a proper burial: instead, her husband hacks up her body and distributes the pieces to his friends to call them to war with the people of Gibeah.
    • Jezebel in the Books of Kings: thrown out a window, then run over by a chariot, and then eaten by dogs.
    • The Four Gospels detail Jesus's infamous death by being nailed to a cross.
    • Though the Gospel of Matthew said Judas hanged himself, it's stated in Acts that he dropped dead with his body bursting open and his guts spilling out. One theory to reconcile this theorizes he hanged himself, then the rope broke, with his fall leading to this.
  • Several of the apostles according to tradition. Peter was crucified upside down (at his own request, since he didn't feel worthy of dying the same way Jesus did), Simon sawed in half (from the crotch up!), Bartholomew flayed alive...
  • Some Irish myths state that Cuchulainn's spear, the Gae Bolg, would sprout long barbs on entering a human body. In the Tain Bo Cuailnge, he stabs Ferdiad with it in the butt and the barbs are so long, they impale Ferdiad throughout his limbs. The spear literally has to be cut out of him.

    Music 
  • Death Metal is flooded with this trope. Done by the most evil people on innocents, though the token Asshole Victim shows up from time to time.
  • The traditional Irish song "The Two Sisters" (covered by several musicians over the years, including Tom Waits, CLANNAD, and Bob Dylan) recounts the tale of a girl who is drowned by her own sister out of jealousy over a man both girls fancy. The song ends with a line that notes that the murderess is punished by being boiled in lead.
  • Happens quite alot with GWAR.
  • While not the official video,Child's Play has the lyric imply this, as the person killing her cut out her eyes, cut off her lips, and then cut off her foot, in addition to cutting her hair out of jealousy because the man she was infatuated with loved the victim. The official vid vaguely states what had happened but it is not clearly shown and the relationship between the two girls is unclear but it is safe to assume that they are sisters like "The Two Sisters" example or that they are very close friends.
  • The album Benji by Sun Kil Moon is full of these, but the one instance that sticks out the most is in "Carissa" when Carissa burned to death after throwing out her trash and there just so happened to be a can full of pressurized gas inside the trash. Unfortunately, that isn't the only time it happens, since it happens again in "Truck Driver."

    Podcasts 
  • The Cool Kids Table game Creepy Town is a slasher movie, so naturally some of these occur.
    • Ethan is bisected by a chainsaw.
    • Spencer drowns in the floor.
    • Walter and Veronica get pulled into the wall.
    • Frank is dragged into the fog by the Devil.
    • Stacey is drowned by a giant Creepy Doll that looks like Dianne.
    • Will is torn in half by the monster in the form of Ethan.
  • All the deaths in Sequinox episode "Inferno" are bad, but the way that Sid is killed takes the cake for the worst one. She is crushed underneath Chell's body, who is being used as a make-shift weapon by Scorpius.

    Roleplay 
  • In Moonrise, this happens to quite a few characters. Most notable is Shadestar of BrokenClan, who was brutally killed by a tiger via being torn open and viciously shredded, taking all of her remaining lives.

    Theatre 
  • Another Shakespearean example is Mark Antony's clumsy drawn-out suicide in Antony and Cleopatra.
  • The stage musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both the Broadway and West End productions) goes further with this trope than any previous incarnation of the story, particularly with Violet Beauregarde and Veruca Salt. Violet explodes after she turns into a blueberry and Veruca is sent down the nut chute with her father to an incinerator, leading to a Dwindling Party. Mr. Wonka doesn't care though. While he mentions that Violet could be put Not Quite Back to Normal, he pretty much implies Veruca's toast.
    Mr. Wonka: [regarding Veruca's demise] We mustn't mourn. That's not what Veruca wanted. And Veruca always got what she wanted, didn't she?
    • The 2017 Broadway version production goes further with this trope with both demises. Violet Beauregarde explodes offstage onto her dad and Veruca Salt gets dismembered and decapitated by squirrels. Wonka does mention Veruca could be put back together with a gluestick by the Oompa Loompas and Violet could be scooped out of the pulping pond before she ferments, but he still shows some apathy if they don't recover. This could be part of the reason of casting of adults in the roles of the four bratty children. Imagine these things happening to ACTUAL children.
  • In Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, the title character is impaled (onstage) through the anus with a red-hot poker — see also the Real Life section. His (fictional) assassin, Lightborn, has a speech describing his expertise in Cruel And Unusual Death. Although the real Edward II probably didn't actually die this way, the legend no doubt arose because it was seen as a Karmic Death, given Edward's homosexuality. Marlowe (who was probably gay himself) writes Edward as a fairly sympathetic character, and the scene in the play is absolutely horrifying.
  • William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus sees its main character slice the throats of his rival's sons, bleed them before letting them die, and bake them into a pie which he then serves back to their unknowing mother.
  • Heracles' poisoned shirt from The Trachiniae seems to meld to him, eat away his skin, and just be very painful and terrifying in general. Instead of waiting for it to properly kill him he asks to be immolated asap.


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Video Example(s):

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"Have your fill."

After capturing them, Archnemon prepares to devour Gammamon's brain first, only for him to suddenly evolve into GulusGammamon and swiftly kill her. Namely by jamming his fist down her throat and firing off a point-blank Desdemona, effectively burning her from the inside out. Granted, after eating the brains of at least two humans, she deserved it, but Jesus...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

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