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"Within this virgin of cold ore, who shall swallow even your screams with her embrace, suffer in anguish as your entire body is stabbed and skewered! Iron Maiden!!"
Naofumi Iwatani, The Rising of the Shield Hero
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An iron maiden is a form of medieval torture wherein a person is stuffed into a man-shaped metal case with Spikes of Doom all around the insides, causing the poor soul to get stabbed and eventually die. Often, that metal case is also a coffin. This effectively combines the two Primal Fears of impalement and claustrophobia.

If Played for Laughs, the victim might emerge, drink something and have the liquid spill out of Invisible Holes. Obviously, this is more common in cartoons.

Despite taking hold in popular culture, this is a Dead Unicorn Trope. There is no evidence of tortures via iron maidens in the actual medieval era, and they probably never existed at all in real life. The modern image of the iron maiden may come from erroneous interpretation of the actual purpose of a real torture device known as "Schandmantel".

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Can often be found in a Torture Cellar. See also Punishment Box, which is a slightly more humane version.

Not to be confused with the heavy metal group, though they are named after the device. Also no relation to Iron Ladynote , or a young woman who is Made of Iron.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk features a few of these during the Conviction Arc, and Casca very nearly gets shut in one when she's taken to Mozgus's torture chamber that has clearly been used recently, which is about the point when all hell really starts breaking loose literally.
  • Dropkick on My Devil: Yurine puts Jashin in one as punishment for eating her pudding.
  • Marionette Master Kankuro from Naruto has a Finishing Move named after and emulating this trope (in the English dub). "Secret Black Move: Iron Maiden", in which he first traps his victim in one of his puppets' barrel-like body, then uses the blades of his other puppet to skewer them.
  • The X-Laws in Shaman King are lead by "Iron Maiden" Jeanne, named so because she spends her time in an iron maiden that increases her spiritual power by keeping her in a constant near-death state.

    Comic Books 
  • Code Name: Gravedigger: In Men of War #12, Gravedigger has himself smuggled into Gestapo headquarters by concealing himself inside an iron maiden that is part of the personal collection of the Torture Technician and is being brought in to help him break a captured British major.
  • Hellboy: Rasputin sacrifices Ilsa Haupstein to become the incarnation of Hecate in an Iron Maiden.
  • In the "Witch Key" arc of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, Tarot is shoved inside an iron maiden as one of the tortures she's forced to endure. She somehow manages to stay perfectly still for several days.
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    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: From "Kept Busy":
    "How's dear old Groll doing these days?"
    "Your admirably treacherous and selfish former subordinate remains in the torture chamber. We put him into an iron maiden built from his own teeth," the butler proclaimed, rubbing his hands with glee. "I hope you don't need to ask him anything, Master. His pronunciation has deteriorated quite a bit since we put ants in his mouth."

    Films — Animation 
  • In Despicable Me, Edith goes into Gru's iron maiden, and what appears to be blood drips out of it, much to Margo's horror. The iron maiden then opens, only for it to be revealed that the spikes poked a hole in Edith's juice box, causing the red juice to drip out.
  • In The Nightmare Before Christmas Oogie Boogie's lair is revealed to contain an iron maiden during his Villain Song, along his many other accessories.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Tim Burton's Batman Returns shows that Bruce Wayne steps into an iron maiden in Wayne Manor to enter the Batcave. The spikes retract, the front closes, and the trap door floor lets Bruce slide down a chute. Fridge Brilliance in that someone who learned Bruce's secret identity would think twice about trying to get into the Batcave this way, because if Batman has a safety feature to detect an imposter, the penalty would be painful indeed.
  • In Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the two protagonists end up in medieval England and get caught trying to rescue princesses from their arranged marriages to 'royal ugly dudes'. Throw in the fact that Bill and Ted are the world's biggest fans of metal, and:
    Royal Ugly Dude: Put them in the iron maiden.
    Bill: Iron Maiden?!
    Bill and Ted: Excellent! (air guitars)
    Royal Ugly Dude: Execute them!
    Bill and Ted: Bogus...
  • In Carry On Henry, Sir Roger is tortured in an iron maiden to force him to make a false confession. After he's let out, he seems unharmed but when he asks for a glass of water the water sprays out of the Invisible Holes in his torso.
  • Five Deadly Venoms features an iron maiden variant with the victim's head exposed. Snake uses this to kill Toad, but it only takes after Snake smashes Toad's ears and disables his "iron skin" power.
  • Elizabeth's ultimate fate in The Pit and the Pendulum is to be locked in an Iron Maiden without any hope of rescue.
  • After failing to rob the proprietor in From Beyond the Grave, the thief staggers back, is hit by a swinging skeleton, falls into what appears to be a combination of a coffin and an iron maiden, and is spiked to death.
  • In Sleepy Hollow (1999) Ichabod Crane remembers that his mother was locked in an iron maiden by his father when he thought the free-spirited woman was a witch, leaving only her eyes visible enough to attract his attention and make him finally open that door.

    Light Novels 

    Literature 
  • In the 25th Animorphs novel The Extreme, it's revealed that Visser Three's room on the Blade Ship contains an assortment of torture devices, including an iron maiden.
  • The gruesome fate of the false princess in some tellings of "The Goose Girl" (most notably The Brothers Grimm's): She's placed in a barrel lined with nails which is then dragged about the streets by two white horses until she is dead. To be fair, she suggested the style of execution herself thinking it was for someone else.
  • In Matilda, Miss Trunchbull uses a less lethal version called the Chokey, a Punishment Box full of rusty nails and broken glass. Kids must stand perfectly still until released to avoid injury.
  • In one of the Phoenix Force novels, the Villain of the Week has a hobby of collecting torture devices. He shows off a 'medieval' iron maiden, but when it's pointed out the spikes appear to be machine-made acknowledges that it's likely a fake, as there would be little use for a torture device that instantly killed the victim with multiple stab wounds.
  • Raising Steam: A prisoner is kept in a (spikeless) iron maiden with several kittens. If the torturer drops by and doesn't hear contented purring, he opens it and whacks the prisoner over the head.
  • Bram Stoker's short story The Squaw is focused on the iron maiden (referred to as "Iron Virgin" in the text) exhibited in Nuremberg Castle (the device really existed; it was destroyed by the Allied bombing of 1944). Its protagonist is an American tourist who visits the castle and asks the guide to briefly almost close the iron maiden on him, to know how a victim of this device would have felt. Before entering the castle, he unintentionally killed a group of kittens next to their mothers, by throwing a stone. While testing the iron maiden, the guide is attacked by the resentful cat and lets go of the rope which held the device's doors open; the heavy doors thus slammed shut, killing the protagonist.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Auction Kings, the Garrett brothers bring in an iron maiden to sell in their debut episode. Paul is quick to point out that they did not actually exist in the Middle Ages.
  • Played for laughs in a The Carol Burnett Show sketch. Tim Conway plays an incompetent torturer who gets trapped in his own iron maiden. Another character absentmindedly puts weight on the lid and forces the spikes into the torturer's body.
  • In the Doctor Who story "The King's Demons", the Master's TARDIS takes on the form of an (anachronistic) iron maiden in thirteenth-century England.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Talking to the Dead", one of the victims is murdered by being shoved in an iron maiden that has a mechanism that automatically extends the spikes.
  • In the final illusion of a Halloween special of The Paul Daniels Magic Show, Paul Daniels attempted to escape from an iron maiden rigged to slam shut. It slammed shut before he escaped and the screen faded to black and the credits rolled. The credits were followed by Paul Daniels standing outside of the mansion from which the show was broadcast, as if to reassure the audience that his failure to escape was just an illusion, but he kept the audience guessing by saying that this segment was recorded the night before the broadcast and that he hoped his final illusion would go well.
  • Supernatural: The preferred torture device of Alternate Universe Archangel Michael is an iron maiden stored in a backroom of his base (a dilapidated church), which he initially uses to interrogate the captured Lucifer by impaling him on its spikes.

    Music 
  • The cover of U.D.O. album Solid depicts the singer Udo Dirkschneider emerging from an open iron maiden relatively unhurt.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Module G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. The steading's torture chamber has an iron maiden that is used to punish humanoid slaves as well as disobedient hill giants.
    • Module G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The torture chamber of King Snurre's Hall has an iron maiden. The King's Torturer will grab opponents, throw them into the iron maiden and shut the door on them, inflicting 10-100 Hit Points of damage.
    • Module Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. One room in Lolth's giant spider ship is a torture chamber devoted to tormenting prisoners. It includes iron maidens which are "in good condition and recently used."
    • WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Deep inside the temple can be found a torture chamber full of decayed and rotted equipment for the infliction of pain. The iron maiden is eaten through and covered with rust spots, no longer useful for the torment of prisoners as it was during the temple's heyday.
    • White Dwarf magazine #40, adventure "The Eagle Hunt". The Assassins' Guild headquarters has a torture chamber with two iron maidens that are used to punish and interrogate victims.
    • Dungeon magazine
      • Issue #2 adventure "The Keep at Koralgesh". One room is a combined jail and torture chamber, with equipment such as a rack, branding irons and an iron maiden.
      • Issue #16 adventure "Palace in the Sky". The torture room inside the cloud giants' castle has standard torture equipment, including a thumbscrew, whips, a rack and an iron maiden.
    • The Book of Vile Darkness contains stats on not only an iron maiden, but a particularly horrific version called the "Iron Maiden of Preservation", which deals 1d6 damage and heals 1d6 damage every round.

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent includes an iron maiden in a late part of Brennenburg Castle. Coming close to it triggers a (hallucinated) Jump Scare when it opens. Using it when you're next to the thing triggers a kind of flashback through the memories of one of its victims.
  • In Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, Gibril's level is set in a mansion, with iron maidens as traps that may snap Gunvolt in, causing him to take big damage if he isn't careful. In the boss fight, Gibril herself may sometimes summon an iron maiden to try to trap Gunvolt in. Also, in the third phase of her battle, she proceeds to trap herself in her iron maiden to help her unleash her Limit Break (which required her to bleed enough); the fact that she's a Combat Sadomasochist helps.
  • One of Bayonetta's torture attacks on lesser angels is to shove them into an iron maiden.
  • Animus of The Black Heart spent most of his centuries-old immortal life inside of an iron maiden, which probably explains why he/she is such a Combat Sadomasochist. One of his victory animations even has him having the iron maiden close on him as he laughs.
  • In Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, the Puppet Master deploys four Iron Maidens in his room, summons a puppet and places it in one of the four devices. You need to destroy the puppet before it enter the Iron Maiden, otherwise you'll be teleported into the Iron Maiden and get stuffed into it.
  • Darkest Dungeon: One of the curios that heroes may encounter in the Ruins. Interacting with it can range from simply swinging open and revealing nothing but foul smelling air to trapping the hero inside it, having a chance of giving them a Claustrophobia quirk and stressing them out or exposing them to Tetanus with a low chance for a random disease. Heroes with the Bloodthirsty quirk can be compelled to open maidens on their own.
  • Diablo, being a Dark Fantasy series, naturally features these. In Diablo III, monsters will sometimes pop out of them.
  • Divinity: Original Sin: In the dungeons of the elemental realm of Heiberheim the party encounters an Iron Maiden that talks. She is quite lusty, beckoning you to enter her embrace, but also lamenting that she can only take life. She wants to be pierced instead of doing the literal, deadly piercing. Destroying her reveals a Star Stone.
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2: One can be found in the dungeons of Fort Joy, using it makes characters bleed for a while.
  • Not actually seen, but referenced in a codex entry in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The tavern in Haven is called The Singing Maiden, and the codex entry reveals that this was also the name of a torture device (which is clearly, to judge by its description, meant to be an iron maiden) owned by a particularly ill-natured king.
  • There is an iron maiden in the "Interrogation" room under the Maella Abbey in Dragon Quest VIII. Angelo throws King Trode into it and then shuts the device to the Party's horror... until it's revealed the Maiden is harmless and is actually the entrance to a Secret Path.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, the Noble Phantasm of Carmilla (aka grown-up Elizabeth Bathory from Fate/EXTRA) is Phantom Maiden, the iron maiden she supposedly used to torture people, though her profile also states that it never actually existed in the first place. After her animation update, she summons one to catch her foes from behind in her Buster animation, and summons another via a portal to fall on and grind them into paste in her Extra attack animation. The full Noble Phantasm activation creates a colossal iron maiden that oozes copious amounts of blood, healing Carmilla in the process.
  • In Guilty Gear, it is the Instant Kill of Millia Rage. Throughout X and XX, she executes this move by plunging her hair into the ground, then makes it come under and multiple strips of hair let out a golden glow that stabs the opponent. As it stops, two huge twisted hair strands shaped like arrow tips impale the opponent from above while forming an X. Finally, the enemy falls to the ground as the hair disappears. This changes in Xrd, where she surrounds her victim with the strips of her hair, and skewers them to death.
  • One of your hiding places for Fiona during the second portion of Haunting Ground is inside an iron maiden. If Daniella finds her, she'll pull a lever and Fiona is impaled.
  • In Lobotomy Corporation, there's an Abnormality called "We can change anything" which is modeled after an iron maiden.
  • In Mystery Case Files: Fate's Carnival, Lance Pierceman, the sword swallower, has been imprisoned in one for who knows how long until the Master Detective comes to the rescue.
  • An iron maiden is present in the castle dungeon in Quest for Glory IV. However it's subverted in that it houses a secret passage leading to Katrina's chambers. Ad Avis locks the Hero in the dungeon specifically intending for him to find the passage, and take advantage of Katrina's helpless state to stake her.
  • The first Simon the Sorcerer game has Simon being forced to hide from some goblins inside an iron maiden. Played for Laughs, since he claims the maiden has cured his hayfever via acupuncture, and the first thing he does when he escapes is drink a glass of water, which leaks out of his body through the holes.
  • Thief Gold: There are several iron maidens in the Torture Cellar under the Mage Towers.
  • In Whack The Serial Killer, the title psycho has one of these in his Torture Cellar, which you can use on him.
  • World of Warcraft: Brother Crowley of the Scarlet Crusade hangs out in the basement of Cathedral of Light with a few maidens lining the walls.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the game starts with Monokuma executing a man (later revealed to be Hope's Peak Academy Headmaster Jin Kirigiri) by trapping him in a rocket flying into space that doubles as an iron maiden. His body burns up upon reentry if the spikes didn't kill him first.
  • Rusalka Schwägelin from Dies Irae is in possession of the diary originally belonging to the famous Elizabeth Bathory. With it she is able to summon a host of various torture instruments, with an iron maiden being among her most preferred tools.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Bugs Bunny short "False Hare" had a wolf trying several ways to kill Bugs, including shutting an Iron Maiden's door on him. The wolf's nephew takes a peek inside once the wolf inevitably falls victim to Hoist by His Own Petard, and apparently doesn't like the result.
  • Danny Phantom: In one of the darkest bits of humor on the show, the Bumbling Dad built one of these as a punishment for his children. The "Fenton Stockades", he called them - though ultimately, he's the one who gets put inside.
  • The Popeye short "Can You Take It?" has Popeye enduring abuse as part of his Initiation Ceremony into the Bruiser Boys Club, ending with him encased in an iron maiden. However, the durable sailor survives and the knives in the back are bent.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Abracadaver," the titular Villain of the Week was a magician who died from an iron maiden-like coffin after a little girl pushed him for losing her toy. After he was revived as a zombie, Abracadaver exacted revenge towards Blossom, who resembles that little girl decades ago, by hypnotizing her and sealing her inside the iron maiden. At the end, the Abracadaver reveals to be Blossom, and Blossom did the switcheroo by sealing the zombie inside the maiden.
  • Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School has Winnie Werewolf gift her father a lemon squeezer that resembles a tiny iron maiden with an opening on the head to make cups of (unsweetened) lemonade with.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The opening to "Treehouse of Horror XVII" has Moe stuffed into an iron maiden, with his blood spilling and spelling out the episode's title.
    • In "Treehouse of Horror XXV" one of the Three Shorts takes place in a school in Hell. At one point we see two bullies push a smaller demon into a locker with spikes inside and slam it shut, then blood pours out of the bottom of the locker.
    • Shows up in a blink-and-miss scene in episode "Itchy & Scratchy Land", when Marge looks at the map of the amusement park and there is an illustration of the Iron Maiden at the "Torture Land" attraction.

    Real Life 
  • In parts of the British Isles, a method of execution involved putting the condemned person into a large barrel with lots of nails driven through the wood and facing inwards. The lid would then be fixed and the barrel, plus person inside, would be rolled down a hillside... this is alluded to in a Monty Python sketch about crime and punishment, narrated by Michael Palin...
    Palin: [narrating] But for the lack of any untold circumstances for this secretary to notice, and the total non-involvement of Mr. Mellish in anything illegal, the full weight of the law would insure that Ralph Aulds Mellish would have ended up like all who challenge the fundamental laws of our society. In an iron coffin, with spikes on the inside.
  • The infamous "Iron Virgin of Nuremberg" that gave the Iron Maiden its name was an attraction of Nuremberg Castle for a number of years until its destruction when the Allies bombed the city during World War II.
  • Uday Hussein, the psychopathic son of Saddam Hussein, is rumored to have ordered the construction of an iron maiden for use in his torture sessions. More info at The Other Wiki.
  • The closest ancient device similar to the iron maiden, if indeed it did exist, would be the Iron Apega described by Polybius. It was an automaton built in the image of Queen Apega, wife of Nabis, king of Sparta. When Nabis wanted to collect money from unwilling Spartan citizens, he would send them to his "wife", would would "hug" the victim, trapping them in its arms and impaling them on the spikes on its hands, arms, and breasts.


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