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Dangerously Close Shave

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Beadle Bamford: Your establishment is in Fleet Street, you say?
Sweeney Todd: Yes, sir.
Beadle Bamford: Then, Mr. Todd, you will surely see me there before the week is out.
Sweeney Todd: You are welcome, Beadle Bamford. And I guarantee to give you, without a penny's charge, the closest shave you will ever know.

Until relatively recently, hairy apes like you and I had two options when it came to dealing with unkempt hair; either you just hacked it short, or you took an Absurdly Sharp Blade and proceeded to scrape your skin, possibly off. Thus evolved the barber's art; honing, stropping and wielding those wicked-looking straight razors to dispose of unseemly hair without getting blood all over a customer's shirt.

Except that in movieland, however, this is only slightly less dangerous than doing it oneself, as, every so often, that straight razor would end up slicing the customer's throat.

A milder version of this trope involves the customer getting a nonlethal cut, either by accident or intentionally on the barber's part.

See also Cut Himself Shaving and There Will Be Toilet Paper. For instances where something sharp barely grazes someone, see Close-Call Haircut and Paper Cutting.


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Lethal Dangerously Close Shaves:

  • This is implied in one commercial for Wilkins Coffee, in which Wontkins asks Wilkins, who is a barber, to give him a close shave. Wilkins asks Wontkins if he drinks the advertised coffee, and Wontkins says no. Considering how most other Wilkins Coffee commercials end with Wontkins maimed or dead, it's easy to guess what happens next, based on Wilkins' response:
    Wilkins: My friend, this is going to be the closest shave you've ever had!

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Akumetsu chapter 27, one of Akumetsu's victims gets killed this way.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the short Agent 327 animation Operation Barbershop, after disposing of the dentist Boris tries to kill 327 by throttling him with a barber cape, slicing him with a straight razor, then is about to give 327 an Eye Scream with a hair trimmer when 327 knocks him out with the hair dryer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Explicitly invoked, but averted (with tragic consequences for the scrupulous barber), in Le Barbier.
  • The Big Red One. A woman working for La Résistance kills several German soldiers billeted in the madhouse by pretending to be one of the inmates, dancing among them in a red dress cutting their throats.
  • In Eastern Promises, a barber asks his nephew to shave a customer. Turns out it's code for slicing his throat open.
  • The Enforcer (1951): Rico murders Tony Vetto while he's getting a shave, stepping up to the barber (who has been coerced into helping the killers) and taking the razor from him after he's sharpened it, then approaching Tony (whose back is to them) as the film cuts to the next scene.
  • Grim Prairie Tales: Martin insists on shaving before going to finalize the contracts with Horn, much to Blue's annoyance. While shaving, he nicks himself and then seems to lose control of his arm. When Martin looks in the mirror, he sees the ghost of Colochez holding his arm trying to force the razor across his throat. He ultimately loses the struggle and slashes his own throat. But was it Colochez's ghost, or did Martin go made and kill himself?
  • At the opening scene of My Name Is Nobody one of the bad guys replace the barber about to shave Jack in an attempt to assassinate him. Jack realizes it in time and draws his gun, subverting the trope.
  • In Murder By Contract (1958) Vince Edwards is a hired killer. He ambushes one victim by pretending to be a barber. The victim sits in the chair as Edwards strops the razor, then pulls down the shades and advances on the victim. The camera homes in on a rotating display with the message "You are next".
  • In an early draft of Sherlock Holmes (2009), Dredger (who wound up a silly French thug) was a razor-wielding psychopath who impaled himself on his own razor near the end. Holmes and Watson agree to never touch a razor again.

  • This is in the backstory of Garrett (formerly "George the Fiend") from Betsy the Vampire Queen—he was an actor who was supposed to play Tarzan, but when the movie was canceled (in favor of Gone with the Wind), the producer took him to the barber for a haircut and shave. The producer was the vampire Nostro, and he had the barber slit Garrett's throat so he could drink.
  • In both the novel and movie of The Color Purple, Celie is required to shave Mister. Before she does it the first time, he threatens to hurt her if she ever "accidentally" cut him. Given the way he treats her, she certainly had reason to consider performing this trope on him—in the movie, fed up after years of abuse, she is this close to slashing his throat before Shug stops her.
  • In universe example with The Dark Half. The fictional killer in the Alexis Machine series is fond of this. Soon enough George Stark comes to use it as well.
  • Discworld
    • In the novel Feet of Clay, Samuel Vimes invokes this as an excuse to shave himself — he claims he's had too many people try to kill him to be comfortable with anyone holding a blade near his throat. The real reason is that having grown up in the gutter, he resents the aristocracy and hates having servants wait on him.
    • In Jingo, Vimes reflects on the case of Sweeney Jones, the Barber of Gleam Street, who was cutting his customers' throats. Although, unlike his Roundword namesake, not on purpose.
    • Invoked in Monstrous Regiment two different ways:
      • When Sweet Polly Oliver Polly Perks is given the task of shaving Lieutenant Blouse — under the impression that, as a chap, she has a rough idea what she's doing — the Lieutenant asks her if she thinks she could kill a man. She stares at the razor in her hand and says she thinks she probably could.
      • And when Sergeant Jackrum takes over, he discusses the current situation with the Lieutenant, and Polly wonders what might happen if the conversation doesn't go the way the Sergeant wants.
  • In Dodger, Dodger goes to get a shave from Sweeney Todd. Although he survives the experience (and becomes a hero in the process), the peelers find a cellar full of the corpses of earlier customers who were not so lucky.
  • In a Don Camillo story by Guareschi, Don Camillo provokes the murderer by getting shaved by him, essentially bringing over the message "You can kill me but you won't escape divine nemesis!".
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Glory Road, Rufus is an accomplished barber with a straight razor but he can only do it while his "customer" is lying down. This is because he learned the skill while working as a mortician—that is, shaving corpses. This phrase subsequently becomes a Running Gag between him and the protagonist, Oscar, as a Deadly Euphemism for killing.
  • In The Iron Hand of Mars Marcus Didius Falco finds himself accompanied to Germania by Nero's former barber, whom he fears might actually be an assassin sent to kill him. We don't find out if he is, but the barber does quite handily cut the throat of a mook who tries ambushing them. When questioned on his throat-slitting ability, the barber quietly points out that someone in his occupation is often open to abuse—he's had to learn how to defend himself.
  • This is the focus of "Lather and Nothing Else" by Hernando Tellez—the client is an army captain in a tyrannical regime, and the barber is secretly a rebel. The barber knows that if he kills the captain, he'll be arrested and executed, but he's uncertain whether it would be worth it. He decides to simply shave the captain and send him on his way. The captain tells him he's known to be a rebel, and this was an experiment to see if he was really willing to kill. "It's not easy to kill a man. Believe me, I know."
  • The Malloreon: In recognition of this trope, Belgarath reacts with incredulity when it turns out that Kal Zakath, in his mid-to-late thirties and ruler of a people famed for their scheming nature, has never learned to shave. He lingers on the inadvisiblity of a ruler with few friends letting someone place a sharp knife at their throat.
  • The ballad Der rechte Barbier (The Right Barber) by Franco-German poet and naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838): A man calls for a barber, offering a high price for taking off his beard and shaving him, only if the barber nicks him and spills one drop of blood, he'll kill him. The master barber is too scared, tells the journeyman to do it; the journeyman is too scared, sends for the apprentice. The apprentice does it and does a fine job.
    "Well done, and you didn't tremble, even though I'd have killed you if you had spilled one drop of blood."
    "Sir, that wasn't a problem. I had you by the throat--if you had flinched and my knife had gone awry, I'd have cut your throat immediately."
  • The original Sweeney Todd story was The String of Pearls, published in the 1840s. In that version, Todd did in his customers by opening a trapdoor under the chair and only employed this trope if the fall into the cellar didn't kill them outright.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Boardwalk Empire: Jimmy kills one of the D'Alessio brothers by slicing his throat while he's having a shave at the barber's.
  • Spoofed in Danger 5 with an assassin trying to murder someone with an electric razor.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has a few:
  • The Professionals. In the prologue of "Mixed Doubles", a maid enters a hotel room with a broken door chain, and interrupts a notorious terrorist shaving off his Beard Of Disguise. He cuts her throat with the razor and hides her body in the closet.


    Comic Strips 
  • In Dick Tracy, Sam Catchem nearly has his throat slit while getting a shave from Empty's girlfriend Bonnie the Barber.

  • The quintessential embodiment of this trope is of course Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who murdered his customers and handed their bodies off to his partner Mrs. Lovett to be baked into meat pies. His ultimate goal being to kill Judge Turpin who banished Todd on false charges, raped his wife in Todd's absence, and taken his daughter under his own wings. He ultimately succeeds in the end with this trope being the method. The current page's picture depicts him killing a customer in the movie rendition of the story.
    • Ironically averted in the original penny dreadful about Sweeny, in which he kills his customers with a booby-trapped chair that flips them into a deep pit. He threatens to apply this trope to his shop boys several times, but the only murders he's actually shown committing are a poisoning and a stealthy club to the head.

    Theme Parks & Attractions 

    Video Games 
  • One of the playable personas in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer is the Barber, a spy for the Templars who goes around cutting throats with a straight razor.
  • In Brain Dead 13, if Lance chooses the "shave" (which is rather odd, since he doesn't have any facial hair), Vivi will spray him with green shaving cream, and she will use this Sinister Scythe to try and kill him in this dangerous way, a la Sweeney Todd.
  • On Discworld MUD, there is an NPC who is a Shout-Out to Sweeney Todd, and even warns you beforehand that he'll slit your throat when you get a shave from him. But hey, dying this way gets you an achievement and a percentage of another achievement and creates pies that taste like you.
  • One method of assassinating The Malestrom in the India level of Hitman 2 is to disguise Agent 47 as a barber and wait for him to come in for a shave.

    Web Animation 
  • Lumpy from Happy Tree Friends ups the ante by shaving himself while driving in “The Way You Make Me Wheel”. This being Happy Tree Friends, the results are messy.

  • In Girl Genius, Lord Selnikov discusses this after becoming a disembodied head in a jar.
    Lord Selnikov: Oh, now this is absurd! How am I supposed to shave?!
    Doctor Sun: ...You Lordship actually shaves himself?
    Lord Selnikov: As if I'd trust anyone I know to put a razor to my throat!
    Doctor Sun: mm. Technically? No longer a problem.
  • This Nedroid comic has Reginald doing it to himself.
  • Happens in this The Perry Bible Fellowship comic involving an automatic barber.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Futurama episode "That's Lobstertainment", the gang watch an old film starring Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid, in which he's a barber who accidentally chops off a customer's head while shaving him with his claws.
  • Bart and Lisa plan a script for Itchy & Scratchy from The Simpsons involving Itchy decapitating Scratchy with a straight razor although the idea gets scrapped as too cliché.
  • The Tex Avery MGM Cartoons short "The Car Of Tomorrow" has a gag about a car that shaves the driver, and what happens when the road is not smooth.

    Real Life 
  • One of the stories about Dionysius the Elder says that he was so afraid of that trope he ordered that his daughters train as barbers. Then he stopped trusting them as well and started burning the hair off.
  • Albert Anastasia was assassinated by a team of gunmen while getting a shave at the Park Sheraton Hotel's barbershop in Manhattan.

Nonlethal Dangerously Close Shaves:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders: Khan attempts to assassinate Polnareff in this fashion, brandishing Anubis to his throat in the middle of a relaxing shave. Polnareff dodges at the last moment, though, and Khan ends up cutting himself instead.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Shadow One-Shot 2014: Agents of the Shadow, Cliff and Clyde interrogate a gangster by replacing his barber while he is getting a shave. Cliff holds the razor against his throat while commenting how he has never done this before till the gangster tells them what they want to know.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Disney's version of Peter Pan, Smee (through a complicated series of misunderstandings) mistakenly believes he's accidentally cut off Captain Hook's head while shaving him.
    Smee: Oh dear! I've never shaved him this close before!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Francis Ford Coppola's interpretation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the trope is invoked for menace—but not carried through to its conclusion—when Dracula shaves Jonathan Harker with a cut-throat razor, though he does take pains to give Harker a small shaving cut on a pretext and then lick the blade.
  • Celie at least contemplates some very dangerous thoughts while holding a razor in her hand in preparation to shave Mister in The Color Purple. She gets interrupted out of her thoughts (and the razor snatched out of her hand) before she can do anything rash.
  • During the Baptism Scene of The Godfather, it certainly looks like this is about to happen to someone, but it turns out that The man getting a shave is a hitman for the Corleone family, and was getting a shave so he could sit and watch a door for his target without raising suspicion.
  • In Mississippi Burning, the FBI Agent played by Gene Hackman intimidates a local deputy sheriff and KKK member who was getting a shave by replacing the barber mid shave.
  • Operation Finale. Mossad agent Peter Malkin assures a captive Adolf Eichmann that he really is just going to shave him before doing so. However when Eichmann starts asking innocuous questions about Peter's family, it threatens to become this trope as Peter's sister was killed during the Final Solution. Fortunately he resists the urge, as their orders are to take Eichmann back to Israel for trial.
  • The Resistance Banker. Walraven is about to meet a contact in La Résistance, when a barber suddenly drags him into a shop and starts shaving him. It soon becomes clear the Germans were hiding in the house he was about to enter and had already arrested his contact. Without the barber, Walraven would have walked right into a trap. When the Germans shoot the man they arrested right outside the shop the barber's hand is shaking, though he doesn't cut Walraven because he stops at that point.
  • Narrowly averted in the movie Resurrection Man, where the cold-blooded psycho protagonist—who we've already seen viciously kill several people and beat countless others to a pulp—gives his disabled father a shave. From the looks on their faces and the building-up of dramatic tension, it really seems as though he's about to kill him. But he doesn't. It's still a massively eerie scene though.
  • A humorous scene early in Scaramouche, where Andre sends out his lawyer's barber and proceeds to interrogate the lawyer as to the identity of the man who pays his stipend. By shaving him.
  • The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case: The Tattooed Man is giving Small a shave when he nicks him with the razor. He then claims that it is the fault of the safety razor and that Small should let him have a go with a straight razor. Small is having none of it.
  • Played for a gag in a scene from So's Your Old Man where Sam cringes while watching a man try to shave himself on a shaking, bouncing train, with a giant straight razor.
  • Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987) moves his head while being shaved. Everyone in the room freezes as they see that the barber has cut him. Capone dismisses the unintentional injury.

  • In "The Man from Ironbark", by Australian bush poet Banjo Paterson, a barber plays a trick of this trope on a country yokel. The barber makes the man think his throat is cut by heating up the back of a barber's blade and drawing it across newly-shaven skin. The feeling that is left is as if the throat is cut. This ... doesn't go well.
  • Thunder and Roses by Theodore Sturgeon takes place in a United States devastated by a nuclear attack, with insanity and suicide rampant among the few survivors. When two soldiers find themselves becoming obsessed by a straight-razor that one of them is using to shave, they quickly melt it down in a furnace so they won't be tempted to use it to cut their wrists.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Alcatraz episode "Cal Sweeney", the prison barber accidentally cuts Tiller while Tiller is demanding a cut of Sweeney's racket. The barber's reaction shows he expects some retribution from Tiller, but Tiller uses the cut as an opportunity to deliver a veiled threat to Sweeney about what happens if you shave against the grain.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). The episode "Blue Crow Waltz" opens with Vicious apparently talking of giving an enemy a Slashed Throat, but he's actually discussing how he likes having a woman shave his balls with a straight razor. He then gets into an argument with his friend Fearless who doesn't see the need for manscaping, especially if it involves your testicles being menaced by a razor-sharp blade.
  • On Dirty Jobs Mike was once freaked out when cameraman Troy wanted him to shave his neck with a straight razor, even citing it as being "too Sweeney Todd" and even the professional barber caused Troy to bleed a little.
  • In Flash Gordon, Ming was nicked when being shaved mainly because he couldn't sit still. As punishment for the nick, he cuts off the guilty barber's finger. They don't call this guy "The Merciless" for nothing.
  • Invoked Trope in Game of Thrones. To demonstrate to his father that he has broken Theon Greyjoy completely, Ramsay Snow has Theon give him a close shave, while taunting his captive.
  • In the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Bad Medicine", Kolchak talks to a former criminal gem cutter who now works as a barber. He gets lathered up but then decides not to get a shave after noticing how much the barber's hand shakes.
  • Princess Agents: Yuwen Yue tells Chu Qiao to shave him. She cuts his throat with the razor instead. Luckily for him, it was a very shallow cut.
  • Tales of the Gold Monkey. In "Cooked Goose" after our heroes say something to annoy her, Princess Koji has them dragged off by her guards. Cut to The Hero with a razor poised over his face, then a Reveal Shot shows all three men are being shaved by beautiful geisha girls.
  • Westworld, the Man in Black has android host Dolores, whom he has raped and abused on many occasions, shave him with his own Bowie knife.

  • Lou Reed's song "Harry's Circumcision" is about a man who, while shaving, realises that he's turning into his parents... and promptly starts cutting up his face, ending by slashing his own throat.
    Harry awoke with a cough, the stitches made him wince
    A doctor smiled at him from somewhere across the room
    "Son, we saved your life, but you'll never look the same."
    And when he heard that, although it hurt, Harry had to laugh.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Disney Theme Parks ABC Soundstage attraction "Sounds Dangerous" simulates Drew Carey getting one of these with audio.

    Video Games 
  • In Far Cry 5, Jacob Seed forces his captive Staci Pratt to shave him while he talks to the Deputy, Pratt's coworker, evidently to demonstrate how thoroughly broken and submissive he's become.
  • In Yakuza, Shimano is having his head shaved by a scantily-clad woman, who accidentally cuts him and immediately reacts with terror.

    Web Animation 

    Web Video 
  • In the second campaign of Critical Role, Yasha gives Caleb a shave with her five-and-a-half foot long greatsword at two points. The first time actually goes pretty well. The second...not so much.

    Western Animation 
  • Donald Duck almost gets a lethal shave from an automated barber's chair in the Classic Disney Short Modern Inventions.
  • In A Close Shave, the villainous dog Preston ends up in an automatic sheep-shearing machine, where he is given the titular "close shave". It only serves to rip off his fur and reveal him to be a robot.
  • Bugs Bunny gives one to Elmer Fudd in the Looney Tunes short Rabbit of Seville.
    There, you're nice and clean / although your face / looks like it might have gone through / a machine.
  • The Tex Avery short The House of Tomorrow has a robot shaver that removes all the hair from the user's head—and also his nose and mouth. (But he looks at the camera and blinks, so it's not in the lethal examples.)