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Murder Is the Best Solution; sadly, it's not always practical or possible to simply shoot the target. Either because they want to avoid being incriminated in the murder or have no corporeal body, the murderer will use a Fright Deathtrap to figuratively and literally scare someone to death. The Fright Deathtrap consists of scaring someone at just the right moment so they end up dead in circumstances that Occam's Razor will imply was an accident rather than foul play or the supernatural.

This usually requires a bit of set up, though; the murderer has to know the victim's routine, surroundings, and/or reactions well enough to manipulate them into a nearby danger, often one they have to identify or place themselves. For the sake of The Perfect Crime, it should be something that was always there, but a harmless gift (or abandoned object) serves just as well if it's in a place that can help kill the victim.

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A few common variants:

This isn't anywhere near foolproof, of course, and runs the risk that failing to scare the victim into a Fright Deathtrap puts the thwarted murderer out in the open. If he could die a second time, a ghost might die of shame at being as ineffective as a Peek-a-Bogeyman. The would-be victim now knows someone (or thing) is out to get them. ...Unless the would-be murderer used a spring-loaded cat as the scare. Then again, maybe the murderer was going for a long-term frightfest...

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Compare Tricked to Death and Psychic-Assisted Suicide for other variations on the theme of killing someone by manipulating them into a lethal situation.

Not to be confused with Gaige's robot pal.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, during the last part of an arc, Mion is hiding under Keiichi's hospital bed, waiting for a chance to attack him when he's alone. But, much as it is a surprise to say, first, the REAL murderer was Shion, and second, in the first of the answer arcs, it's revealed that it was actually a hallucination that caused him to see the same thing over and over again until he finally died of a heart attack.
  • Mixed with Elevator Failure in the first Tokyo Babylon OAV. The Born Lucky Shinji Nagumo tampers with a lift at his workplace to make it plummet several stories down and stop at the VERY last moment. As a result, Nagumo gets a broken arm... and his boss dies of a heart attack, putting him in the direct succession for his seat.

    Comic Books 
  • A standard tactic for the Scarecrow in the Batman comics.
  • In the Batman mini-series The Legend Of The Batman, it's revealed he's accidentally done this twice. The first time is when he confronts Joe Chill, revealing his identity to him. In a panic, he runs and confronts his cohorts, who shoot him when they realized he's the reason Batman exists. The second time is when Batman decides to confront the mobster who ordered Joe to murder the Waynes. Having no other costume except his father's Halloween costume, he wears that to confront the mobster and, his memory being jogged by it, the mobster runs right into a semi thinking that the ghost of Thomas Wayne had arrived.
  • In the Golden Age, heroes occasionally did this, although usually unintentionally. The original Green Lantern (Alan Scott) terrified a villain into confessing that he had masterminded blowing up the bridge that Scott had designed, killing everyone on board the test train except Scott - and then the villain drops dead of a heart attack.
  • Used in Ramba when she is hired to kill a mob boss and make it look like natural causes. She breaks into his doctor's office and learns that he has a weak heart. She then breaks into his bedroom and throws a knife at him. The knife is tied to a string around her wrist and stops short of his chest, but the fright triggers a fatal heart attack.

    Fan Works 
  • A Diplomatic Visit: May or may not have been the intention, but as Luna recounts in the epilogue of the third story, Diplomacy Through Schooling, Umbrea - the former Lady of Nightmares - once tormented an individual with nightmares that eventually proved too much for his heart, putting enough of a strain on it that he literally died of fright in his sleep.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used unintentionally in Child's Play 3. As Chucky is about to attack his next victim with a knife, yelling a battle cry with his face looking like it's covered in blood (actually lipstick), his would-be elderly victim is so scared he has a fatal heart attack and is scared stiff. Chucky's actually upset he didn't get to stab the guy.
    Chucky: Oh, you've gotta be fucking kidding me...
  • In Curse of the Headless Horseman, one of the hippie chicks is spooked by the Horseman and somehow runs in front of a campervan that is the only moving vehicle in the whole carpark. Another one dies, seemingly of heart failure, when she encounters the Horseman while tripping on acid.
  • In the film Deathtrap (adapted from the play by Ira Levin) wife Myra Bruhl is literally frightened to death after witnessing a staged murder victim return from their grave. She collapses from a fatal heart attack, and the conspirators shake hands over the body. There's an ongoing attempt to induce an earlier heart attack in the lead up to the 'murder' itself. The husband looks like he's going to commit murder, releases the tension with a "Just Joking" Justification, then suddenly chokes his victim to death.
  • Les Diaboliques is probably the Trope Codifier, in which Michel and Nicole conspire to give his wife Christina a heart attack by Michel getting "killed" and pretending to be a zombie to scare his weak-hearted wife to death.
  • In Ghost, Sam's very limited ability to interact with the physical world means that his primary means of fighting both of the film's villains is based in poltergeist scares. Both villains of the film meet their karmic ends this way, one by running into oncoming traffic and the other when his own panicked actions break the window he's trying to climb out of into deadly shards of glass - although judging by Sam's reactions, neither death was what he'd intended to accomplish with his hauntings.
  • Benoit in Man Bites Dog is a Serial Killer who often kills old people to rob them. At one point in the movie, he notices that his intended victim has a heart condition, so to save a bullet he pretends to be interviewing her for TV and suddenly shoves his gun to her face and screams at the top of his lungs that she's going to die. She drops dead on the spot.
  • The plot of the Mexican movie El miedo no and en burro (Fear Doesn't Ride a Donkey), starring La India Maria (Maria the Indian) revolves around this. Maria had been working as a live in maid in the mansion of a wealthy matriarch, who considered Maria her confidant, and the matriarch's freeloading relatives. When the Matriarch died, the relatives kicked Maria off the estate, and made her take the matriarch's beloved dog with her. They then rush to the lawyer's office to collect their inheritance, only for the lawyer to tell them that the matriarch considered them too self entered and greedy and left them nothing, with her fortune going to her little dog, and Maria acting as its regent. The relatives then ask Maria to go to a vacation house out of town, where they scheme to scare Maria to death, so they can get a hold of the dog, and the fortune. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case, Small is able to frighten Major Sholto to death just by leering through the window at him.
  • In The Tingler, the theater owner's mute wife is frightened to death while alone in their apartment - hints suggest it may have been the work of coroner Vincent Price who may have 'medicated' her with LSD to get a 'scared to death' subject for his work but it turned out to be the work of her husband, caught red-handed with the spook show props that killed her.
  • The Run to your doom variety is used frequently in Young Sherlock Holmes, as several elder gentlemen who pissed off the wrong Egyptian cult as younger men are drugged with blow-darts, causing them to see terrifying hallucinations and run into traffic, leap out 3rd story windows, etc.

    Literature 
  • Agatha Christie does this a few times, though she's just as likely to subvert it:
    • In "The Blue Geranium" from The Thirteen Problems, a woman is told by a fortune teller, "Beware the full moon. The blue primrose means warning, the blue hollyhock means danger, the blue geranium means death." At the next full moon, one of the primroses on her wallpaper turns blue, and at the full moon after that, one of the hollyhocks turns blue. The woman dies of a heart attack on the night of the third full moon, with the implication being that she was frightened to death by the threat. She was actually poisoned by her nurse, who switched her bottle of smelling salts with cyanide crystals. The nurse set up the whole blue flowers motif as camouflage—she herself was the fortune teller in an elaborate disguise.
    • In "The Case of the Caretaker," a new bride moves into the childhood manor of her husband, which he's had elaborately restored. The woman is repeatedly threatened and cursed by the elderly, seemingly-insane wife of the old manor's caretaker. While the bride is out riding on a horse one day, the old woman appears in the road, causing the animal to rear up and send the young woman tumbling to her death. It's later revealed that the woman's husband was behind it all—he paid off the caretaker's wife to act crazy, shot the horse himself with a BB gun, and injected his bride with poison, hoping that everyone would assume it was the fall that killed her.
    • A "Scared Stiff" variant occurs in "Wireless." An old lady's nephew buys her a new radio through which she begins hearing the voice of her deceased husband telling her he will "come for her" at a set day and time. She decides to Face Death with Dignity, and prepares a few documents on that day and time—a letter to a society that studies supernatural events, and a new will leaving everything to her nephew. When the time arrives, a figure that looks identical to her husband walks through the door, causing the woman (who has an unspecified heart disease) to die of shock/fright/an arrhythmia. It turns out that the "husband" was actually her nephew pulling a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax with the help of some hidden wires and a chest of old clothes he found in the attic; he had many unpaid debts and was after her money. But he ends up Hoist by His Own Petard: his aunt was holding the new will when he entered the room in his disguise and dropped it in her panic—directly into the fireplace, destroying it and thus making her existing will, which left everything to a distant relative, the only active one. And just to add insult to injury, the family doctor reveals that the aunt's heart condition was actually far worse than anyone suspected—she would have died of natural causes in six weeks. The nephew realizes that it was All for Nothing, as he's lost any chance of escaping his creditors and will end up in prison for the unpaid sums.
    • In one story, a young woman discovers that her new husband is a Serial Killer who has murdered at least three previous brides. Furthermore, she learns that she is next on the list, and that he plans to kill her that very night. In a desperate bid to keep herself alive, she starts telling him that she is a Black Widow who specializes in poison. It's all a hoax, but her husband is so taken with the tale, and so convinced that she actually put poison in his coffee, that he dies of sheer fright and the power of suggestion.
  • John Dickson Carr's locked room mysteries featuring Dr. Gideon Fell, which might be called "howdunnits", included a couple like this, where the mystery was largely just how the victims had been scared to their deaths.
    • In The Case of the Constant Suicides, everyone who stayed in a certain room in a castle for a night would wind up falling down to their deaths from the dangerous balcony, as if something scared them into attempting to escape. There was nothing special in the room aside from a box with a cage door such as might be used to carry a small animal that had been brought in recently and left under the bed — but which people had looked into and found it to be empty. Actually it wasn't empty, but contained something nearly invisible — carbon dioxide ice, which would start to vaporize as the temperature got lower at night, leaving the occupant of the room unable to breathe and cause them to panic for some air.
    • In He Who Whispers, just after it has been suggested that one of the characters is a vampire and was able to commit a previous impossible murder by flying, a shot is heard, and one character is found in her bed scared so badly she has nearly died (and is incapable of explaining what has happened, of course). She's holding a gun and appears to have shot at something outside the window, which is, of course, so far above the ground and inaccessible that only something flying could have been behind it. The would-be-murderer — who would have succeeded if he had had the right, much more sensitive target instead of the wrong person in the dark — had in fact been in the room with the victim, pressed a gun to her head in the dark, and whispered to her a long time about how he was going to shoot her — then fired the other gun he had towards the window, expecting her to die of shock when she thought she was being shot, but with it looking like she fired the gun herself.
  • The western horror short story Mr. Kennedys Bones has a scene that combines this trope with a Batman Gambit (as it could have gone poorly). The Villain Protagonist rides up to the prospecting claim of Zeke McMasters, one of the mob who lynched his former partner in crime Mr. Kennedy (the two murdered dozens of travelers for both their money and their bodies, which they sold to a medical school) several years ago. He puts the mummified body of Kennedy (which he’s kept for all those years) in the front seat of his wagon with him to invoke this trope. Sure enough when Zeke sees them he’s horrified and flees into his mine screaming. He screams so loud that the vibrations cause the mines flimsy support beams to give way, burying Zeke in a cave-in.
  • How Sir Charles Baskerville was killed in The Hound of the Baskervilles (by the scared stiff variant). Though an accidental victim, Seldon was killed by the deadly fall variant.
  • In Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz, the Proctors took advantage of their rich uncle's ailurophobia and heart disease and bought a ton of cats under a false ad. They set the kitties loose in his room during the night, and a fatal heart attack ensued. The cats were drowned afterwards, and only one escaped. Fortunately, the owners of the cat that escaped had befriended a traveling salesman, who got really suspicious.
  • A young Lord Vetinari does this to Lord Winder in Night Watch. The Properly Paranoid Winder is expecting to be poisoned or otherwise assassinated, and his nerves are so on edge that the sight of an Assassin walking calmly towards him while everyone else at the party does nothing is enough to cause him to die of fright. In this particular case, the assailant could have killed the victim with conventional means, but it just happened that they didn't need to.
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Averted with "The Girl Who Stood On A Grave", where it's a complete accident. She goes out to stand on a grave and stick a knife into it, only for something to grab her and keep her from fleeing. When she's found dead the next morning, it turns out that she had accidentally plunged the knife into her dress, which made her panic and die of fright.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not: In "The Adventure of the Sacrifice Stone", Dr. Roylott speculates that Lady Sarah intends the red-bellied black snake to frighten Miss Dalrymple to death than as an actual Animal Assassin. Holmes disagrees, pointing out that their client is hardly a hysterical young woman who will keel over at the sight of a serpent. As it turns out, Lady Sarah is insane and probably believed her scheme would work.
  • A "Deer in the headlights" variant happens in "The Tell-Tale Heart", where the protagonist jump-scares his victim and freezes him with fear long enough to suffocate him with a pillow.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Charmed (1998): In one episode, a demon who appears every 1300 years, kills his victims randomly by creating their fears into reality which make them frightened to death.
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "Buryin' Sam", Sam—who has a weak heart—dies of a heart attack when his beleaguered assistant disguises himself as Sam's business partner, whom Sam had murdered earlier.
  • Elementary: The 'Run to Your Doom' version happens in "Hounded" when Charles Baskerville is struck by a truck while fleeing from what a witness describes as a huge glowing animal.
  • The Scared Stiff version is used the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse", with a fatal fright being delivered to a man with a weak heart.
  • The 'Run to Your Doom' version is used in the opening of the Grimm episode "Sweethearts". The Victim of the Week is suffering terrifying hallucinations that cause her to run onto a bridge and into the path of a car. She might have survived, but the monster shows up to finish her off.
  • MacGyver (1985): "Deadly Silents" used the 'Scared Stiff' version. The villains set up several stunts (a suitcase full of snakes, leaving him Chained to a Railway, etc.) to attempt to trigger a fatal heart attack in an elderly silent movie star.
  • In "The Killer" - the first episode of the '80s revival of Mission: Impossible - Drake does this to Tom Copperfield; shooting him with a hallucinogenic drug that causes him to think that he is on fire. In a panic, he throws himself off the balcony of the penthouse.
  • The Scared Stiff variant is attempted in an episode of Monk, where someone wants to keep the Worlds Oldest Man from reaching his next birthday.
  • The 1979 TV-Movie Murder by Natural Causes concerns a woman and her lover planning to scare to death her mentalist husband (Hal Holbrook).
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "The Curse of Beaton Manor", the killer poses as the ghost of the Victim of the Week's brother, hoping to either induce a fatal heart attack or drive him to suicide. Ultimately it does both, as the victim suffers a heart attack while climbing on to a window ledge.
  • Night Gallery episode "The Ghost of Sorworth Place". A ghost appears near the top of a flight of stairs. A man pursuing the ghost tries to grab it but falls through it and down the flight of stairs, breaking his neck.
  • One episode of the Poirot TV series features a Gold Digger who attempts to make use of her husband's heart condition to scare him to death with a ghost story. When he proves sturdier than she thought, she shoots him and uses the ghost story to make it look as though she is being deliberately frightened by someone else.
  • Attempted in one episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) by a ghost villain, who appeared in the middle of the road while his target was driving. But his target knew he was a ghost and just drove straight through him.
  • Stargate Atlantis: in one episode, the Neglectful Precursors artifact of the week turned out to be a nanovirus that kills people via Mind Rape that makes them see progressively more terrifying nightmares until they die of cardiac arrest. One particular death we see on-screen has the victim being so terrified that she jumped off Atlantis's central tower in the dream and dies in the real world the instant she does in the dream.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In the episode The Thaw, five people are trapped in a virtual world with a malevolent program that looks like a clown. It can't affect their bodies in the real world, but it still manages to kill some of them by scaring them enough.
  • Superior Court: An episode of the 1980s courtroom drama saw a young man tried for first-degree murder after his grandmother died of a massive, fright-induced heart attack. The prosecutors alleged he and an accomplice used the knowledge of her weak heart during a robbery to enforce the Scared Stiff variant, while the defense said no physical evidence was left behind and that it could not be definitively proven her heart attack was a direct result of her grandson’s actions. The judge disagreed and found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.
  • Whodunnit? (UK): In "Future Imperfect", the Victim of the Week is murdered when the travel tape he was supposed to experiencing is swapped for a tape of a tiger attacking, triggering a heart attack.

    Radio 
  • The Shadow:
    • The Shadow adores this trope. He uses his powers to cause hallucinations that make the villains kill themselves or their partners, or just freaks them out so badly that they're driven to do something suicidally stupid.
    • In "The Three Ghosts" the villain is trying to do this to his wife, and apparently did it to his last one.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Ironclaw necromancers can push a Dying character over the edge with a Scare stunt. It's also one of the potential random effects that can result from casting black magic.

    Video Games 
  • In Illbleed, many of the traps are meant to scare the target instead of physically injuring them. Your character will die of shock if their heart rate gets too high.
  • The Elysian Box in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box seems to function this way. Rumors surrounding the box say that it kills all who dare open it, and the game begins with the death of Layton's old mentor while investigating the rumors it turns out that the box's "power" actually comes from the victim being exposed to a type of fume that causes the inhaler to be highly susceptible to suggestion to the point of perceiving whatever he thinks might be in the room as actually being there. Schrader actually recovers from his death at the end, but it's speculated that he may have been one of the lucky ones who wasn't say, chased out of a tenth story window by the imaginary thirty-foot python lurking in the box, much like the Young Sherlock Holmes example.
  • In The Sims 2, Sims can be scared to death by ghosts if their needs are low when the ghost scares them. This is particularly common with pregnant Sims since they often already have low needs due to pregnancy.
  • Specimen 1 from Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion is simply a group of cardboard cutouts of cute-faced creatures that jump out with a Scare Chord. By themselves, they are harmless asides from making the character stop for a brief moment (and giving the titular jump scares to the player) but as the game progresses and the player finds the other specimens, Specimen 1's jumpscares become more effective as a deer-in-the-headlights style trap. According to the in-game profile, Specimen 1 has killed 4 people via heart attack.
  • In World of Warcraft, Fear is one of the Standard Status Effects that does no damage by itself, but a few dungeon bosses count as this trope: they fear the Player Characters, making them run around at random so that they risk running into a group of unengaged mobs and aggroing them. Onyxia is the most notorious for this, as her lair contains two pens with whelp eggs, which players who are feared run into and are overcome by whelps.

    Western Animation 
  • The Futurama episode "Ghost in the Machines" has Bender (as a disembodied software ghost) attempt this on Fry as part of a deal with the Robot Devil.
  • The Mickey MouseWorks short "How to Haunt a House", which subsequently aired as part of House of Mouse: At the beginning, we hear Goofy getting hit by a car so that he can be a ghost and demonstrate how to haunt a house, with Donald Duck as the hauntee. After many amusing attempts that end in failure, he finally succeeds in scaring Donald, who runs out the door, is also hit by a car and comes back inside as a rather angry ghost.
  • In Justice League, "Only a Dream", Dr. Destiny's powers work on the same principle as the "Scared Stiff" variant — with the exception that you don't have to be in poor health for it to work.

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