Frequently, when a character enters an evil or cursed area, they'll find that it smells really, overpoweringly bad. It usually smells of rotten flesh (or just "death") and grows more powerful as the investigator gets closer to the threat. Another variant is an evil being carrying a bad stench with it when it appears. Frequently one of the Horror Tropes.
This trope stems from the fact that dead and unclean things smell bad, so if somewhere or something smells bad, it's probably dangerous. The belief that demons smell of sulfur is also a contributing factor.
Compare with Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness, where the stench is just a character's poor hygiene. Can cross with Stink Snub should a character comment snarkily on the villain's odour. Please note that the smell of evil isn't always proportionate to its taste.
- In Fruits Basket, Kyo's true form smells so bad that Tohru vomits the first time she encounters it. How evil it is depends on who you ask, but the consensus is that it is NOT friendly.
- Watanuki from ×××HOLiC came across some situations like this, but he's the only one who can sense it. One example is at Himawari's friend's school where the game, Angel, is taking place. Domeki can't smell it. It's like some sort of spiritual stench that only Watanuki can smell, and it got worse as he got closer to the threat taking hold.
- The very first chapter of Black Joke features two homosexual assassins that use disgusting amounts of perfume. In the climax its shown billowing inside a car in thick, choking fumes.
- In Powerpuff Girls Z, their version of Sedusa leaves the smell of cheap make-up wherever she goes, which is the one flaw in her otherwise perfect powers of disguise.
- Gyo lives off this trope, since the monsters in question are undead fish corpses. Even living fish doesnt exactly smell good. As it turns out, the corpses are just a delivery system, the true evil is a form of semi-sentient bacteria that propogates itself using the gasses released by decay. It's even worse for infected humans since they aren't technically DEAD.
- Lupin III (Red Jacket)': in the episode Killing is the Smell of Wine, professional and amoral Psycho for Hire Hangman has both the ghoulish looks and the smell of a corpse. As for the evil part, not only he's an assassin, but he's also shown to be prone to use gratuitous violence and wanton cruelty at the drop of a hat.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood: Speedwagon declares that he knew immediately that Dio was evil, because he had the stench of evil on him.
- In Re:Zero the Witch of Envy and the people given favor to or connected to her have a foul scent, which only certain characters can smell. Since Subaru's Return by Death ability is given to him by the Witch, he also has this scent, which makes it so that the other characters have a hard time trusting him.
- Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges are stated to leave a putrefying stench of death behind them. When one of the Sisters of Death attacks Judge Kraken, he notes that she smells like a corpse.
- A humorous case would be present in the series featuring Miles Morales. During a dangerous fight against Blackheart, Miles remarked that Blackheart exuded a terrible scent that was best described as being like a cat pooped on another cats poop".
- Long-time Spidey villain Carnage apparently has an aroma similar to vomit. Given Carnage's habits, this is actually somewhat surprising - the Carnage symbiote is Axe-Crazy and blood would seem more likely.
- All of planet Jasper in Copperhead smells like rotten eggs - partly due to its mining industry, partly due to its borderline-lawless reputation per this trope.
- Robin Series: Pretty much every hero that has to fight Tapeworm comments on how terrible he smells.
- Sin City: Roark Junior AKA That Yellow Bastard. All the surgeries he went through after almost being killed by Detective Hartigan not only left him horribly malformed but also caused his skin to turn bright yellow and smell like rotten garbage.
- In It's not the Raptor DNA, Elise the Indominus Rex realizes InGen's current CEO Bridges smells like a rotting corpse.
- In Chapter 16 of Soul Eater: Troubled Souls, Ox, Harvar, Crona, and Ragnarok frequently comment about how awful Innsmouth smells. As they get closer to unraveling the mystery and addressing the problem, they find out Innsmouth smells bad because the Deep Ones stuffed dead, decaying bodies in some of the boarded buildings.
- Fankil, the main antagonist of The Heart Trilogy, smells like dust and ash combined with perfume sweetness so strong it's nauseous.
- In The Loud House fanfiction The Nightmare House, Lily has a nightmare about a monster named "Mor-Gaj" based on her limited understanding of what a mortgage is, who must be paid because he eats money and he also tries to eat her. He is described as having an "overbearing stench".
- Graboids in the Tremors films are known for giving off a putrid stench, living or dead.
- Italian zombie movie Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror has this line:
Michael: Mother, this cloth... it smells of death!
- The Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is repeatedly described as having bad breath.
Mr. Gibbs: They say the stench of its breath is... ugh... [he shudders] Imagine, the last thing you know on God's green earth is the roar of the Kraken and the reeking odor of a thousand rotting corpses... if you believe such things.
Insane sailor: No! Beneath us... foul breath!
Captain Jack Sparrow: Not that bad, really.
- The Three Mothers Trilogy (which consists of Suspiria, Inferno and Mother of Tears) more specifically invoke this, by mentioning that the earth that witches' houses are built upon becomes so deadly and pestilent by the evil and death that emanates from there, that the entire neighborhood has a sweetish, nauseating smell.
- The cyborgs from Virus are said to smell "like dogshit".
- The Terminator: As the T-800's human disguise begins rotting due to repeated gunshot wounds, its synthskin has a noticeably waxy, corpse-like pale color, and has attracted flies. This even causes a janitor to ask if the bad odor is coming from a dead animal's corpse, to which the robot responds rudely and resumes its chase against Sarah Connor.
- Brazilian movie O Auto da Compadecida (also known as A Dog's Will) has in the afterlife sequence the protagonist mocking Satan for his sulfur stink up until he snaps out and opens the doors to hell.
- In Gary Jennings's Aztec, the Spanish conquistadors rarely bathed, according to the European customs of the time (mid-to-late 1400s). This in contrast to the frequent bathing and saunaing habits of the Mexica. In one scene, Mixtli has them hauled into the yard and washed by force, which terrifies the invaders.
- Clive Barker had this appear in several stories such as The Last Illusion (during the exorcism attempt on Mimi Lomax, there was the smell of burning excrement) and in stories featuring the Quiddity such as The Great and Secret Show and Everville. This is justified; manifesting some of the creatures from the Quiddity involves a ritual that uses semen and human feces.
- In the short story "Jerusalem's Lot" (set presumably before 'Salem's Lot) by Stephen King, all the buildings in the eponymous village smell terrible inside. This is probably due to the giant worm living beneath the church.
- Also shows up in another King work, The Dark Half. A policeman inspecting the car George Stark had used earlier notes that it smells hostile and animalistic. Stark also falls into this trope later in the book, being followed by the stench of his own decaying body.
- In Masques, the protagonist smells horrible after crawling out of the lair of the Big Bad. Granted, she did use the sewage system, but there are lots of rotting corpses in there to account for the smell of the sewage, too.
- A lot of the creatures the Vir Requis fight in Dragons of Requiem are repeatedly noted for smelling very foul. Wyverns smell like vinegar and sulfur; sphinxes smell like urine, acid, and sulfur; mimics and demons (which are composed of rotting corpses) smell like death, and so on.
- In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen, as a part of his education, goes to a mass where the priest gives a long, heated speech about the horrors of hell, including the eternal smell of decaying corpses.
- Cthulhu Mythos:
- Most of H. P. Lovecraft's eldrich horrors are described as smelling rather icky. Lovecraft himself had a sensitive sense of smell and couldn't stand bad odors.
The Necronomicon: Iä Shub-Niggurath! As Foulness shall ye know them!
- The titular town in The Shadow Over Innsmouth and its mutant inhabitants smell very strongly of fish.
- The titular house from The Shunned House is noted as positively reeking of decay and foulness. Turns out to be caused by some gargantuan entity buried beneath it. Once it's been dissolved with acid, the smell disappears.
- The slimy and toad-like Moon-Beasts from The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath smell vile, so much that a galley full of them sailing into port drives most people around to smoke the strongest-smelling tobacco to cover the stench.
- Most of H. P. Lovecraft's eldrich horrors are described as smelling rather icky. Lovecraft himself had a sensitive sense of smell and couldn't stand bad odors.
- Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet:
- A Wind in the Door and other books featuring the Echthroi as villains always mention how bad they smell — "makes silage smell like roses," according to Calvin. Thing is, they can disguise this smell until they are found out.
- In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Chuck has a very sensitive sense of smell, and cruel, mean people smell distinctly bad to him.
- In Dracula, the eponymous villain has foul breath, almost certainly due to his diet, and areas where he stays are, well, to quote the book:
But as to the odour itself, how shall I describe it? It was not alone that it was composed of all the ills of mortality and with the pungent, acrid smell of blood, but it seemed as though corruption had become itself corrupt.
- The regions of the world corrupted by Torak and Zandramas in The Belgariad and The Malloreon are reminiscent of Mordor: blighted wastelands overrun with fungus and other unwholesome things, and they absolutely reek.
- While not technically truly evil at heart, Erik from Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera is described by Christine as having hands that smell of death.
- Very frequent in The Lord of the Rings. To give a few examples, Shelob's lair is extremely odoriferous, and the flowers growing near Minas Morgul are described as smelling like rotting flesh.
- There's also the dragon-reek, a terrible stench associated with dragons, mainly Glaurung the Golden and Smaug.
- In The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin, Glaurung is accompanied a foul stench. So foul, it requires a great amount of Heroic Willpower to overcome and horses are driven mad by it. His underbelly apparently "stank of death", but beyond that we get no description of what it was like.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Mab reports an evil smell - like one of the lords of hell, whom he is familiar with.
- Well, technically, it's more chaotic, but Free Magic in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series is extremely dangerous and almost always wielded by nasty pieces of work, and it's described as producing an acrid, hot-metal smell.
- In Shadows of the Empire, Prince Xizor notices something.
He imagined he could smell the decay in the Emperor's worn body. Likely that was just a trick of the recycled air, run through dozens of filters to ensure that there was no chance of any poison gas being introduced into it. Filtered the life out of it, perhaps, giving it that dead smell.
- Break of Dark by Robert Westall has a short story about the ghosts of a trio of loathed relations. The first signs of their malign presence involve an otherwise squeaky-clean house become beset with the smell of old woman and breath mints.
- In Andre Norton's Dread Companion, the Dark Ones. Kosgro says it's very useful as warning, especially since they don't realize it.
- In The Hunger Games, President Snow smells like roses...and blood. There is an actual reason for both, but still...
- An evil reason. To become president, Snow poisoned all his political rivals, and to throw suspicion off himself, he also poisoned himself. He took an antidote, but the poison did irreparable damage to his throat, causing the smell of blood. He always wears genetically modified roses to cover up the scent.
- In Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion, the protagonist finds a poor, lost, talking baby goat. He slowly becomes aware of a terrible stench surrounding it. It turns out the goat is actually Belial.
- Infected in The Troop smell like rotting peaches, because their bodies' metabolisms are supercharged; and are breaking down their body tissues to sustain itself and the mutant tapeworms in their stomachs.
- In The Last Battle, a foul smell follows Tash around. Eustace says it smells like a dead bird.
- In Re:Zero, the Witch of Envy and the people favored by or connected to her have a distinctive foul scent, though (outside of the dense miasma produced by the Witch herself) only a small number of characters can smell it. Since Subaru's ability to return to life comes from the Witch, he reeks more and more of her scent on each revival, which makes other characters have a hard time trusting him. Because monsters were created by the Witch of Gluttony, who was betrayed and killed by the Witch of Envy during her rise to power, they also have a special hatred of this scent and seek out its holders to attack them.
- Thanks to the entire species having individual Signature Scentswhich can be altered for the worse by spiritual corruption or even negative emotionsthe worst of the worst Kymerans in Nancy A. Collins's Golgotham trilogy tend to eventually acquire burnt, acrid, or sulfurous odors.
- Isaac Asimov's "Gimmicks Three": Shapur, the demon tempting Welby, smells overwhelmingly of sulfur dioxide, and the intensity of the smell also reflects the intensity of his emotions.
- The vicious and almost otherworldly Sally Bones from Varjak Paw has a persistently dank smell to her.
- The Big Bad of Messenger and Son, Trademaster, is extremely foul-smelling according to Claire and Gabriel.
- In Bored of the Rings, the parodic Nozdrûl (spoofs of the Ringwraiths) smell like a barnyard and have terrible gas, likely a sendup of the originals "Black Breath" ability. Of course, their mounts are battle-boars.
- In Supernatural, ghosts leave a smell of ozone and demons smell like sulfur.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "The Zeppo", Giles is seeking supernatural aid in a graveyard; Xander spots him and tries to join in the apocalypse-fighting to get away from new "friend" Jack and his dead pal Bob.
Giles: There's something different about this menace. In the air, I can feel it. The stench of death.
Xander: Yeah, I think that's Bob.
- Good Omens (2019): According to Warlock, Hastur the Duke of Hell "smells like poo". Crowley, on being told about this, confirms that Warlock is absolutely right.
- In Twin Peaks, whenever the supernatural Big Bad, BOB, is about to reveal himself, people in the vicinity complain of an inexplicable smell of burning oil or gasoline.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" chorus, with the whole song being about drug addiction.
Ooh, that smell.
Can't you smell that smell?
Ooh, that smell.
The smell of death surrounds you.
- The Bible: "The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves." (Proverbs 13:5, NIV 2011 edition)
- In 2nd Maccabees chapter 9, Antiochus IV was stricken with such a devastating illness by the Lord that his entire army was sickened by the smell and no one could even come close enough to carry him around on a litter. Eventually even the king couldn't stand the smell of himself and decided to make amends with the Jewish people and God.
- An inversion of this trope from Roman Catholicism would be the "odour of sanctity", a flowery scent said to emanate from the bodies of saints.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Gaia Garou Theurges can detect Wyrm presence through the gift Sense Wyrm. Many liken the Wyrm's presence to an odor. Mari Cabra complained that a bane-infested Umbral location stank of the Wyrm.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Chaos is said to have a cloying, sickening odor, like candy floss crossed with rotten meat.
- More specifically, anything related to Nurgle, the Chaos god of disease, pestilence, and decay. His mortal servants and daemons are bloated, putrescent things whose bodies are foul with rot and sickness, and exude terrible scents of every rancid bodily odor known to man and some known only to the Xenos.
- Pathfinder has the Xulgath's, a reptilian race with such a noxious stench that characters entering a certain radius have to make a Fortitude save or be afflicted with the "sickened" condition.
- Diablo. Upon entering the catacombs, the main character comments, "The smell of death surrounds me."
- The interior of the Giant Worm in Gears of War 2 is stated as smelling terrible. Since the worm is essentially a mobile disaster and a place where one member of the squad meets a gruesome death, this trope is in full force.
- In the Resident Evil 5 DLC story "Lost in Nightmares", Jill and Chris enter an area where there is a really bad smell. Chris states that he hopes that they don't run into whatever's making it. They do. A monster with a bloated back, wielding an ax and a horrible stench.
- Blizzard seems to love this trope in general. In Warcraft III, it is not uncommon to hear some characters say they "smell the stench of demons" somewhere or something else along those lines.
- The Elder Scrolls
- This is said to be the case for Scamps, the weakest and smallest known form of lesser Daedra who have a rancid smell. Oblivion's "Whom Gods Annoy" quest centers around a poor Leyawiin resident cursed with a staff that summons Scamps to stink up her home and annoy the hell out of her. While Scamps are generally in the service of Mehrunes Dagon, the staff was created by Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness and a morbid practical joker.
- The Sload are a race of "slugmen" native to Thras, an archipelago to the southwest of Tamriel. While they themselves operate on a Blue-and-Orange Morality, the denizens of Tamriel instead see them as Always Chaotic Evil. (Wiping out half of the continent's population with a Mystical Plague tends to spark those sorts of feelings...) The Sload are said to emanate a constant "repugnant" stench.
- Coldharbour is the Daedric plane of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of Domination and Corruption. The ground is sludge, the sky is on fire, and the air is freezing. It resembles a ruined and desecrated copy of Nirn that is filled with suffering and "spattered" with blood and excrement. It contains charnel houses full of the dead and slave pens beyond count. If that weren't all horrifying enough, it is said that the smell alone is enough to break most mortals. It is said that no mortals willingly visit this place except in error.
- Moshi Monsters: Played with. None of the evil locations smell bad and most of the villains don't, but the Glumps, an Always Chaotic Evil Servant Race created by the villains, and by extension the goo they secrete, smell like rotten fish and sweat.
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories: Riku tracks Ansem and The Organization by the stench of their darkness, and notes that Naminé completely lacks that stench which is why he can tell that Naminé is related somehow to his friend Kairi.
- In 8-Bit Theater, Black Mage, who, at best, could theoretically be described as a Sociopathic Hero (given a loose enough definition of the word 'hero'), is stated time and time again to have incredibly bad hygiene problems.
- In Bob and George, how to find the robot.
- In Rusty and Co., Madeline explains that a paladin's ability to detect evil is based on scent.
- From The Order of the Stick, Miko Miyazaki, who, while not canonically Evil, is still extremely irritating, is said to stink because she considers bathing a decadent luxury.
- In The Adventures of Shan Shan, Backpack complains of the smell just before it sees the Karmavore.
- Dark Jareth in Roommates inverts this trope; his wrongness has a distinctive odor, but it smells like peach.
- In Nodwick, Piffany claims that the dark cleric Elonan smells like the "lead electric madolinist for Crossbows and Roses.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: According to the Encyclopedia Exposita, the smell of the Plague Zombie monsters can be reproduced with a mix of rotting salmon, arsenic and a little sunflower oil. If you're wondering why someone would want to make such a mix in-universe, it's used for Evil-Detecting Cat training.
- Space Boy: An interesting twist: Amy's synesthesia means that for particularly evil people like Saito and Langely, she tastes poison. This is actually a sign of He Who Wanders' influence over people; copper and iodine tainting someone's 'flavor' means he has some sort of hold over them. Saito had it particularly bad given how her entire flavor was overpowered.
- Subverted for Mr Silber from the FCP. He does the FCP's dirty work and covers up incidents, and might even play a part in 'erasing' certain people... but he has no poison in his flavor. Everything he does is completely his own choice, with no outside influence.
- Reasoning has the Venator, a monstrous rat-like creature that smells like garbage and carrion.
- A few shorts of the Japanese horror anthology "Tales of Terror From Tokyo" dealt with this trope, including "The Smell", where a young girl comes upon a kneeling woman who always faces her back and stinks of rotting meat (for some reason, the smell prompts her to try to call the police right before the ghost woman does her wacky hijinks on her ), and "The Smell of Animal", where the visiting niece is the only character who finds her aunt's husband has a horribly repulsive smell. Through flashbacks, it's revealed that, in his youth, the husband enjoyed killing animals as a hobby and the smell latched onto him .
- The Legatum series zig-zags this trope constantly. A lot of characters are noted for not bathing at all—villains and heroes alike. Some of the nicest characters in the series smell like excrement, and some of the most vile characters in the series are noted for smelling just as bad, to the point of being intolerant. Even King Chorn Torgash, one of the cleaner villains, has bad breath and smelly feet.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: A sleepless Billy imagines his own bed time story where there was a town so happy that it Tastes Like Diabetes watched over by an evil wizard. A few changes to the story caused the wizard to become fat and smelly, much to his chagrin. The wizard makes a HeelFace Turn in the end when he finds out how happy they are.
- In Camp Lazlo, Mr. Meat Man from the Halloween special would be a progressive case. He started off as rancid inanimate and harmless canned meat construct, but continued rejection by Lazlo and his friends cause him to become increasingly hostile in addition to smelling even worse.
- In Peppermint Rose, Bugoonya as a whole smells nasty, but the queen's smell is so bad anyone who comes near breaks out in sneezes.
- In the Masters of the Universe franchise, there's the villainous Stinkor. In the 2002 cartoon, Stinkor was actually one of Skeletor's more effective minions, his constantly produced stench gas so powerful it could cripple even He-Man. At one point, it was used to cause a stampede, the herd animals desperately trying to escape his stench.
- The Plutarkians from Biker Mice from Mars were a race of fish-like aliens who stole resources from other planets and also tended to smell horrible. There are even some Plutarkians who smell so rancid that they're considered too foul-smelling even to other Plutarkians: The Loogie Brothers and lawyer Perry Provoloni.
- Grandmaster Glitch of Go Jetters invokes this when he creates Eau de Glitch, "the world's stinkiest perfume". Its selling point is that it'll make everyone stay away from you, so you can clear out a room and have the place all to yourself.
- One tie-in book for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has Adora comment that the Fright Zone, the polluted industrial hellscape from which the Horde hails, smells like "burning garbage".
- There's a reason that the magic of the Big Bad in Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja is called "Stank". His distaff counterpatcan glamour her appearance, but is given away by an equally unpleasant smell. Subverted with the titular character, who regularly draws complaints that his smoke bombs smell terrible.
- David Sedaris says that crickets don't just smell bad, they smell evil.
- According to veteran stories, battlefields stink. Burnt wood, metal and rubber, rotting dead bodies, burning oil and fuel, decay and mud. Burying the dead and removing the debris from the fields is a foremost task in the aftermath of a battle, before diseases set in. Obviously, the Western Front of World War I is the worst with a years long stalemate allowing all these problems to pile up to a degree and scale no-one imagined possible before.
- Pirates, like most sailors at the time, would sometimes go for days or weeks without bathing due to the lack of clean freshwater on board their ships.
- A few of Derek Lowe's "Things I Won't Work With" are chemicals which, when not being Explodium, are overpoweringly smelly as well as toxic. Worse, some of them aren't even that toxic, but are simply so utterly, overwhelmingly stinky that chemists who allow it in their labs are rare. The fact some of them can be smelled half a mile away when you spill a single droplet doesn't help, either. Selenium compounds seem to be particularly common offenders.
- Reportedly, you could always tell when a slave ship came to port; they stunk to high heaven with the combination of human waste, blood and other substances resulting from their chained cargo and their crews were often the worst paid and behaved of any kind on the sea.
- Serial Killer, Richard Ramirez, would invoke this on purposenote by never bathing nor brushing his teeth. He ate a lot of candy and other sweet stuff and his teeth were a mess. Surviving victims would describe him as smelling like wet leather with breath like liquid feces.
- An inversion would be the saying "cleanliness is next godliness" i.e being clean and smelling nice is associated with goodness and virtue.