When an Evil Overlord wants to dispatch one of his enemies, he tends to go the extra mile. Sure, he could just shoot them, but where's the fun in that? So, he instead comes up with an over-elaborate, bizarre, and sadistic means to murder his heroic adversary in some potentially horrific fashion. Hence, the Death Trap.
Usually Hand Waved by the villain remarking that simply shooting the enemy is too easy a death for them and instead coming up with something considerably more dramatic and sometimes more slow and painful. It's not just about getting his foe out of the way, it's about proving his superiority. Besides, it makes a useful Cliffhanger to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the next episode or commercial break. Also, the odds of success in Real Life are probably reasonably high.
However, the villains typically make the mistake of not closely observing the heroes or leaving assuming that the trap will work, and they figure out a way to escape just in time — a form of Genre Blindness to which supergenius supervillains are uniquely prone.
A related phenomenon is the tendency for villains to resort to other means of assassination which are more complicated than they need to be; such as the use of an Animal Assassin or tricking them into killing themselves.
One variant on the trope is it being used as an interrogation method.
The hero is often (but not always) delivered to the Death Trap via a Trap Door. See Booby Trap or Death Course for death-traps used as protection rather than execution (never mind that such obstacles tend to be more deadly to incompetent henchmen than the heroes). Someone who specializes in this is likely a Trap Master.
Expect the villain to helpfully note that You Have No Chance to Survive. Which, of course, you don't.
Not to be confused with the 1977 play Deathtrap or the 1982 film of said play.
Here are many types of deathtraps which my peers have resorted to:
- Acid Pool
- Baby Boomers
- Beast in the Maze
- Booby Trap
- Border Patrol
- Buried Alive
- Cement Shoes
- Chain Pain (see description, it can be used as one)
- Chained to a Railway (such a Dead Horse Trope that hardly anyone even parodies it anymore)
- Chained to a Rock
- Conveyor Belt o' Doom
- Decapitation Strike
- Deadly Gas
- Deadly Rotary Fan
- Death Course
- Descending Ceiling
- Drowning Pit
- Electric Torture
- Electrified Bathtub
- Escape Route Surprise
- Fake Platform
- Fed to the Beast
- Flesh and Bombs
- Fright Deathtrap
- Gas Chamber
- Gladiator Games (where they often watch, which is a mistake because the hero can turn the monster he's fighting on them)
- Hand in the Hole
- Indy Escape
- Lava Pit
- Locked in a Freezer (when done on purpose)
- Murder by Cremation
- Packed Hero
- Perilous Play
- Pendulum of Death
- Robotic Torture Device
- Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts (for those extremely complicated death traps)
- Sand Necktie
- Sauna of Death
- Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere
- Shackle Seat Trap
- Shark Pool
- Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom
- Snake Pit
- Spikes of Doom
- Strapped to a Bomb
- Strapped to a Rocket
- Strapped to an Operating Table
- Stuck on a Ski Lift
- This Is Not a Floor
- Thrown Down a Well
- Trap Door (usually used to deliver the heroes to another Death Trap)
- Trapped In a Tanning Bed
- Trial-and-Error Gameplay
- To the Pain
- The Walls Are Closing In
- Xylophone Gag (which has never worked)
And here are some series where different kind of Death Traps play a large role:
- An episode of Dirty Pair has the villains capture one of the heroines, and strap her to a laser cutting table (mercifully aiming top-down instead of bottom-up) which they rig to their security system to lighten the guilt.
- In One Piece, Mr. 3 captured Brogy, Zoro, Nami, and Vivi with the Tokudai Candle Service Set, a wax construct topped with massive burning candles. The produced wax vapor begins to condense on their bodies, slowly encasing them in a nearly-unbreakable wax sculpture. Victims either die suffocating on the vapors or suffocating once fully encased.
- The manga (before it got taken over by card games, and ever occasionally after) is one long series of these. An interesting twist is that it's usually the hero setting them up as a punishment for local bullies. At one point, he turns his own mind into a death trap when someone invades it. Then there's Big Bad Kaiba, who builds an elaborate theme park of doom for the heroes in an insane revenge plot. His Death Traps are unique in that they involve things like trained mercenaries and serial killers trying to kill Yugi and his friends, so he does at least avert Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?.
- In the Battle City arc, the villains often pulled a few of these and claimed that the same conditions applied to them; thing was, they had a way to escape. In Pandora's duel with Yugi, the trap had two spinning rotary blades that would hack the loser's legs off, and only by winning the duel could one of the duelists unlock a box with a key. Pandora lost, but he had a spare key up his sleeve. In the team duel between Yugi and Kaiba and Lumis and Umbra, the duel took place on the top of a skyscraper with a glass ceiling rigged with bombs that would cause the loser to fall; the villains had parachutes. Of course, the villains didn't actually escape. In Pandora's case, Marik clouded his mind so he couldn't see the key, and Yugi had to rescue him with his. But this heroic act was pointless, because Marik killed him anyway after possessing his body and using it to threaten Yugi. Marik apparently did the same thing to Lumis, and probably Umbra too. (It can at least be safely said that they were never seen again.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, a D-Wheel thief named Cid tried to pull this on Jack. The trap consisted of two conveyor belts leading to car crushers, the idea being the loser would be dumped into one of them. Cid tried to jam his belt to make sure he'd be safe even if he lost, but he didn't jam it very well, and had to be rescued by Jack after he lost. (Didn't stop Jack from beating up the other members of his gang afterwards, however.)
- In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared employs a deadly Power Nullifier on the moon. It succeeds in killing Siphon.
- Detective Comics #824 parodies the Batman (1966) TV series by suggesting that with some villains, it's just a quaint routine; the Penguin traps Batman in a death trap that Batman easily escapes from — and when Batman challenges Penguin as to this, Penguin admits that he knew Batman would escape, and that he wouldn't have even bothered if he thought that Batman wouldn't ("I even left your utility belt on."). The Penguin had "reformed" at the time, and had the public image of a law-abiding businessman. It wouldn't have exactly done wonders for his reputation if Batman actually died in his nightclub.
- For the Riddler, however, it's implied to be part of the same crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder which compels him to leaves clues and riddles about his crimes.
- In Death of the Family, Catwoman gets trapped in a centrifuge by the Joker. The idea is to be spin her around really fast until it kills her. Just when she's about to escape that, the centrifuge get flooded in an attempt to drown her. She escapes that, too.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In Don Rosa's Scrooge McDuck story "Treasure of the Ten Avatars", Scrooge and Donald have to get out of a series of these. Among other things there's a Descending Ceiling and Fake Platform with Spikes of Doom, The Walls Are Closing In, Fed to the Beast, and a Snake Pit. Donald even lampshades it by the end when he points out that they've already been through every B-movie cliché.
- Although victim to the usual power fluctuation of comic book universes, The DCU's Darkseid never attempts to kill Superman by using his consistently effective vaporizing Omega Beam. Rather, he prefers to inflict pain by slow and agonizing methods, from which Superman inevitably breaks free.
- In Gotham City Garage, Lex Luthor's secret underground facility is protected with traps such like laser hallways and turret guns built in elevator shafts. Supergirl, Catwoman and Nightwing find them annoying and trite, especially Nightwing.
Nightwing: Laser hallway. How cliché. What's next, the floor is lava? A room filled with sharks?
- In an early Jim Shooter Legion of Super-Heroes, a strike team of Legionnaires are captured and each put in a death trap designed especially for them by the minions of the Fatal Five. In this case, the Five wants them to escape and expend so much energy that they can harness for their own ends.
- Man-Thing: F.A. Schist has a scientist build one of these to end the Nigh Invulnerable Man-Thing's meddling, once and for all.
- Mickey Mouse Comic Universe: Phantom Blot relies on them, and explains why when unmasked in his introductory comic: While he very much wants to murder Mickey, he can't stand to actually watch someone die, so he needs some way to set up his victim's death and walk away.
- In Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man:
- Lex Luthor's submarine mecha's cockpit was armed with a network of lasers strong enough to kill Superman.
- Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus' warehouse. When Spider-Man sneaked in the place, he found himself in a dark corridor. Then the door shut behind him suddenly. Then he found out about the machine guns in the floorboards, the electrified walls and the red-hot ceiling, and his spider-sense warned him about wire screen designed to slice him apart.
- In Adventure Comics #400, Supergirl is at the mercy of revenge-hungry villain Black Flame: trapped in a locked room, unconscious and sprinkled with Green Kryptonite. However Black Flame doesn't "want her go that easily", so she orders her hired guns to hurry up and bring Supergirl to an elaborate death trap involving a giant bowling lane and oversized bowling pins. Supergirl survives but she is immobilized, rendered unconscious and brought to another death trap (this time consisting of a giant crossbow) from which she also breaks free.
- In Supergirl (1982) #20, super-villain Parasite builds a floating metal coffin to throw a depowered Supergirl in.
- In Starfire's Revenge, the titular crimelord throws Supergirl — who she believes helpless — and her minion Rodney — whom she no longer needs — into a pit where she keeps a savage gorilla and leaves the room. Then, Supergirl reveals she is not unconscious or depowered after all, and knocks the ape out.
- In How Luthor Met Superboy, Luthor sets up an actually simple trap for his nemesis: a Kryptonite rock stashed away behind a lead wall panel. When Superboy walks into his lab, completely clueless to the fact that his former friend now wants to murder him, Lex presses a button on his deks and the panel slids upwards, letting the rock bathe Superboy in lethal radiation.
- The Phantom Zone: The Phantom Zoners decide to get rid of Supergirl by tossing her into the Disintegration Pit, a radioactive cauldron used by Superman to disintegrate anything dangerous he finds. However, it does not occur to them to stay around to make sure that she falls into the flames and cannot climb back up.
- In Brainiacs Blitz, the titular villain traps Supergirl into a Kryptonite cage. He then bathes the cage with omicron rays to increase the K-radiation and push a button to fill the cage with Kryptonite gas. To finish her off, he transfers his force-field energy into a disintegrator ray and blasts the cage into atoms.
- In Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man:
- In Violine, Muller has a Torture Cellar complete with Death Trap, consisting of a pool filled with crocodiles.
- Wonder Woman:
- Villain Nina Close would lock her victims in style masks designed to release a deadly hydrocyanic gas into their mouths if they tried to remove it, forcing them or their loved ones to pay her a ransom.
- Wonder Woman (1942): Dr. Psycho manages to knock out Diana with a knock out gas, but instead of killing her forces her to call her allies to a certain buoy by mental radio by wrapping her in her own lasso and then rigs the buoy with explosives and ties her to it, again using her own lasso. She escapes and no one dies since she lassos the entire boat her friends are in and pulls it up by hand while dangling from her mentally controlled plane.
- The villain Arcade always uses elaborate death traps, intentionally providing his victims a chance at escape however slim, because he's in the business for the fun of it. After all, it's not really a game at all if there's no chance of losing. Arcade is rich enough that he doesn't really need the money to begin with, and so his deathtraps are more for his entertainment than anything else. He also markets his deathtraps to others, setting up obstacle courses that villains sometimes use to train themselves. When he uses Murderworld in that capacity, he still has at least some of the traps set for lethal effect... but the supervillains are informed of this in advance. Just not which parts are lethal.
- Lampshaded and played straight simultaneously in the X-Men's first confrontation with Doctor Doom: He captures them, places them in situations which could kill them, then explains to his temporary ally Arcade that he doesn't care if they escape or not. If they don't, he's rid of them; if they do, he gains valuable information concerning their skills and powers. Either way, he benefits.
- The Great Mouse Detective. Professor Rattigan can't figure out which method to use to kill his Arch-Enemy Basil, so he decides to use them all, setting up a series of lethal weaponry to hack, shoot, splatter and squash our heroes, activated by a Rube Goldberg Device.
- In Penguins of Madagascar, Dave has one in his submarine, where victims are tied into a Theme Park-style ride car and driven through a series of swinging blades, mashing spikes, and explosive rockets fired at close range.
- The ABCs of Death: In the "H" segment, The Baroness Frau Scheisse has prepared a particularly elaborate one for her nemesis Bertie. Had she gone with something simpler, she might have succeeded.
- Lampshaded and mercilessly parodied in the Austin Powers films. See this exchange from the first movie:
Dr. Evil: All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.
[guard starts dipping mechanism]
Dr. Evil: Close the tank!
Scott Evil: Wait, aren't you even going to watch them? They could get away!
Dr. Evil: No no no, I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
Scott Evil: I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here, BOOM, I'll blow their brains out!
Dr. Evil: Scott, you just don't get it, do ya? You don't.
- The miraculous escape from an inescapable deathtrap is superbly spoofed in the 1983 film Bullshot. The dastardly Otto von Bruno completely immobilises the hero "Bullshot" Crummond with a Converse Forcefield. As soon as anyone opens the door it will Reverse the Polarity and detonate the stick of dynamite in Bullshot's mouth. Otto is, needless to say, rather disconcerted when Bullshot later turns up alive.
"When you directed Dobbs to the room where I was paralysed, there was one small thing you hadn't accounted for — that he would be wearing a regimental club tie which is 100% silk! The static electricity temporarily neutralised the forcefield, giving me time to take advantage of the inflammable properties of the brandy that you offered me earlier. Within the small amount of neck movement available to me under the magnetic paralysis, I formed my nasal cavity into a type of Liebig condenser, thereby concentrating the alcohol fumes in one place. I then forced the fumes down each nostril with such intensity that they were combusted by the lighted end of the dynamite, thus forming a natural blowtorch, which completely severed the fuse, rendering the dynamite totally harmless. The rest was easy."
- Help!: The cultists set up increasingly elaborate death traps to get Ringo. Which, because of the requirements for the sacrifice, also involve painting the victim red.
- Bond. James Bond. As with many things, this started out kinda-plausible in the Sean Connery years, got more and more ridiculous with Roger Moore, then gradually got clawed back.
- Lampshade hung in The Jewel of the Nile. Heroes Jack Colton and Joan Wilder (the latter an author of romantic adventure novels) wind up captured by the villain, who hangs them both over a well, then explains that Jack's rope has acid slowly being dripped on it, while Joan's rope is being gnawed on by rats, creating a race as to who will fall first. Jack starts ranting about what kind of sick mind would think up such a ridiculous setup, only for Joan to admit it's from one of her books.
- Discussed in Kingsman: The Secret Service, then averted immediately after.
Valentine: You know what this is like? It's like those old movies we both love. Now, I'm going to tell you my whole plan, and then I'm going to come up with some absurd and convoluted way to kill you, and you'll find an equally convoluted way to escape.
Harry Hart: Sounds good to me.
Valentine: Well, this ain't that kind of movie. *Shoots Harry in the head*
- In Lemon Tree Passage, Toby is left tied up in a death trap that is designed to be triggered by his friends when they come looking for him: dropping a deadfall that will then hang him.
- Maverick. After Angel captures Maverick, he leaves him with a noose around his neck tied to a tree, on the back of his horse, with his hands tied behind his back. He also leaves a bag full of rattlesnakes nearby to spook the horse so it will move away and leave Maverick to hang. Luckily the branch the rope is tied to breaks, allowing Maverick to avoid death.
- In Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, Dr. Putrid T. Gangrene leaves our heroes trapped in an experimental chamber where they will be turned into tomatoes after a timer runs out! Then he leaves. Just shooting them would be wrong for a mad scientist of his caliber.
- The Saw franchise is based entirely around a Serial Killer abducting a person or a group of people, and then placing them in a room where to escape death they must either mutilate themselves or kill someone else. Usually, once having done one of these two things, they die anyway, either because they had to do something else, or, in the later movies, because a Deceptive Disciple of the killer made the trap. This case is notable among examples of the trope as, more often than not, the characters fail to escape and we get to see the results in graphic detail.
- In Serial Killing 4 Dummys, the Serial Killer leaves Sasha Bound and Gagged in an exercise machine hooked up to a circular saw above her head. She has to hold up a weighted bar with her legs. As her legs tire and the bar drops, the saw edges closer to her head.
- Almost every frickin' installment in the Alex Rider series includes a deathtrap at the critical plot point.
- In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Opal Koboi traps Artemis and Holly in an abandoned theme park overrun by trolls and leaves them to die, as revenge for thwarting her world domination plan in The Arctic Incident.
- In Bulldog Drummond, the criminal mastermind Lakington's house has several built in, including a step on the main staircase that, when activated, triggers a heavy weight to swing out of the wall at neck-breaking height.
- In Fredric R. Stewart's Cerberon, Merlen and Oethelzeiren face off on the ground level of a colossal tower in the center of a city. After discussing the futility of a direct fight between them, Oethelzeiren improvises a Death Trap for Merlen by blasting out all the supports to the tower above them, leaving Merlen to hold up the tower with his magic while people inside the tower escape, and while an unstoppable Giant Wall of Watery Doom bears down on the city. Becomes No One Could Survive That! when Merlen is still there when the flood water blasts through.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Scarlet Citadel", Tsotha captures Conan only to get him to Abdicate the Throne; when that fails, he chains him where a giant snake will get him. Unfortunately, a Revenge seeking man intervenes.
- Parodied several times in Discworld, most notably in Guards! Guards!:
"The phrase 'Set a thief to catch a thief' had by this time (after strong representations from the Thieves' Guild) replaced a much older and quintessentially Ankh-Morporkian proverb, which was 'Set a deep hole with spring-loaded sides, tripwires, whirling knife blades driven by water power, broken glass and scorpions, to catch a thief.'"
- In P. G. Wodehouse's "Do Thrillers Need Heroines?", he complains of how the villains, the natural person to rid the thriller of its Too Dumb to Live Dumb Blonde, resort to this — for her, only for her, he can kill a man, in a straightforward manner.
- Can actually be justified in The Dresden Files: if a wizard sees their death coming, they can cast a powerful Dying Curse at their enemy. However, if you leave the wizard in a Death Trap and then slip away to another plane of reality before the wizard dies you'll be beyond the reach of their curse.
- Averted in one of the James Bond novels, You Only Live Twice, when he sneaks into a Japanese castle. He peeks through a keyhole, and sees a guy at the far end of a hallway, fiddling with something beside a door, then leaving. Upon entering, he makes it halfway across the room before the floor falls out from under him. As he falls, he berates himself for not remembering the traditional traps of such castles. He nearly dies.
- The Phantom of the Opera: The back door to the Phantom's house leads into his "torture chamber," specifically built there to trap anyone who tries to sneak up on him. The walls, ceiling, and floor are mirrors, which (depending on what single object is placed in the room) drive a person insane until they kill themselves by hanging themselves on the conveniently provided iron tree... if the rising temperature doesn't roast them alive first. He once had a job building these for the Cool And Unusual Execution of criminals as entertainment for a particularly sadistic Persian princess.
- The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe. A man is tortured by means of a series of death traps, including a Bottomless Pit and crushing walls, from each of which he barely manages to escape. In the most famous scene, he is secured to a table, over which is a large curved blade which swings back and forth like a pendulum, lowering itself slowly with each swing.
- Inverted in the Sharpe series of novels, specifically the India trilogy. It is antihero Richard Sharpe who keeps throwing his nemesis, Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill, into a villain's recently abandoned death traps and then leaving him to die. Hakeswill always survives. In Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe throws Hakeswill into a pit of tigers. In Sharpe's Triumph, he leaves Hakeswill under the foot of an elephant trained for executions.
- Used by Warlord Zsinj in Solo Command. While setting up a booby-trapped industrial site for the Wraiths to hit, the baddies decided it'd be fun to drop them into an incinerator. It almost works, too — they remember to send a squad of troops to demand the Wraiths hand over their explosives. The Wraiths' demo expert doesn't fall for it and throws a pack full of rations to the troops, and gets out of there before the enemy realizes what just happened. The bad guys are also smart about it. They ALSO send in reinforcements as soon as the heroes escape, cut off all communications, and send an extremely large number of troops to handle the back-up. Still fails, but they get points for trying.
- Repeatedly defied in There Is No Epic Loot Here, Only Puns, with Delta turning down all manner of room upgrades like making mud boil and fishing ponds flood, until the menu system starts automatically filtering them out for her.
- In the Transformers: Shattered Glass story, "Do Over", Ricochet threatens Megatron with not one, but five death traps at once. When Megatron snarks at him about it, Ricochet comments that "Anythin' worth doin' is worth overdoin."
- And in "Dungeons & Dinobots", Blurr, Cliffjumper, Rodimus, and Sideswipe find themselves stuck in a creepy temple chock full of death traps.
- L'ombre Jaune (Yellow Shade ?), an evil genius and recurring villain of the Bob Morane series, can't seem to be able to choose how to kill the heroes. They are the main reason he never succeed, and he wants them dead, but in a way that befit their status as his biggest adversaries. Simply killing them when they get in his hand is not enough, so they have to do things like fighting robotic alligators... Of course, while they are not in his hand, a horde of mindless killers is par for the course.
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..: The series often involved deathtraps. Some were relatively simple, like leaving the heroes to drown in quicksand. Others were far more convoluted, such as binding the victims to a tree with dampened straps of rawhide. Rawhide shrinks when it dries, which would crush the ribs of the victims. That's not what kills them, though; it's the rifle pointed at the victims with a dampened rawhide strap attached to the trigger. See, we told you it was convoluted.
- The deathtrap as a cliffhanger was common to old Republic Serials as well as comic books, which Brisco County Jr. was an homage to. A similar homage/parody can be seen in SCTV's fake cowboy serial Six Gun Justice, where the main characters are left in a deathtrap at the end of each episode (such as being tied to a lit powderkeg, or being left trapped in a room with a wild bear) actually seen being killed, and then getting away from it at the beginning of the next episode with a ridiculous convoluted explanation as to how they got free in the nick of time.
- Batman (1966): The live-action series from the 1960s used this plot device as a typical schtick for the Cliff Hangers. The trope remains common in Batman comics; the Riddler in particular seems fond of death traps. (This is slightly more excusable in Batman, since most of the villains are insane.)
- CSI: NY had an episode where an old house was rigged with death traps; the CSI team had to go in because they found the recently dead body of a young man who'd broken in and been killed by one of the traps. They included things like a spiked ax falling from the ceiling if you didn't follow the right steps to deactivate it, and a room that could cook you to death or alternately whose walls would close in on you.
- Doctor Who: The Master has always used both simple booby traps and elaborate deathtraps against the Doctor and his companions.
- In "Terror of the Autons", his very first appearance, he uses a death trap consisting of artificial plastic flowers which will fire a plastic seal over a person's nose and mouth, suffocating them. After enough time has elapsed for the victim to die, the plastic seal will then shrivel up and vanish. Naturally, it only works until the Doctor's current companion falls victim to the trap, whereupon the Doctor saves her by using a spray which causes the seal to lose adhesion so it can be removed before the victim dies.
- As seen in "The Sound of Drums", the Master has learned his Arch-Enemy will always escape the simple traps, but they're a useful means of putting additional pressure on the Doctor until he falls into the real trap.
- Estate of Panic simply reveled in this, with each room the contestants need to search for money in having a particular "deadly" trap, many inspired from the above list.
- The Goodies: Mad Scientist Rat Fink Petal tries to kill the Goodies with a simultaneous pair of deathtraps: a bathtub slowly filling with water in which sits a man-eating alligator, and a candle burning a rope holding a tub of concentrated acid, so they'll be tormented over which horrible death they'll experience. After a comical Cliffhanger Copout in which they make an unseen escape thanks to Graham's fruit peeler, their escape is foiled by Rat Fink who's lurking outside the door. He then straps them to an enormous Cartoon Bomb, which if moved will open a canister of poison gas.
- Jonathan Creek: Expertly parodied in one episode, in which Jonathan and Carla are trapped by villains in a cage that has been suspended over metal spikes as part of a magic trick, with the rope holding the cage set on fire... however, as Jonathan knows it's a magic trick, he also knows that there's actually a steel cable under the rope suspending it as part of the trick, so he's not particularly worried.
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: In this 1960s spy series, a Death Trap was often used by THRUSH (or whatever other threat to world security U.N.C.L.E. was battling that week) as an alternative to shooting the heroes. Almost all of the two-part episodes used a Death Trap to set up a Cliffhanger between the episodes, but the single episodes had their share of death traps, too (these were often used against only one of the heroes, setting up a Big Damn Heroes moment for the other).
- This was enough of a standard device that MAD ended their parody of the show with Solo and the girl of the week suspended by chains, being slowly lowered toward a giant bowl of boiling oatmeal.
- Revolution: In "The Plague Dogs", one psycho captures Charlie and ties her to a chair with a crossbow set to go off if anyone opens the door to the room.
- Saturday Night Live did a James Bond movie parody, where archvillain Christopher Walken has Bond captive in his lair, which is still under construction, so he can only describe the death trap he was going to subject him to, with conceptual drawings as an aid.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Jeopardy Room", Commissar Vassiloff traps Major Ivan Kuchenko in a hotel room with a hidden explosive booby trap. If Kuchenko finds the bomb in time, he will be allowed to go free. If not, he will die when it detonates. Kuchenko eventually determines that Vassiloff has connected the bomb to the telephone and has rigged it to explode when it rings and someone picks up the receiver. After escaping from the hotel room, Kuchenko rings the phone. Vassiloff's assistant Boris absentmindedly answers the phone and both of them are killed in the resulting explosion.
- The protagonists of Castle run into their fair share of these over the course of the show's eight seasons. Recurring villain 3XK has a particular fondness for them as part of his narcissistic personality, but there are other perpetrators, too. Memorable examples include, but are not limited to, Castle and Beckett being Locked in a Freezer, Beckett ending up Strapped to an Operating Table by an insane beauty surgeon intent on stealing her (admittedly gorgeous) face, and Beckett spending almost an entire episode forced to stand completely still because someone rigged her apartment with a pressure plate-activated bomb right under her living room carpet.
- Wonder Woman (1975): Happens to Diana quite often, but she manages to still escape the villain's plans and save the day each time.
- A particular example would be the episode "Anschluss '77" where she is kidnapped by Nazi agents, handcuffed and taken to an abandoned mine shaft. After refusing to answer their questions, they leave her tied to a beam and place a lit package of dynamite near her. Diana's quick thinking allows her to utilize a Handy Cuffs situation, where she simply twirls the rope around, spins out of the coil and transforms into Wonder Woman. After which she simply throws the dynamite out of the mine shaft and escapes the area.
- Older Than Feudalism: In Classical Mythology, Daedalus used a booby-trapped bathtub to kill King Minos. Daedalus was living in exile in Sicily, and Minos came demanding the right to execute Daedalus for helping Theseus solve the Minoan Labyrinth. The Sicilian king pretended to be hospitable and invited him to take an awesome bath with running water (courtesy of Daedalus's engineering) but the water was set to overheated, and burned Minos to death when he turned on the tap.
- The most bizarre, improbable and overly-complicated deathtrap ever was the winning entry sent in to Amiga Power as part of a competition; they also had to come up with an escape plan for the hero:
- Mr Hero is tied to a chair.
- Mr Evil Villain pulls lever, which activates springboard, sending onion flying towards mouse.
- Mouse sees flying vegetable and runs to west coast of Australia. En route to Australia, he knocks over fisherman's Sound of Music video.
- Fisherman is so distressed, a milk bottle top flies out of his pocket, colliding with stray wasp.
- Wasp becomes disorientated and drops copy of The Beano on pensioner's pen refill.
- Passing salesman sees this happen and rushes to help.
- Eyelash dislodgement causes lamp post to turn on for seven milliseconds.
- Power change helps Belgium win at Snap.
- Over-joyous reaction makes termite in carpet drop crisps.
- Widow in Greece senses termite's grief and raises flag.
- Flag blocks out sun, which Captain Kirk mistakes for Klingon Bird of Prey. He fires phasers, which hit corner of leopard's eye.
- This encourages swan to sell three bars of gold to cod.
- New wealth upsets whelk, who fires jet towards Poland.
- Buskers in Poland tie wool around barn to ward off evil spirit.
- In disgust, spirit throws can of Lynx at barn, can rebounds striking man on head.
- Man loses bookmark from book. Bookmark causes mass pile-up on M27.
- Han Solo quickly reacts and throws radish at Daley Thompson.
- Daley Thompson picks up phone and airs opinion about Communism.
- Neighbouring swordfish stops watching TV, which enables flower to jump from window box.
- It gets caught in helicopter blades, forcing helicopter to swerve 32 degrees.
- Change in wind causes zebra's side parting to waver.
- Zebra's third cousin mocks and falls down ravine. The splash makes a tornado in Kent which pulls up huge rock.
- Worm is released and crawls into man's briefcase.
- Man drops pint and piece of glass lodges in llama's ear.
- Llama spits at lamp stand. Stand falls on cactus. Cactus spine embarks on journey, hitting vicar's jaw.
- In great pain, vicar utters "Jesus!"
- God strikes down hero, mistaking him for clergyman.
- Mr Hero telepathically contacts eagle.
- Eagle drops cheese on rooftop.
- Slate becomes loose.
- Discarded chair begins squeaking.
- Entices mouse from route to Australia.
- Knocks over Barry Kencov's ice cream maker.
- Excess ice cream causes staple guns worldwide to rust.
- Rogue staple gun calls elephant's bluff.
- Elephant storms Mr. Evil Villain's hideout, freeing hero!
- In Exalted, Infernal Exalted can atone for acts that offend their demonic masters by behaving like Card Carrying Villains. One of the methods for such atonement is called "Fiendish Deathtrap Compulsion," which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- The Grimtooth's Traps books from Flying Buffalo were death trap after death trap, just waiting for a GM to install them in his dungeon. (And to come up with game stats for them.)
- A Hero Clix set based around the 1960's Batman (1966) TV show had to include a mechanic for this, even called Elaborate Deathtrap. It gets the target out of the way for a while, but they can and will come back, since they get a chance to escape every turn and will always succeed if the guy that out them there has been K.O.'d.
- Short form games in The Splinter. Players have to complete an objective and escape the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. within 8 hours. If they dont meet that objective, neurotoxins are released into their bloodstreams.
- Time Lord RPG (based on Doctor Who), supplement Journies. A captured Player Character could use the "Master Effect" to make the Big Bad tell the PC their plan and put them in a Death Trap instead of just killing him.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Primarch of the Iron Warriors, Perturabo, is a master of deathtraps of all kinds. Tasked by the Emperor with the dirtiest, most unforgiving and unrewarding jobs during the Great Crusade, Perturabo not only became a master of defense and siege warfare, but also became a bitter soldier, disillusioned with the Emperor, and possibly suffers from PTSD. In his anger, Pert became quite creative and sadistic in fortress building, particularly setting up traps. His magnum opus is The Eternal Fortress, a labyrinth of landmines, inward facing auto turrets, and plenty of places to get ambushed. When Perturabo fled following Horus Heresy, Rogal Dorn followed suit. Blinded by vengeance, Rogal and his Imperial Fist legion followed his Traitor brother to the Eternal Fortress, swearing he would bring him back to Terra in an "Iron Cage". It ended in a blood bath. When the Imperial Fists were on the verge of annihilation, The Ultra Marines swooped in and turned the tide of battle.
- In Cadenza 4: Fame, Theft and Betrayal Adam sticks Martha in one of those magician's tables, with interlocking swords shoved into the holes above her and a slowly-descending electric saw suspended overhead.
- Lampshaded in Crash: Mind Over Mutant when Doctor Cortex orders the Grimlies to kill Crash quickly. "No games, no foolishness, no death traps that take ten flipping hours."
- The Deception series by Tecmo tasks you with using death traps as your only line of defense against aggressors.
- The game Dwarf Fortress allows you to construct several different kinds of death traps for your enemies and / or residents, including most of the ones listed on this page.
- A particularly egregious example from Everything or Nothing: the villain captures James Bond and takes him to his underground mine, where he straps him to a table, points a large mining laser at him, turns the laser on, and then leaves the room, leaving not so much as a guard to notice when Bond inevitably escapes.
- Part of the fun in Evil Genius is making elaborate death traps for unwitting foreign agents.
- Forewarned: The game, being set in Ancient Egyptian tombs, has the standard fare. There's swinging pendulum blades, giant archaeologist-crushing boulders, Spikes of Doom, etc.
- In Half-Life, there's the part where Freeman gets knocked out and thrown into a garbage crusher. By using the conveniently placed crates that are to be crushed along with you, you can jump up above the compressing walls. The whole thing could have been averted by a simple bullet to the head.
- They try to Hand Wave it by having the soldiers say they're supposed to bring you in alive, but don't want to. The Death Trap is meant to ensure there's no body to prove they killed the person they were supposed to capture. Exactly why they don't shoot you then throw you in, or why they don't stick around after throwing you in, is not explained.
- Hidden City: In the "Playing to Live" case, Violet uses a magic board game to trap Mr. Black and Rayden and puts them through a number deadly challenges, such as sending an invincible flaming hound and the fearsome Dark Hunter after them. Their allies manage to rescue them by sending them help from outside the board, although it is all but stated that dying inside the game would kill them for real, and that they would have been doomed if not for the others' support.
- There are countless in Marathon. Some of them will have an item that you usually don't get until much later in the game or an invincibility power up, but failure to get said item perfectly results in death somehow. These are also in multiplayer.
- Minecraft has tons of these, such as bomb-ridden rooms, arrow shooters, pitfalls, drowning traps, one-way doors... Some spawn naturally, some are set by players for other players, and some are built to harvest enemy mobs.
- Nearly every Nancy Drew game features a form of a death trap.
- Nightshade uses these in place of continues — if you lose a fight, you need to escape a trap in order to avoid a game-over. There are a total of seven traps (counting the one you start in at the beginning of the game), and each one is harder to escape than the last. The seventh is impossible to escape.
- There are numerous death traps in Portal 2, set up by GLaDOS in the first portion of the game, and Wheatley later on. Wheatley's last trap deserves a special mention for how he refers to it.
Wheatley: Just jump into that masher! Less a death trap, more of a... Death option for you!
- Done to Sonic in Sonic Adventure 2. Dr. Eggman, who is at that point armed with a blaster and an enhanced mech, is offered a fake Chaos Emerald in exchange for Amy. Eggman knows it's a fake and tricks Sonic into placing it on the floor of a capsule, which he seals, ejects and hurls toward the atmosphere where it will blow up. The flaw is that not only is Sonic's "fake" Chaos Emerald partly real, it's via Shadow Sonic escapes.
- The Fu Syndicate's Mandarin in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines tries to kill the character with a series of different death traps joined together like a bizarre obstacle course. This is explicitly because he knows that guns are ineffective against vampires, and as such he tries several different methods to see which ones work best. If a trap kills you, fine, you're dead. Said method works. If you escape that particular one, a) he knows it won't work later, and b) he finds out more about how strong/fast/enduring you are. He also keeps a stable of guards at hand and keeps observing you through viewing ports. His main error is placing a high-pressurized gas tank from a Kill It with Fire trap next to one of the viewing windows.
- Honorable mention goes to 8-Bit Theater's deathtraps, which are not to be confused with actual airships. Despite the name, the one the Light Warriors end up using and crashing repeatedly failed to actually kill anyone.
- Bob and George: A shrinking force field. One that also protects the villain from the hero. Furthermore, he stays to the end to watch that it works. Too bad he forgot about the Law of Conservation of Energy when he trapped the electricity-based superbeing George.
- Evil Plan subverts this, usually. Lemon and Lime employ potentially a variety of lethal traps at their office entrance, solely for the sake of snapping humiliating pictures of the trespassers/invited guests.
- Girl Genius: Sparks love installing these in their lairs; Castle Heterodyne is one big self-aware pile of death traps. Lucrezia-in-Agatha activates one to seal off her lair and kill intruders Tarvek and Zola, not realizing that during her (mental) absence a giant hole had been blown in the ceiling.
- Guilded Age: Some sort of Drowning Pit.
- Skin Horse: Evil government agency Anasigma uses a lot of deathtrap technology to defend their bases, even at severe risk to their staff, presumably because they employ far too many mad scientists as designers. In this strip, one such offers a justification of sorts, but, well, he's mad.
- In this webcomic, Space Hitler actually pulls one of these off. Much to his own surprise.
- Inanimate Insanity has MePhone4S' death trap to kill the losers.
- This blog post discusses the use of this trope in comics as well as some possible motives villains may have for using such traps.
- Dream's and GeorgeNotFound's Minecraft Death Swap videos feature many death traps, as the goal is to catch your opponent in one and kill them when a swap happens. If you don't survive, the trapper wins.
- Whateley Universe: Mephisto the Mentalist once explains at great length the psychology of death traps: most of them are meant to either distract the heroes while the villain sets up some other, more mundane plot, or to scare the victim into compliance without actually killing them. In both of those instances, the victims are actually meant to be rescued as part of the intended effect. He does admit that a lot of death traps are, in fact, actually meant to kill the victim, usually with the goal of scaring the piss out of someone else who is the real target of their plot. Also the idea that heroes always escape deathtraps is "The Hays Code version" — in reality supervillains are playing for keeps. He also mentions that a delayed trap can be useful for establishing an alibi, though the circumstances rarely made that feasible.
- KateModern: In the episode "The Ice Man", Terrence locks Kate's Watcher in a freezer van. Something of an inversion, since the Watcher is the more obviously villainous of the two characters.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- An episode entitled "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" centers around this trope. An interrogator named Wormwood, who specializes in using Death Traps to terrorize people into giving him information is hired to steal Batman's cape and cowl. He repeatedly sets up a number of traps for Batman, who escapes every one until the Bat finally captures him. As it turns out, it was a disguised Batman who hired Wormwood to retrieve the loot Wormwood had obtained in a previous crime.
- Joker also had a habit of using these deaths on victims (ironically often being unable to kill them as a result). For example, he hurls Bullock and Batman into a Great White Shark Tank, Sid the Squid into a tank of acid and the Dark Knight (again) by trying to electrocute him.
- The Clock King uses two of them. The first one is for Batman, a Gas Chamber with a Time Bomb that will suck out all the air in a Race Against the Clock. The second one is put the victim in between the hands of a Clock Tower.
- The episode "Almost Got 'Im" features all of the villains around the table comparing notes on whose death trap came closest to "getting" the Batman. All of them, that is, except Croc.
Croc: There I was, holed up in this quarry, when Batman came nosing around. He was getting closer, closer...
Poison Ivy: And?
Croc: I threw a ROCK at him!
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
Gears grinding, ropes binding, coils winding,
- The first thing Batman says in the entire series is to complain to Green Arrow about how often they get caught in death traps. Batman and the Joker Flash Back to the many death-traps Mr. J had trapped Bats in over the years in "Game Over for Owlman!".
- It's Lampshaded in The Musical Episode which showcased the most extravagant, multi-stage, redundant death trap the series has ever seen. Observe.
For a super-sap: death trap.
Pistons panging, clamps a-clanging, springs spranging,
It's the last laugh: death trap.
Acid steaming, blades gleaming, lasers beaming,
Final nightcap: death trap.
Bones crushing, flesh mushing, gore gushing,
It's a dirt-nap: death trap.
Batman: Was the singing really necessary?
- Count 'em: Constricting ropes. Acid filling the room. Swinging blades of death. Lasers. Walls closing in. And just in case none of that worked, a ticking time bomb. Say what you will about Music Meister, but the man's thorough. Given that they escaped, not nearly thorough enough.
- In one cold open, Batman and Mister Miracle are strapped to a rollercoaster full of death traps, and escape at the last second. It turns out they were doing it for charity.
- In the "Emperor Joker" episode, The Joker with his newly acquired Reality Warper powers puts Batman in a Rube Goldberg Device of a Death Trap. Batman escapes, but not really, as his escape triggered the last part of it and he gets killed. The Joker then revives him and kills him repeatedly in more death traps afterwards.
- Strangely, averted in the animated series Belphegor by Belphegor himself, despite the presence of death traps. Whenever he places someone in an elaborate death trap, it's never to use it as a means to outright kill, but rather to intimidate, interrogate or just screw with the sanity and fear of the person trapped and those around them. Usually, he does so to provoke an action by the other characters that will help him achieve his true goal.
- Lampshaded on The Emperor's New School: Yzma traps a transformed-into-a-squirrel Kuzco along with a bunch of other squirrels and begins to lower them into a vat of acid. She sits down to watch, saying "I'm not going to leave the room like any other villain would." And then she ends up leaving the room anyway to get a refill on her drink.
- Lampshaded in Gargoyles — Xanatos has Goliath and Angela bolted to the ground and has a vat of boiling green acid hooked up to a timer. After ten minutes, the timer will tip the vat over, killing them. Says Xanatos "This is my first real stab at cliché villainy. How am I doing?"
- Common in Kim Possible, whenever it (frequently) pays homage to spy movies. Especially common from villain cliché devotee Señor Senior, Sr. On one occasion of Lampshade Hanging, as she and Ron are being lowered into a moat of electric eels, Kim asks the villain, who's comfortably sitting back and watching, "Uh, aren't you going to leave now?"
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Read It and Weep" has, in its Book Within a Show, Daring Do encounters a huge variety of these, ranging from dart traps to throwing axes to flame pits to the entire chamber flooding with lava. Then Ahuizotl has perhaps the most awesomely silly — it has spikes on advancing walls, quicksand, spiders and cobras. While Daring is tied to a table, no less. It's like he got everything from the "Cliché Deathtrap" aisle at Murdermart, and decided to use as many of them as possible at once.
- The Simpsons:
- Parodied on an episode where Homer's new boss, an Affably Evil Bond villain type, has a James Bond lookalike strapped to a deadly trap, and leaves him to die without watching. The Bond lookalike escapes in a suitably ludicrous manner, but is tackled to the ground by Homer during his escape. Homer and his boss depart, while his guards simply walk up and shoot the man dead.
- And again, in an episode spoofing the story of Moses, Lisa and Milhouse (as Moses and Aaron) are thrown in a room with spiked walls that close in on them. However, the spikes have all been installed opposite each other, so that the walls stop when the tips touch, leaving plenty of room for them to climb to safety (and for Lisa to remark, "Slave labor. You get what you pay for.").
- Space Ghost episode "The Final Encounter". After the Council of Doom captures Space Ghost they put him in a tube that leads to the center of their planet. They plan to have an electrode draw all of the planet's cosmic energy up through the shaft, which will destroy Space Ghost.
- Lampshaded on Tiny Toon Adventures: When Dr. Gene Splicer leaves the room where he has left the heroes in his Death Trap, he asks the viewers if they've ever noticed this trope.
- Regular occurrence in Totally Spies!.
- "This machine will force-feed you cookies until you explode! ...Bye!"
- There was a bizarre real-life murder involving something like this. A pizza delivery man had a bomb strapped to his neck and was required to rob a bank. He supposedly had instructions for disabling the bomb, but was stopped by the police, after which the bomb exploded, killing him. An investigation shows that while Wells helped planned the bank robbery, he believed that the bomb was a fake to give him an alibi. When he realized that the bomb is real, he had to be threatened at gunpoint to continue with the plan.
- The confirmed Darwin Award "Booby Traps Trap Boob". A Belgian man lost a lengthy legal battle to keep his home after a nasty divorce, so he set up many booby traps in his home, apparently hoping to kill his ex. Things didn't go the way he planned, though; he ended up accidentally killing himself with one of his own death traps.
- The infamous H. H. Holmes converted a hotel into a building full of death traps, to the point it was dubbed the "Murder Castle". Special mention goes to the trapdoors leading straight down to the basement, stairways to nowhere, bedrooms in which gas could be pumped in to asphyxiate the victim at any time, and a bank vault where people were left until the air ran out. The concept was adapted into the Dark Pictures Anthology's fourth installment "The Devil In Me" (complete with a modern-day replica of the Murder Castle and Copycat Killer).