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Flaying Alive

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"A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man has none."
Lord Roose Bolton, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones

Skin is the largest organ on the human body by surface area, and we as humans like our skin to be intact. It protects everything inside the body from various diseases, and contains a great number of nerve endings — meaning that to have it forcibly removed is excruciatingly painful, and being stripped of enough of it will lead to a horribly slow death. As a result, flaying is the signature method of Cold-Blooded Torture for some of the very worst of the worst among villains.

Scalping is a form of this that was particularly prevalent in Injun Country — where it was the accepted means of proving a bounty on a Native to a settler government... In real life it was probably more common to take the scalp from a dead foe than from a living one, as their main purpose was to turn in for bounty (more portable than the whole skin.) But there were certainly some documented cases of people surviving a scalping.

For examples of... reusing the skin see Genuine Human Hide.

And if you feel the need for a bit of Soundtrack Dissonance, sing the title to the tune of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive".

A No Recent Examples rule applies to Real Life examples of this trope. Real life examples shouldn't be added until 150 years after the event.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: During his yearlong imprisonment under the Tower of Rebirth, Griffith has parts of his skin peeled off by the royal torturer, who nonetheless makes sure to keep him alive. In the Conviction arc, heretics leave the flayed skin of a priest they killed swaying on a tree in the middle of the refugee camp, which only increases the wrath of Bishop Mozgus.
  • Bungo Stray Dogs: The terrorist organization Decay of Angels murders a legislator by having him skinned alive then had his skin back sewn on inside-out.
  • Burning Hell: One of the two villain protagonists is a Korean military medic turned serial killer who has this as his modus operandi, priding himself from his ability of keeping his victims alive through the whole process. When sent to a remote island as a punishment, he made a waxhouse-like garden out of the posed and preserved bodies of all the other convicts sent there. Then he tops that when it turns out he can do the same using a sword instead of a scalpel — an over-the-top variation of a Clean Cut that blows his opponent's whole skin clean off his body.
  • In the A Certain Magical Index anime, Aureolus Izzard uses his Reality Warper powers to instantly do this to Stiyl Magnus. Stiyl survives and gets put back together.
  • In Dog Soldier, Muammar Gaddafi carves a grid on the main character's back and removes the skin.
  • An episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex features a serial killer who removes the skin of women in the shape of a T-shirt. It turns out he was one among many who were ordered to use the technique as a strategic terror weapon. Batou found the unfortunate survivors, and wasn't very happy.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, Viviano Westwood claims he's able to see a person's muscles when fighting them, displayed as emanating shine while weakened muscle is shown as bruised darkness. His Stand, Planet Waves' body is designed to look like muscles, whereas its crown is spiraled in a way that makes its head look like a heart.
  • The Junji Ito Kyoufu Manga Collection story "Flesh-Colored Horror" centers around an elementary school teacher being concerned for the wellbeing of one of her students, who has mysterious damage to his skin and has a habit of peeling away pictures tacked to the wall. She eventually discovers that the boy's father discovered a formula that let one peel off their skin like a suit, allowing them to walk around without it. He died out of the horror of his discovery. The boy's mother decided that a skinless body is absolutely beautiful and did it to herself, keeping her own skin in a tank of water and only wearing it every so often so she wouldn't dry out. She had been trying to perform the same process on her son, but her sister kept sabotaging it so that the formula was strong enough to damage the boy's skin but not strip it off. When the climactic fight causes the mother's skin to be destroyed, she rips off her sister's skin in an attempt to steal it for herself.
  • The fate of Tito in Red River (1995).
    • Also the speciality of the guy who inflicted this on poor Tito, Nakia's henchman Zuwa. He goes as far as using human skin to craft his clothes. Eeeeewwww.
  • In Soul Eater, Shinigami skinned Asura alive and made a bag out of it to be his prison.
  • The Tokyo Ghoul side novels mention that Tsukiyama sometimes does this to his victims, which other Ghouls consider disgusting. In the first novel, he peels the skin from an elderly man as a delicacy.....and the second includes mention of the Battleaxe Nurse that helped cover everything up facing the same fate at his hands.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, Dark Marik uses the Millennium Rod knife to skin his father, removing the sacred tattoos from his back, then kill him. The father, however, had been stabbing Rishid with red-hot knives just before this, so no one should feel too sorry for him...

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: The Machine Orthodoxy, New Phyrexia's white-aligned faction, is especially fond of doing this to friend and foe alike. The flavor text of Inquisitor Exarch illustrates it best.
    "Skin is the prison of the blessed and the stronghold of the heretic."
    Argent Etchings, plate 64, passage 17

    Comic Books 
  • In Avengers Academy, Mettle's powers were first revealed when he got into a surfing accident and some of his skin peeled away to reveal a super-powered metallic form underneath it. Norman Osborne "helped" Mettle by cutting off all of his skin to transform him into a Chrome Champion. Mettle does this to himself again after he was cured since his friends will need his help.
  • When Jackie Estacado finally has his vengeance on Paulie Franchetti in The Darkness for having his orphanage burned down and threatening to have Jenny's sister killed in order to try to get him to do his bidding, it takes this form, courtesy of his shadow-spawned Darklings.
  • Done by Freddy to Stephanie in Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors. Given that she's dreaming at the time, one would think she'd be okay, but given that this is Freddy we're talking about here...
  • Rather upsettingly, this fate was inflicted on Icemaiden and Tasmanian Devil, two members of the Global Guardians by two completely different villains in two completely separate stories. That they were both two of DC's earliest openly queer heroes caused a lot of backlash against DC Comics.
    • Sigrid Nansen, formerly Icemaiden and now Glacier, was abducted and skinned alive at the order of Delores Winters because she wanted Sigrid's "alabaster skin," which was itself a Plot Hole as Sigrid's skin has always been blue. Sigrid was left comatose in a tank and ultimately forgotten, even after Delores (as Endless Winter) was killed by Prometheus. It wasn't until nearly two decades later that Sigrid finally returned, having healed and now identifying as nonbinary.
    • Tasmanian Devil was killed off-panel with the rest of the Global Guardians in Justice League: Cry for Justice to show Prometheus wasn't a joke anymore. He was skinned alive and turned into a rug in Prometheus's lair. Due to the outcry caused by DC brutally murdering one of their first openly gay superheroes, James Robinson later brought Tasmanian Devil back. As a matter of fact, it was Tasmanian Devil who went looking for Sigrid Nansen years later.
  • Hack/Slash villain Doctor Gross apparently did this to himself. According to his bio in the back of the first omnibus collection, this was one of his trademarks as a serial killer.
  • Happens off-panel in the Graphic Novel Joker to a crime lord who tests The Joker's patience just a little bit too much...
  • Garth Ennis likes this one:
    • Exaggerated in Preacher. The Saint of Killers is so full of pure hate that when he dies and goes to Hell, his mere presence freezes everything in its wake. So the Devil attempts to flay the hatred out of him, whipping him on the back until there's nothing but bone left. It doesn't work.
      • Also, shortly before his death, the Saint came across a group of bandits celebrating mass murder, the leader of which having just scalped a live man and cut his hands off.
      • Cassidy encounters a still-living victim of the Hacker-Slasher with his face flayed off then nailed back on upside-down, who can only beg "kuh muh".
    • The Punisher: Soviet: Frank finds a Russian mobster and ex-Soldiers at the Rear in cahoots with an American senator. He has the Russian flay the senator alive (who dies of a heart attack long before it's done).
    • The Ribbon Queen is about a supernatural entity that flays people alive in, well, ribbons. Unfortunately it seems to do this regardless of the severity of the offense.
  • Inverted in Requiem Vampire Knight: The Archeologists, when choosing a human skin to wear, simply puree everything inside the skin and pump it out, wearing the skin like a bodysuit.
  • In the Tales of Telguuth story "To Become a God", this is the fate of the Villain Protagonist Gormogan. When he visits a mysterious tribe who are rumored to know how to become a god while still alive, they trick him into eating food spiked with a paralytic root. This renders the wizard helpless as they flay him alive and use his skin to make a grotesque idol which they proceed to worship as a new god.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Parodied in Sausage Party, where a anthropomorphic potato getting peeled is treated like this.
  • The Big Bad of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Oogie Boogie is defeated when Jack causes his skin to be pulled off him. What keeps this from being too terrifying is that Oogie is a living sack full of bugs.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • X is for XXL from The ABCs of Death has an obese woman skinning herself alive to lose weight.
  • Big Trouble in Little China. During an interrogation, this is used as a threat.
    David Lo Pan: Mr. Burton, if you have an influence over your youthful friend, you better exert it now. Otherwise I will send both of you to the hell where people are skinned alive! It's that simple, understand?
  • In Birds of Prey (2020), Roman Sionis has his Psycho for Hire Victor Zsasz cut the faces off Mr. Keo and his wife and daughter while they are hanging upside down but still alive, after Keo turns down his offer of an alliance: both as a punishment, and as a warning to others of the danger of crossing him.
  • In 1934's The Black Cat ends with the architect Hjalmar Poelzig, serial killer and taxidermy enthusiast, being skinned by Dr. Vitus Werdegast. The film came out (just barely) in The Pre-Code Era, but the scene is all Shadow Discretion Shots because that would still be unduly gruesome for the time.
    Werdegast: How does it feel to hang on your own embalming rack, Hjalmar?
  • In the finale of The Boxer's Omen when a demonic woman gets summoned by an unholy ritual, the demon gets defeated by having her skin ripped off in one fell swoop. Complete with copious amounts of blue blood.
  • Played for Black Comedy with Laurel and Hardy in The Bullfighters. Muldoon threatens to skin Stan and Ollie alive. He does, and the final scene shows them as cartoon skeletons from the neck down.
  • In Canyon Passage, Bragg is scalped by the Indians when they finally catch him. He was probably dead by the time they took his scalp.
  • In Dagon the local drunk, Eqezuiel, has his face peeled off with a sharp blade by inhuman captors (who have the same thing planned for the hero).
  • In Dead Birds, Hollister skins one of his slaves alive as part of the ritual to summon the demons.
  • Kaleb's wife is skinned alive by the Apache in The Deserter.
  • Dredd starts off with the Big Bad killing three rival drug dealers by skinning them, giving them a drug that makes everything feel like it's going a tenth of the actual speed, and then throwing them from the 200th floor.
  • Flavia the Heretic: After being captured by the Christians at the of the film, Flavia is punished as a runaway nun by being skinned alive.
  • Happens quite a bit in the various Hellraiser movies, victims are often partially to fully flayed, and some Cenobites bear the result of it as well. Those who come back from hell are an inversion; their skin is last to regenerate over their exposed muscles and veins.
  • Both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects is showing Otis' idea of spending free time.
  • The ghost of Dr. Vannacutt does this to a victim's face in the sequel to House on Haunted Hill (1999).
  • Human Lanterns: The film's title comes from the main villain's penchant for abducting women and skinning them whilst unconscious, to make lanterns out of their skin.
  • In Inglourious Basterds, a Nazi is scalped onscreen by one of the Basterds, in all the lovingly bloody detail Quentin Tarantino could get away with.
  • The Torture Porn horror flick Martyrs has a particularly graphic example of this.
  • Since the Devil ruined Erik's face after making a deal with him in The Phantom of the Opera (1989), he has to constantly reconstruct his face from strips of skin that he takes from his flayed victims.
  • One unfortunate woman in Piranha 3D had her hair caught in a motorboat engine that someone was desperately trying to start. She was soon lacking a scalp.
  • Predators do this (and hang the corpses), but usually with dead people.
  • The Imperial Japanese Army does this to a significant character in Red Sorghum. This is done to remind about the brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which the film is set.
  • The final onscreen victim in Return to Sleepaway Camp is killed this way, and its meant to be a callback to his earlier shown hobby of skinning frogs.
  • In Saw IV, one of Jigsaw's victims is trapped in a device designed to slowly scalp her by pulling her hair.
  • Scream Park has Rhodie scalped by one of the killers.
  • Scalps features this (naturally), though only one scalping is onscreen.
  • In the Silent Hill movie, Pyramid Head does this rather quickly. He just rips the skin off with a hand motion and he's done.
  • The Suckers: The Egomaniac Hunter Vandemmer declares that a hunter has to know how to skin his prey, and announces he intends to practice on Barbara. He has cut her top off and is holding the knife threatingly in front of her face when he is tackled by George.
  • Variant: Terminator Genisys introduces the T-3000, a Terminator originated from Unwilling Roboticisation of a human. Thus its "default" form resembles a silvery flayed man.
  • Leatherface almost completely skins a still barely living man with an electric carving knife in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning he flays Dean's arm with a knife (apparently For the Evulz) before running him through with a chainsaw.
  • The male hero of the horror movie Timber Falls received quite the nasty whipping for being disobedient to the villains, leaving him with brutal gashes all over his back.
  • Train opens with this happening to a guy, though unlike the rest of the film's victims, he is mercifully unconscious.
  • Happens to one of Dr. Furano's mooks in the opening of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.
  • Wishmaster: In the Djinn's palace in Hell, he is having one of the souls he collected tortured by slicing off the skin on the man's torso and stretching it out with hooks to expose all his innards.

  • The iconic retribution for the maltreatment of the doll in "Sennentuntschi" is that one of the perpetrators gets flayed alive. Then his skin is spread out over the roof of the mountain cabin.
  • There is a legend from Tennessee about a monster called Skinned Tom who lurks in lovers' lanes. The backstory is that in The Roaring '20s, a young playboy named Tom began a relationship with a married woman (whether or not he knew she was married depends who's telling the story). The husband found out and, in a jealous rage, flayed Tom alive with a hunting knife.

  • In the end of Alex Cross Cat And Mouse Thomas Pierce aka Mr. Smith does this to himself.
  • The short story The Anatomy of Desire by John Theureux is about a man who was skinned and is still alive, and falls in love with a nurse at the hospital.
  • Anita Blake:
    • One book's Big Bad does this to the Rafael, king of the wererats, in part because the villains couldn't control the rats without his participation, but mostly For the Evulz. He only survives because of the preternatural healing abilities of lycanthropes.
    • Another novel starts with Anita finding a Naga that's been skinned alive by that story's Big Bad. It lived only because it was an immortal creature and therefore that simply wasn't enough to kill it.
    • In a third novel, Anita gets called to investigate a series of bizarre skinnings and mutilations: the victims were not only skinned alive, their genitals were cut off to leave it impossible to tell their gender as well. It turned out that they weren't actually alive, they were zombies.
  • In The Black Gryphon, the Big Bad Ma'ar had invented a spell that flayed whatever it hit. Most people to end up on the receiving end of it die of blood loss.
  • Classic Singapore Horror Stories: One of the stories, Skip Deep ends with the protagonist, a plastic surgeon, getting into a heated argument with his beautiful but vain Spoiled Brat daughter who wants to abandon her father to pursue a modelling career overseas, resulting in the father losing his mind, attacking her, and eventually overpowering her and knocking her unconscious, and then removing every inch of skin from her body with surgical tools. The title is actually a reference to the saying, "Beauty is only Skin Deep", with the doctor himself saying, "Because without the skin, what's left isn't beautiful at all."
  • In Larry McMurtry's novel Commanche Moon this was one of the methods used by the Mexican Big Bad to torture his prisoners.
  • In Robin Jarvis' Deptford Mice trilogy, the followers of the Raith Sidhe skin their victims as sacrifices to the rat god Hobb. This tradition is carried on even after the Raith Sidhe are usurped by Jupiter.
  • In The Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, Shagnasty the skinwalker tortures Thomas by tearing off strips of his skin and wearing out his regenerative energy to make him hungry enough to feed on humans again, for no other reason than to hurt Harry.
  • The Novelization of Escape from New York reveals this to be the fate of Fresno Bob.
  • In Fengshen Yanyi, while Nezha is struggling with Ao Guang to keep him from denouncing him as the murderer of his son and his Yaksha to the Heavens, he remembers the teachings of his master about Dragons having sensitive scales and proceeds to rip out handful of scales from his body, causing Ao Guang enough pain to make him relent and surrender.
  • One of the characters in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep got his nickname, Flenser, from his tendency to practice this on his enemies.
  • Friday the 13th:
  • Jerec, in Galaxy of Fear, threatens to skin Hoole alive.
  • In Gerald's Game, Jessie partially skins her own hand in order to escape from one set of handcuffs, using her own blood as lubricant.
  • A couple of books in the Hayven Celestia setting:
    • In Reaper's Lottery the serial killer's first victim was skinned alive, he was still alive by the time security found him but in such a bad state the doctors could do little more than euthanize him. The killer targeted geroo who'd benefited from the eugenically-rigged birth lottery, the first one's family got extra birth tokens for attractiveness so that feature was stripped from him.
    • At their first meeting in Traitors, Thieves, and Liars commissioner Pokokoro informs Ateri that his species are cooked by skinning them alive and frying them in oil still screaming. While threateningly running a claw down his front.
  • In James Herbert's The Ghosts of Sleath, numerous ghosts of Human Sacrifice victims merge in an amorphous haze, able to form lethal, not always visible claws. The last descendants of the ghosts' murderers are flayed until skinless.
  • In the Games Workshop's Horus Heresy novels, Horus punishes Erebus by quite literally peeling his face off.
  • InCryptid:
    • It's implied this is what happened to Abraham Parrish after he went insane and murdered his family for a swamp god that may not even exist. All that was found of him was his skin.
    • In Spelunking Through Hell, this is how Alice stays looking like she's in her 20s when she's in her 80s chronologically. She has to be awake for the whole process, and then her skin is regrown. She doesn't do it for vanity reasons, but to heal her body and make a new blank canvas for Power Tattoos.
  • Joe Pickett:
    • This is part of the killer's M.O. in Trophy Hunt.
    • The killer in Blood Trail intends to do this to the final victim, but Joe's intervention makes them decide to simply slit their throat instead.
  • A tiger demon does this to himself in Journey to the West before standing up. Apparently, because that's his real form, a partly-skinned tiger-man.
  • In Kushiel's Dart, Waldemar Selig attempts to do this to Phedre.
  • In Martín Fierro: At Song III of the first book, Martin Fierro says that The Savage Indian does this to the feet of the women they took captives.
  • In The Master and Margarita, when Margarita apologises to the demon Azazello for being naked in front of him (It Makes Sense in Context), he reassures her that he's totally fine with it, for he'd seen not only naked women, but also completely flayed ones.
  • Merkabah Rider: In "The Dust Devils", the Evil Sorcerer summons a minor demon which manifests as a wind that sets up a permanent dust storm around the town. He later sends it to attack the Rider, and it blasts him with cyclonic force winds. The Rider finds the body of one the demon's previous victims who had the flesh stripped from his bones by the sand blasted by the wind.
  • In Boris Starling's Messiah the serial killer Silver Tongue flays a man named Bart Miller alive. The police later discover that Silver Tongue is murdering men based on how the apostles died and Bart Miller was unlucky enough to share his name with St. Bartholomew — who was flayed alive.
  • In Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of the tortures used by Baron Ryoval on Mark Vorkosigan is spraying his skin with a chemical that slowly eats it away.
  • This is a favored tactic of the Black Mages from the Mithgar books; their victims need to be in pain in order for the Mages to wrench the life essence needed to power their spells, and so most become adept Torture Technicians. This is a particularly common form of it, and at least one character, Baron Stoke, was almost a junkie getting his fix by flaying his prisoners and leeching their life-force.
  • Used with great enthusiasm in the opening of the Night Lords book Blood Reaver.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Suffer The Children has Freddy cause goth girl Kat's tattoos to come to life and peel themselves, and the skin they're printed on, off her body.
    • In the very next book, Dreamspawn, he cuts a girl's face off with a box cutter.
  • Happened off-camera to Count Video during the Nightside's Angel War. He's seen chasing his own animated skin, weeping and leaving bloody footprints, through the burning streets.
  • In Polystom, two deserters convicted of murdering an aristocrat are executed using a device called a "skin-frame": their skin is cut around their ankles and attached to hooks and they are forced to hang onto the frame until their arms tire and they let go.
  • In Qiang Jin Jiu, Shen Zechuan skins Ji Lei alive.
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has the story "Harold", where two farmers make a scarecrow they dub Harold after a farmer they both hate and spend much of their free time abusing it. The scarecrow comes to life, hunts one of the farmers down, and murders him by skinning him alive before laying the skin out in the sun to dry.
  • The Scholomance: One Black Mage booby-traps a freshman classroom with an Area of Effect flaying spell in hopes of harvesting Mana from the random injuries it would inflict. El rewrites the Geometric Magic to turn it back on its creator, mistaking it for the work of a magical monster; when she hears about a student's skin flying off in the middle of class, to eventually fatal effect, she takes a private moment to go throw up.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, this is, oddly enough, the one thing that the cops and FBI don't suspect the serial killer Buffalo Bill of doing, since post-mortem bloodwork proves his victims were dead before he began to flay them. Hannibal Lecter points out to Clarice that this would have been obvious even without the tests, since what he calls "recreational" flayings suspend the victim by the ankles, and the only ligature marks found on Bill's victims are from the nooses that killed them.
  • This is a tradition of House Bolton in A Song of Ice and Fire, who are based at the Dreadfort and whose sigil is an image of a flayed man. When Roose Bolton does it, it's as the House's traditional methods of both interrogation and punishment — enjoyment may happen, but he primarily uses it as a political tool. However, his bastard son (in both senses of the phrase) Ramsay does it mainly for fun. The Boltons as a whole been doing it for centuries... and, one of the nastier rumours that may prove itself all too true is that they keep the skins (or parts thereof) of prominent victims and preserve them in the keep of the Dreadfort. Alongside other, more traditional trophies of war and what have you. Nice.
  • Various characters in Sword of Truth suffer this fate. In the second book, two graduates of the Wizarding School, who have been lifelong friends for hundreds of years, are informed that one of them will be forcibly conscripted into the service of the Keeper, and will have to flay his friend alive as part of his initiation. Flaying in this case has an actual use: it allows one wizard to steal the power of another.
  • Tortall Universe
    • This is how Blayce the Gallan deals with disobedience in Protector of the Small, though Stenmun carries it out. Disobedience can be smuggling poppy to children who are about to be murdered to power his killing devices. Kel and her retinue see a number of rotting victims hanging in cages from the castle walls.
    • Pearl Skinner, Big Bad of the second Beka Cooper book, is known for this, so much so that Beka assumes "Skinner" is a boastful title. (It's actually Pearl's real family name; her father was a butcher.)
  • The villainess of J.T. Edson's A Town Called Yellowdog suffers permanent insanity after a tribe of Kiowa Indians take revenge on her brother for the rape and murder of one of their women. The final chapter is spoilered with the title "She Saw Her Brother Skinned Alive".
  • In Iain M. Banks' Use of Weapons, the villain and protagonist Elethiomel was fond of this. "The first messenger we personally sent came back without his skin!"
  • The Wheel of Time: When the Forsaken Lanfear learns that The Hero Rand, for whom she's a Stalker with a Crush in his current life and his Psycho Ex Girl Friend from his previous Reincarnation , has slept with another woman, she confronts him holding the skin of the man who broke the news.
  • In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, one character tells the story of his time in the war where he ended up captured and was Forced to Watch his comrade skinned alive. The narrator only escaped torture by pretending that he didn't understand Russian.
  • In Ken Follet's World Without End a thief is skinned with no detail of the process left out.
  • In the Young Bond novel By Royal Command, Dr. Perseus Friend plans to skin Bond alive while forcing Bond's girlfriend Roan to watch.
  • In Zero Sight the Dark Action Girl, vampire and Deuteragonist Rei Bathory does this to extract informational from a mook. She ups the ante with a bit of psychological torture by licking her hand clean in front of him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In American Horror Story: Asylum, the serial killer Bloody Face kills at least one of his victims this way. This is also the fate of Teresa.
  • And in American Horror Story: Coven, one of Delphine LaLaurie's tortured slaves has his face cut off.
  • Happened to a smaller dog on Animal Cops: Houston when it was left in a yard with several older dogs and too little food. Competing over food, one of the larger dogs is thought to have grabbed it by the head to stop it from eating, because it was found with much of the skin and muscle torn away from the top of its skull.
  • Season 5 of Arrow reveals that Oliver Queen did this to an enemy Russian gangster Mook shortly before he returned to America at the start of the series. It's meant to showcase just how deep the darkness goes in Oliver; his victim had actually confessed everything Oliver wanted earlier in the torture session. Oliver skinned him until he died from pain & blood loss just to assure himself he could do it.
  • In the Being Human (US) episode "I've Got You Under Your Skin", Suren flays Henry alive, or rather undead, as punishment for cheating on her.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Villains", Willow, in full-on snap-out mode after Tara's death, does this to Warren, Tara's killer, when she catches up to him. It was fairly gruesome for standard television, but he didn't survive for very long after his skin had been removed (mainly because she then followed up by burning him). He got better in the comics continuation, though. He still had no skin, and was being kept alive by magic, but when the magic ended, he died instantly.
    • Then, in the Season 7 episode "Same Time, Same Place", the demon Gnarl rips its victims' skin off in strips, and eats it, while the victim is still alive. It's in the process of eating Willow's skin when Buffy catches up with it, and kills it.
    • Glory threatened to do this to Spike in "Intervention" (think I can do it all in one strip, like an apple?) but doesn't make it very far.
  • The Skin Taker in Candle Cove often threatened Pirate Percy and Janice — although he couldn't get away with it on a kids' show.
  • Criminal Minds
    • A deranged cult in the episode "The Tribe" does this to a group of university students, making sure to prolong the suffering of the victims for as long as possible.
    • In "About Face", the villain cuts his first victim's face off while she's still alive. Earlier in the same episode, Reid mentions Rossi once helped put away a guy nicknamed "The Scarsdale Skinner".
  • The third season of Dexter featured a serial killer known as The Skinner, who was originally a Torture Technician in a Nicaraguan death squad who specialized in flaying.
  • Reavers from Firefly are rumored to skin their victims to make clothes out of their skins. If victims are very lucky, this happens after they are already dead.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • House Bolton has a long enough tradition of this activity to make a flayed man their sigil, though it is supposed to be banned in the North by Eddard Stark nowadays. Lord Roose Bolton, who doesn't seem deterred by this, provides the page quote: "A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man none" and it is his preferred method of interrogation. Roose's bastard son Ramsay does it for fun. In addition to gleefully peeling the skin off Theon Greyjoy's fingers, he practices the full-bodied variation of flaying on Dagmer and the other surrendering Ironborn after they handed Theon over, and threatens to do this to any other Ironborn he finds in the North. He enjoys flaying a lot more than his father, actually. Roose only flays people when he thinks he can get away with it and often does it in secret. Roose suggests to Robb that they should flay Lannister prisoners to make them talk, but won't openly defy him when he says no. In contrast, after the Greyjoy garrison of over sixty men at Moat Cailin surrendered, Ramsay flayed all of them alive, and then put their flayed corpses on public display. Ramsay does not have Roose's restraint.
    • To cure Jorah Mormont's greyscale, Samwell Tarly has to remove every single piece of infected flesh.
  • Happy!: Early on in season 2, Scooter Sterling is kidnapped by Smoothie, brutally kept alive while being completely skinned and later put inside a giant chocolate bunny where he's found dead by some children that opened it during an Easter charity hunt he was meant to host.
  • Hemlock Grove: Clementine Chasseur dies after Olivia (a vampire) rips off and eats her entire skin, save her face. She's still alive but can't move because her neck is broken, so Dr. Pryce gives her a Mercy Kill.
  • Masters of Horror:
    • In the episode "Pick Me Up", the serial killer Walker ties one of his victims up in a motel room and cuts off large parts of her skin until she dies.
    • In the episode "Pelts", a man does this to himself under the control of a coat made of cursed raccoon pelts.
    • In the episode "Right to Die", a man peels all of his lover's skin off to provide grafts for his horrifically burned wife.
  • Done very graphically in The River, thanks to a really vengeful demon.
  • Happened accidentally to a stoned young man on Untold Stories of the E.R., when he got his long hair caught in a mall escalator and it de-gloved most of his scalp.
  • The Wheel of Time (2021): Eamon Valda starts doing this to Perrin, cutting skin from his back, and threatens that he'll take the rest unless Egwene confesses she's an Aes Sedai.
  • The X-Files: The episode "Hellbound" has a serial killer who prefers to flay his victims alive. Reyes feels especially drawn to the case because it turns out the whole thing is a repeat from history, with the victims, killer, and investigator from an old crime sentenced to play it all out again via the cycle of reincarnation.

    Music Videos 

    Other Sites 
  • SCP Foundation, SCP-1707 ("New Skin"). SCP-1707 is a colony of worms that can completely remove the skin of any creature. Once the skin is removed, SCP-1707 replaces the creature's skin.
    • Subverted in this story, where an agent of the Foundation tells the story of a serial killer — actually a very dangerous humanoid SCP — that supposedly skinned its victims alive. He considers it a ridiculous idea: That's a bunch of bullshit, right there. You ever skin somebody alive? They wriggle everywhere.

    Religion and Myth 
  • The satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to a music contest, flute against lyre. There are several versions (either Apollo made a new condition that made it impossible for Marsyas to keep up, like singing or playing the instrument upside-down; or the judge was Midas who declared Marsyas the winner), but both end in the same way: Apollo flays Marsyas alive.
  • The apostle Bartholomew is said to have been flayed alive by an Armenian prince after the latter's brother, the king, converted to Christianity; and indeed, he is often represented in art as holding his own flayed skin. This is why "St. Bartholomew's" is a common name for hospitals; due to the method of his death, he's considered the patron saint of surgery. He's also the patron saint of leather and leather-workers.
  • The Scottish faerie known as Nuckelavee is a skinless man fused to a skinless horse.
  • In the Aztec religion, celebrations to Xipe Totec, the god of fertility, required that sacrifices be flayed alive during the Vernal Equinox. The priests would then go about in the skins for some time.
  • Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, one of the Ten Martyrs of Judaism, was killed through flaying by the Romans for practicing and teaching Judaism. (He also unnerved his killers by reciting the Sh'ma while they did it.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Eberron:
      • Members of Dragonmarked Houses who commit a terrible crime against their House would be expelled from it. This was known as "excoriation," after the (mostly) discontinued practice of having the shamed member's Dragonmark flayed from the skin. If the excoriate survived, the Mark would grow back elsewhere, but would be very painful to use.
      • Monks dedicated to the Mockery would flay themselves as a ritual.
    • In Planescape, this is often the fate of those who run afoul of Sigil's de facto ruler, the mysterious Lady of Pain. Technically, this is not a method of torture, but of execution: anyone whom the Lady's shadow falls on dies quite instantaneously (if painfully) as they are flayed alive.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer 40,000:
      • The Drukhari use flaying as a standard torture technique but some take it even further. The background material for the Coven of the Twelve for instance states that the Haemonculus masters of the Coven typically flay the skin from their Wrack and Grotesque servants, leaving exposed nerves and raw flesh so that they can experience the full spectrum of sensation. The official colour scheme for the Coven has the skin of these troops painted a deep red to represent this.
      • Necron Flayed Ones have this as their signature ability. They use their long flensing knive-like talons to skin their victims and then they wear the skin as a terror tactic. It works. They also like burrowing out of the ground while wearing the skins of their new victim's friends. Flayed Ones have no concept of 'torture', however, and their victims tend to be quite dead by the time they go to work.
      • Chaos is unique in that they have learned how to power warmachines by ritually flaying someone. The victim is put in the machine, and then the machine is promptly locked in every way possible to prevent the daemon doing the flaying from escaping. Then they hope the cannibalised dreadnought charges the enemy lines rather than their own.
      • During the end of the Horus Heresy, as Horus stood over the Emperor's broken body, a lone man (varying between a Guardsman, a Terminator, and a Custodes with each new write-up) attempted to fight back against the Primarch. When Horus flayed the man alive, the Emperor realized he was truly lost, and instantly destroyed his soul.
    • In Warhammer there was a Dogs of War unit called Mengil Manhide's Manflayers. They were Dark Elves who flayed their victims alive and wore their skins as cloaks.
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, Moto Tsume forced Iuchi Karasu to cut off his own skin, one strip at a time, and sew it into a blanket.
  • In Pathfinder there's a type of undead called an ecorche. These creatures appear as skinless hulks of muscle and are capable of ripping the skin off their foes in one swift motion. For extra horror, they can squeeze themselves into these stolen skins to impersonate their victims, usually so they can get close to new, unsuspecting victims and skin them too. As a Genius Bonus, écorché is a real world term for those medical models of people without skin that show off the musculature.
  • In the Shadowrun sourcebook Cyberpirates, a ruthless African pirate named Ago Krote posted a shadowtalk comment about how, having captured a wereleopard, he'd been skinning it alive every few days, selling the valuable pelt, then waiting for it to regenerate so he can skin it again. Eventually it managed to slip its freshly-skinned, bloody form between its cage's bars and escape. Becomes a source of Fridge Horror when you consider that Ago says the pelt sold for 1,500 nuyen each time, and that he got 60,000 nuyen out of him before he escaped. That means the wereleopard (a sentient being, mind you) endured being flayed alive 40 times.

    Video Games 
  • In Brain Dead 13, Fritz does this in one death scene in the stairs by pulling off Lance's scalp with his Hook Hand and using said scalp as a hat. Another death scene shows Fritz cutting off Lance's scalp with his sword or razor blade, making it fall off and exposing his brain. Yet another death has Fritz grabbing unto Lance's eyes with his hooks and then pulling the whole skin, leaving him a skeleton.
  • The Dark Coven led by Maghda in Diablo III are quite fond of this and other methods of Cold-Blooded Torture and Human Sacrifice, as evidenced both in the Halls of Agony and in Alcarnus.
  • The Lonesome Road expansion for Fallout: New Vegas introduces the Marked Men, whose skin has been torn off by the vicious sandstorms constantly ravaging the Divide. Unfortunately the area's background radiation has also ghoulified them, prolonging both their lives and their suffering.
  • In Far Cry 5, John Seed’s idea of purging sin is to tattoo a victim’s sin on their skin, then cut their skin off. During the final part of his chapter, he’s already done it to Pastor Jeffries and then does it to Nick, with Nick’s sin being Greed and the PC’s being Wrath.
  • Kenshi has the Peeler Machines, torture devices that slowly skin anyone unlucky enough to be placed in them like a potato.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • In Mass Effect 2, you walk in on Liara threatening a person with this, in a channeling of her mother Benezia. This showcases what Liara has become following her two-year Roaring Rampage of Revenge upon the Shadow Broker for trying to sell Shepard's body to the Collectors.
  • A few fatalities in the Mortal Kombat series flay instead of directly kill. Unsurprisingly, they are among the cooler looking ones. The character most associated with this is Sheeva, who uses her four arms to either peel your skin off like a banana (in Mortal Kombat 3), or tear it into two pieces (in Mortal Kombat 9). One of her Mortal Kombat 11 fatalities also involves de-gloving her opponent's arms. And of course, Mortal Kombat X has the aforementioned Predator, who got a brutality ending with the opponent's corpse dangling skinless from one of its traps.
  • Wounded is a horror game whose main villain is a Serial Killer called "The Skinner", who kills his victims the way his name states. There's a few cutscenes of him performing his kills onscreen, and you'll need to prevent him from getting his hands on your daughter.
  • XenoGears: When Bishop Stone attacks the Yggdrasil in his Alkanshel, the enhancements given to him by Krelian removed all his skin, leaving him looking like a horrific monster with a red skull.

    Web Animation 
  • Dingo Doodles: In Fools' Gold, Gothi reveals in Episode 15 that this is the reason why she always wears a mask — she had her face carved off by someone she thought was a friend the night the Foreclaimers were attacked by Xanu, over a thousand years before. This made the creator's teasing about a "face reveal" for Gothi earlier in the series something of a Cerebus Retcon, since there wasn't technically a face to reveal. An even later reveal that Gothi was granted immortality calls into question whether the perpetrator meant to keep Gothi alive, however.
  • As with all gory tropes, Happy Tree Friends has had this happen a few times, most notably in "Wishy Washy", where Petunia does this to herself with a potato peeler to get rid of the grime covering her.
  • On The Edge: In Thinly slicing skin with a wood shaver - Yakuza style torture, crooked pet shop owner Inukai is subject to having his skin scraped off with a wood planer after Kotoge's boss found out about his business. After the boss gave him the first scrape, he left the rest of the work to Kotoge.

  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Incubus has the Super-Toughness and Healing Factor to survive a point-blank strike from Chakravartin Jagganoth, but he has to regenerate his skin afterwards.
    Incubus: Welp.
  • Unsounded:
    • An Inak in the Crescian capitol who is being forced into an internment camp claws at a soldier who jabbed him in the head with a spear, knocking him to the ground and drawing blood. A mage in the crowd reacts by ripping the inak's skin off and throwing him to the mob.
    • Magus spells Eustace's skin off, he seems to still be alive when he falls through the door to Duane, but he'd dead by the time he tumbles down the rudimentary stairs.

    Web Original 
  • Gaoians (essentially man-sized bipedal raccoon-like aliens) in The Jenkinsverse used this as a particularly nasty method of execution back in their medieval days. The victim can apparently survive fully skinned for days (after which the infection, not the blood loss will kill them). One notable Gao who was executed with this method was Tritya, founder of the Clan of Females.

    Web Video 
  • In Puppet History, the evil hologram clone of the Professor (often referred to by fans as 'the Substitute') wants to skin Ryan Bergara alive and wear him as a suit, which will somehow make the hologram fully corporeal. Ryan, naturally, is not a fan of this plan. It's worth noting that, although the Substitute demonstrated just minutes earlier that he has access to anesthetics, he repeatedly describes the pain that Ryan will feel as he's skinned alive, indicating that he is deliberately choosing not to use them. Naturally, as the show always features a musical number at the end, the Substitute reveals his plan through a song.

    The Substitute: [singing] And once I'm in your shredded skin
    There ain't nothing that this puppet can't do.
    I'm gonna make one hell of a me
    Out of the pieces of you.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • In "The Scarlet Getter", Roger gets flayed by an alien hunter that's trying to dissect him.
    • In "Love, AD Style", Roger, who has fallen madly in love with Hayley, kidnaps her and plans to flay her and graft her skin onto his own so they can "become one". He ends up doing it to Jeff instead.
    • The B-plot of "The Hall Monitor and the Lunch Lady" has Stan and Roger witness an old man get caught at the bottom of an escalator and have his insides pulled out from his skin and pop out from the top. Stan saw the first half, Roger saw the second, both were so traumatized they became catatonic. At its conclusion, Dr. Ray goes through the same thing trying to help Francine and Hayley snap them out of it, traumatizing them as well.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
    • In "Revenge of the Trees", some vengeful trees peel off chunks of Carl's skin to use as paper in one episode.
    • A season later in the episode "Carl", Carl (and Master Shake) get their entire skins ripped off (in very graphic detail), and eventually shot by the house robot, Rudy.
  • Celebrity Deathmatch pitted Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam against Scott Stapp of Creed over their similar singing voices. Stapp rips off all of Vedder's skin with barbed wire and tries to wear it to steal his identity. Notably, Vedder survives this and manages to win the fight.
  • Evil Con Carne: In "The Right to Bear Arms", Boskov tears Skarr's face off with his claws when their arms are transported onto each other's bodies (and find they can still control them). Dr. Ghastly stitches Skarr's face back together, but also stitches his mouth shut.
  • Played for Laughs in Futurama where Jrrr, son of recurrent Earth invaders Lrrr and Ndnd, shows off his "fleam," a weapon designed to do exactly this.
    Fry: Hey, you know who would love fleaming stuff? My friend Bender.
    (Later in the episode:)
  • Among the various brutal deaths suffered by people in the failed Korgoth of Barbaria pilot, one man (in the middle of a speech saying what HE'LL do to KORGOTH) has the entire front of his body ripped off to expose the muscles beneath, cuing a serious of horrified screams from the other, also-brutalized bar patrons. Then Korgoth throws a glass of alcohol all over him, cuing another series of screams. Then he sets the alcohol ablaze; no reaction shots this time, the guy just runs around screaming for a bit then falls over dead. Just another boring bar-fight for Korgoth.
  • During the first Regular Show Halloween Episode, Muscle Man is dragged off by a wizard. He returns a few moments later, totally skinned, declares "I told you I was ripped" and falls over dead.
  • In "A Yard Too Far" from The Ren & Stimpy Show, Ren, in a Zany Scheme to steal hog jowls from a windowsill, tears off Stimpy's skin. The camera pans away from Stimpy before his skin is pulled off... and after Ren pulls it off, it pans back to Stimpy, who is now completely skinless. Skinless Stimpy shows up again later, reacting to his skin being mauled by the baboon.
  • In Rick and Morty episode "Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate", a show host obsessed with personal space does this to himself, grossing everybody except Rick.
  • The Simpsons: In an Itchy and Scratchy episode, Itchy nails Scratchy's feet to an escalator, which peels away his fur and skin, but doesn't kill him. Later on, the skinless cat is wearing his fur as if it were a coat, and then is beaten to death by anti-fur militants.
  • Despite its status as a kids show, In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Plankton's Regular," Plankton's new customer moves the Chum Bucket door over the lying Spongebob, peeling his skin off.
    • In the same episode, Plankton flays himself.
    • In another episode, Patrick Star rips off his front skin. SpongeBob's reaction: Eww.
    • "Krusty Crushers" has a wrestler blow another's skin off.
    • Every time someone incorrectly accuses someone of being in disguise will be followed by the accuser (usually SpongeBob) yanking off the accused's (usually Squidward) face. Literally.
  • Superjail!: In "The Inquisitor", Alice tries to help Jared by ripping off his live ferret mustache but accidentally removes all of his skin in the proccess.

    Real Life 
  • Imperial China practiced lingchi executions (also known as "Death of a Thousand Cuts"), in which prisoners convicted of severe crimes were slowly and painfully flayed to death.
  • The more traditional form of flaying however was common in ancient and medieval Chinese history under certain emperors. Zhu Yuanzhang had many servants, officials, rebels, and later 5000 women flayed. Zhu Houzhao had six rebels flayed, and Zhang Xianzhong had many more people flayed as well during his reign.
  • Scalping is this, though "limited" to the head. As noted above, it was normally done to dead or dying victims, but there have been a few cases where people survived for years afterward, and, with the correct surgical procedures, even regrew their scalps.
  • According to Herodotus, the Achaemenid Persian shah Cambyses did this to a judge who was found guilty of corruption: He then proceeded to have the judge's skin upholstered onto the judge's seat, and then forced his son to succeed his father as judge. Granted, this is Herodotus...
  • Pierre Basile, a young crossbowman, managed to kill Richard The Lion Heart in 1199. Mercadier, Richard's mercenary captain and right-hand-man, was not particularly pleased to have his 15-year-old working relationship end this way. He retaliated by having Pierre flayed alive.
  • Unlike in the movies, this can happen if you crash through a glass window at high speed (such as on a motorcycle) as hundred of razor-sharp shards of glass slice through your flesh.
  • The Assyrians were notorious for their flaying customs practiced on prisoners and enemies. It's even depicted on palace wall arts and some kings boasted of the violence they inflicted, especially flaying. For instance, King Ashurnasirpal stated:
  • Saint Charalambos was executed by flaying in 202 AD.
  • According to some accounts, the Roman emperor Valerian, who was captured by the Sassanids in 260 AD, was executed by flaying.
  • The Greek philosopher Hypatia was flayed by a group of Christian zealots in 415 AD. After she died, her killers took her body to the edge of the city and burned her.
  • Quite a common punishment for certain enemies of the Ottoman Empire. Mainly happened to rebels or enemy leaders such as Krokodeilas Kladas, Marcantonio Bragadin, Dionysios Skylosophos, and Daskalogiannis. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a Turkish poet, Imadaddin Nasimi, was flayed alive by the Timurids.
  • Sambhaji, second ruler of the Maratha Kingdom, was executed by the Mughals in this fashion.
  • The Tour de Nesle affair ended with the flaying of the lovers of the daughters-in-law of King Phillip IV.
  • John Ratcliffe, the 17th century president of the Jamestown Colony (who appears in fictional form as the antagonist of Pocahontas), was captured by the Powhatans and killed in 1609. A contemporary record, rediscovered in 2004, claims that he was flayed with mussel shells. His torturers threw the flayed skin into a bonfire, leaving his face until last. Some accounts suggest Ratcliffe was still alive when they eventually threw him into the fire as well.
  • This birthday card has a smiling cartoon face on the front and says, "Hi! I'm your birthday card. I hope you have a great day!" Opening it reveals a skinned crying face and the text, "Aaaaggghhhh! My face!! You ripped off my face, you lunatic! What's wrong with you?!? Oh hurts real bad..."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Flayed Alive


House Bolton

In this History And Lore video, Roose Bolton elaborates on his family's gruesome heritage and the origin of their unofficial slogan: "A Naked Man Has Few Secrets, A Flayed Man None."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / FlayingAlive

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