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Madwoman in the Attic

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I swear on my life, they've got... an "It", a giant "It". They got it chained to the wall.

Dr. Hibbert: But what to do with poor Hugo? Too crazy for Boys Town, too much of a boy for Crazy Town. The child was an outcast. So, we did the only humane thing.
Homer: We chained Hugo up in the attic like an animal and fed him a bucket of fish heads once a week.
Marge: It saved our marriage!

This is when a character with mental illness, physical deformities, or a disease is locked away because they will never fit into society, usually either in the attic or in the basement. Sometimes the locked away person is a child who is a source of shame for the family (e.g. incest). Despite the title, the person who is locked away may be male or female. The more of a Big Fancy House, the better; in fact, the most complex ones will sometimes have a secret system of secret doors (or secret tunnels) so they can move around secretly as they please, and peepholes so they can covertly watch the household activities.

In stories about this type of character, the protagonist is frequently an outsider, wondering what kind of bizarre secret the Small Town Tyrants are keeping. The protagonist may deduce the presence of a locked-away person from clues such as sounds or wondering where a missing person might be. The Madwoman will then either tend to be Dragon-type enemies with little personality of their own, or they're The Grotesque, sympathetic victims. When done well, this can be an effective scare because it so aptly encapsulates the frightening insularity of the Town with a Dark Secret.

This trope is named for the landmark work of feminist literary criticism by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, referring to Mr. Rochester's wife in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. The analysis indicates that this trope first popularly appeared, of all places, in Victorian women's literature, where depicting some women as crazy, hysterical people was an easy way to make female villains with whom readers would be unlikely to sympathize. Obviously, this plan was not a complete success.

Of course, it can be the case that there was a very good reason this person was locked away in the first place. Maybe they're Ax-Crazy, maybe they suffer from an extremely contagious form of illness, or perhaps the person is being hidden for their own safety to keep them from being kidnapped or murdered.

Usually Ax-Crazy and/or The Grotesque, and sometimes Inbred and Evil. Compare Man in the Iron Mask. While people with mental illness may not be dangerous, works may use the Insane Equals Violent trope. Non-consensual sub-trope of The Shut-In, and one possible form of being Sent Into Hiding. If the madwoman is instead a monster, see Supporting the Monster Loved One. If the character has recently moved into a new house which is already occupied, or a person moves in secretly while someone else is living there obliviously, it's Secret Squatter. Also see Bunker Woman, for when ordinary women are imprisoned in attics or basements by abusive captors.

Not to be confused with the company involved with the first season of Smash. Or the episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures which also borrows its name from the book (but isn't an example). And even more so, don't confuse with the Basement Dweller, who is free to come and go as he pleases (even if he may have mental issues that make living on his own difficult), and is not (usually) a danger to himself or others.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost: At the beginning of the manga, Belle is locked by her deranged father for five years as punishment for her mother's disappearance, although he insisted he did that because she was "too ugly to be seen in public". She escapes in the first chapter, still sane but with PTSD and deep self-esteem issues. Her long, slow way to recover her former self (with Beast's rude encouragement)is one of the themes of the manga.
  • As a result of her insanity caused by the events of the Eclipse, Casca from Berserk is locked in an elf mine for two years for her own safety, since the elf mine is protected from the evil spirits that are attracted to Casca's brand.
  • In Blood+, Saya's twin sister Diva spent several years locked away in a tower as an experiment, with only one person, the Mad Scientist Amshel, as a companion. When released from said place, she is... extremely unstable as a result.
  • At least two cases from Case Closed have people trapped in attics and becoming unstable.
    • One featured a gifted writer, hiding in the attic after committing a murder over a decade ago. He was very sane indeed, just rather confused/fascinated over a cellphone.
    • One case had a subversion. Ran's father is called in by two men, to find a huge treasure allegedly hidden in their new house. Throughout the story, Conan catches glimpses of a shadowy, scary figure sneaking around, leading readers to suspect this trope... It turns out that the figure is not dangerous or insane, but was the actual owner of the house, a woman who was locked in the attic when the two men broke in to steal the treasure. She's fine when she's released.
  • Hisoka Kurosaki from Descendants of Darkness is locked away by his parents because of his empathic powers. In the manga, it's also to keep him from being the prey to a demon who raped both of his parents and forcibly impregnated his mom.
  • In I Got My Wish and Reincarnated as the Villainess (Last Boss)!, Elizabeth isn't crazy, deformed, or disabled, but her black hair and dark magic are generally seen as bad omen in this universe. As a result, her parents banish her to their manor's annex, put iron bars over the annex's windows, and forbid Elizabeth from entering the main residence. It's more comfortable than most cases of this trope, however, and looks like a Gilded Cage, and Elizabeth is still given the minimal luxury and education of a noblewoman, and her existence isn't a secret either, given she still attends to the Royal School at age 14.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Okuyasu's father was horribly mutated by DIO's cells into a near-mindless abomination and is now kept in the attic by his sons, who are trying to find a way to Mercy Kill him out of pity. Given that he regenerates from every injury, it doesn't go well. He's not as mindless as he first seems, which causes the brothers no small amount of grief when they realize how badly they've been abusing him. After avenging Keicho's death and stopping Kira, Okuyasu starts taking his father to Antonio's to try to cure his condition, which appears to have some effect but slow-going.
  • Sakurako Saiki from Sakura Gari was locked in an old warehouse for nine years. The reasons are later explained: she had always been The Un-Favourite even before Souma arrived to the family, but was allowed to live in the more modern mansion like any other family member. Even after her mother's extremely weird death, she was staying there... it was only after her Creepy Child behavior showed itself in public that she was confined to the warehouse as punishment, with the butler Katou as her personal caretaker, while the rest of the family and servants told the outsiders that she died of illness few after her mom died. Unlike other cases, Sakurako is ultimately allowed to leave the warehouse/"attic" and come back to the main home, mostly because of a fire in there that revealed the deceit; when speaking to Souma few after her release, the person offhandedly says that they now have some difficulty to walk, due to having been locked in a relatively small space for so long.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul :Re, Shuu Tsukiyama is revealed to have been reduced to this state in the three years between the series. Extensive grief and starvation have taken their toll on him, leaving him bed-ridden except for during violent episodes where he attacks anyone near him. This forces the servants to keep him drugged, lying to him about what happened and over-hunting to keep him from dying. After Kanae finally brings him evidence that Kaneki is still alive, he begins to recover and struggles to make amends to his family for all the trouble he caused them.

    Comic Books 
  • The Bojeffries Saga has Grandpa, who is a reclusive Eldritch Abomination who lives in the greenhouse, and "the baby", a never-seen radioactive monster in the cellar.
  • The Boys: Compound V can also bring back people from the dead... as mindless zombies (who still eat and defecate). One of them is kept in the Seven's base, and cleaning out his cell (see: still eat and defecate) is used as punishment.
  • Empowered: Referenced in Volume 6 Page 117, referring to the treatment of the Super-dead:
    used to be heroes, and now [...] grotesque embarrassments that have to be h-hidden away, like a b-bunch of crazy aunts in the attic
  • At one point, Dv8, Gen¹³'s Evil Counterpart, meets an even eviler team called Twist. One of Twist's Kick the Dog moments is when one of them shows Dv8's Evo a cellar under their base crammed full of Body Horrors mutated by the same Phlebotinum that gave the others powers, and tries to get him to have sex with her in front of them.
  • The mini-series Freaks Of The Heartland is told from the perspective of the normal brother of one of the several Grotesques who've been locked away since the small town's Bizarre Baby Boom years ago.
  • In Hex Wives #3, Isadora discovers that Aaron is keeping the wizened Mother of Witches strapped to a chair in a secret room of their house. The Mother attempts to tell Isadora of her true nature as a witch, but Aaron knocks her out and she loses all memory of the meeting.
  • The Jersey Devil in Hoax Hunters was born a hideous monster, and grew up in the basement of a New Jersey orphanage. Two windows were built into the building just for him, covered with chicken wire, so he could see the sun and get fresh air.
  • One of Sabretooth's possible backstories shows him as a child chained up in the basement with a dog dish, his father periodically coming down to yank out his claws and teeth.
  • Horridus from Savage Dragon and Freak Force is a reptilian-looking Half-Human Hybrid whose parents kept her chained up in the basement. But TSD being a comic book where the main hero is a green guy with a fin on his head, Horridus didn't have that much trouble integrating with society.
  • Shade, the Changing Man: The "Shade, the Changing Woman" arc of Peter Milligan's run involved a senator named William Dooley hiding his deformed son in his basement.
  • Touch (2004): Larissa's father has kept her secluded in the house since she was twelve to hide her uncontrolled powers from the world, partially to protect her from scorn but mainly to avoid embarrassing him and ruining his political dreams.
  • In Violine, Marushka chains Muller in the basement after he loses his memory. She surrounds him with things from their past to try to give him his memory back.

    Fan Works 
  • Directly invoked in Cindy's 9th chapter "In Which Cindy Has No Interest In Being That Wife Chained Up in the Attic in Jane Eyre", which deconstructs the "Why doesn't Cinderella yell out for help when she's locked up during the slipper fitting?" criticism of the original fairy tale by pointing out how easy it would be for the stepfamily to pass off her cries for help as madness.
  • We have this played straight in two variants in the Gensokyo 20XX, series, the first instance is with Yukari, when she is locked in the cellar of an old rumored to be haunted mansion during the events of 20XXI when she went through a bit of Break the Cutie, losing her mind thereafter, staying there for about seven chapters, and the second instance is with Reimu, during the events of 20XXV. However, in the latter case, it was stressed that locking her in a room was better than a Bedlam House.
  • The alternate timeline in which Merida finds herself in the final installment of the Disney's War — A Crossover Story series, since Anna died young note , it's Elsa that Hans tried to marry, and being the Manipulative Bastard he is, he convinced her everybody'd be better off if she willingly became a Madwoman In The Attic, so she jails herself in a cell hidden in her palace while Hans rules. What she doesn't know is that Hans took advantage of the situation to claim Elsa was dead and seize the throne, and that even if she wanted to escape Hans wouldn't allow it. Merida, however, finds Elsa and tells her the truth, and Elsa promptly frees herself (she could have anytime, she just didn't know there was a need to do so).
  • Ryuuko being the titular cellar secret in Cellar Secrets, as we find out in chapters three and five. However, she isn't mad or insane, instead she was a somewhat normal little girl (with some impairments), who had the misfortune of being something her mother wanted to keep hidden. Oh, she wasn't just locked down there either, she was also abused and neglected, along with being made to live in a cage.
  • When Bruno leaves in La polilla y la mariposa, Anná devolves into this, only ever leaving her tower to grab a bite to eat or if invited and her daughter unaware that she is her mother and not "the crazy aunt in the attic". Unlike most examples of the trope, her presence there really isn't a secret, nor is she is prisoner in any way other than as self-imposed exile.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Ronald in Bad Ronald. His mother was sheltering him inside the walls after he'd committed a crime and needed a place to hide, but then she dies and the house is sold, with nobody knowing there's a crazy recluse still living in there.
  • The first Basket Case film, although Belial's titular "attic" is portable and he doesn't seem to complain about staying hidden. Furthermore he's even said to prefer to keep to himself in the sequels.
  • The Penguin in Batman Returns spends his early years as this, before his parents get rid of him by throwing him to the river.
  • Bethany: The titular character, whom Claire thought was her imaginary friend, was actually her deformed twin sister, who had a mask stitched over her face by their mother and made to life in the walls of the house.
  • In the Black Christmas (2006) remake, after murdering his father, Billy's mother and her lover keep Billy locked in the attic and use him for sex. He goes steadily more insane before finally snapping one Christmas and murdering them (as well as mutilating his sister/daughter Agnes).
  • The villain of the martial arts film, Black Lizard 1981, keeps his illegitimate son — the product of his wife having an affair — locked in his mansion's personal dungeon, after making the youth become insane by thumping a pressure point in his head.
  • In Bloody Reunion, Mrs Park kept her deformed son locked up in the basement of her house.
  • The Boy: This is the true twist of the film, as the real Brahms, who was thought to have died in childhood shortly after he killed a playmate, has been hidden inside the walls of the family home by his parents, while they pretended to have replaced him with a porcelain doll they treated like a living child to justify why they still bought supplies for more than just themselves, making everyone in town think they were just mad with grief.
  • In the Hammer Horror The Brides of Dracula, Baron Meinster is introduced this way: his mother keeps his locked up in a wing of the castle. Her stated reason is that he is unwell. He tricks the heroine into freeing him on the pretense his mother was trying to cheat him out of his inheritance. It turns out that he's a vampire (the clue is in the movie title) and she was trying to keep him locked up, but didn't have the heart to kill him. Luckily, Peter Cushing shows up and sorts everything out.
  • Invoked, along with many other tropes of Gothic Horror, in The Brood, where a police detective suggests that the childlike mutant that murders the hero's mother-in-law may have been her own deformed child that she was keeping locked in the attic. Likewise, the extreme seclusion in which Oliver Reed's psychiatrist character keeps his patients has aspects of this, especially as the treatment makes them start to physically externalize their emotional problems. Which is exactly where the killers are coming from.
  • In The Case of the Bloody Iris, Mrs Moss is secretly keeping her deformed son David in her apartment; living in a room hidden behind a closet. David sneaks out of the apartment and spies on the nubile women living in the building.
  • The mother in The Curse, loosely based on The Colour Out of Space, becomes one of these late in the film.
  • Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night has Thessaly, Sinas Cavendar's insane Violent Glaswegian daughter. She's actually treated pretty sympathetically, and is mostly a parody of the Old Dark House example above.
  • In Delirium (2018), Tom's mother has been hidden in a secret chamber under the pool for nearly twenty years, and has been quite driven mad by the experience.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: When Doric was born, her parents told the village their baby had died and kept her in a locked attic with straw to muffle the sound. They sent her goat milk and stale bread to keep her alive. She learned to talk by listening to them. She thought this was normal until her parents had a human baby who wasn't sent up to the attic with her.
  • In Errementari, the shut-in blacksmith Patxi seems to keep a little boy locked up in a cage in his smithy. But as we learn, it's not really a human child at all...
  • In Fatal Attraction it’s strongly implied that Glenn Close’s Alex (a scary Yandere) is living in the Gallaghers’ attic after following Dan from New York. This leads to the film’s best Jump Scare, where Dan is listening to the insulting tape Alex left him in the attic and a pair of arms of woman’s arms wrap around him from behind... it’s just his wife Beth checking on him but it’s still enough to startle Dan and the audience.
  • There's a movie called The Gay Bed And Breakfast Of Terror. The crazy Jesus freak mother is keeping her mutant son Manfred (who was conceived during a gang bang at the Republican National Convention) locked up in the attic until she wants him to kill someone.
  • Sloth from The Goonies. A sympathetic example of Type 1.
  • Nick Frost apparently plays one of these in Don't, but really, it's hard to tell. Judge for yourself.
  • In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Harold and Kumar wind up in Alabama, and are befriended by an Ugly Guy, Hot Wife, who happen to be siblings. Their cycloptic, freaky, inbred son is kept in the basement when company comes over. They were nice people though, they just happened to follow Brother–Sister Incest and have The Grotesque as a child.
  • This is what happens to the two novices in The Hideout after one of them killed her Mother Superior and two other old women to prove to her boyfriend she loved him, and one of the women was the guy's mother, leaving him free to inherit. They didn't see anything wrong with any of that, though. And the surviving one still doesn't.
  • Housebound combines this trope with hikikomori in the form of Eugene, a deeply mentally ill man who has been living inside the walls of the heroine's house her entire life — without her knowledge. He's ultimately a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, though.
  • The Val Lewton classic I Walked with a Zombie (based on Jane Eyre) may feature one of these. Like many of the films Lewton produced, the reality is open to interpretation.
  • In Kings Row, everyone wonders why Dr. Tower's wife never leaves the upstairs room of their house. Later, after the wife's death, Dr. Tower starts locking up his daughter Cassie in a similar manner. It turns out that Mrs. Tower was completely mad, and Cassie starts to exhibit the same madness as she grows into adulthood.
  • In Kiss the Girls, the killer's opening monologue describes a self-inflicted version of this: he moves into the attic of the house where his "first love" lives.
  • In Knife for the Ladies, Elizabeth is keeping her syphilis-ridden son Travis imprisoned in a secret room in the mansion.
  • If mobile "attics" count, then Blaster from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome might be a borderline case. He lives behind an armored mask and never associates with anyone except as Master's transport, and when the mask comes off, it's revealed that he has Down's Syndrome and is incapable of surviving in Bartertown's cutthroat society without the protective Master's supervision.
  • In The Man Who Could Cheat Death, Margo goes mad after Bonnet hideously scars her with his acidic touch, and Bonnet locks her in a cell in his cellar. Placing a bust of her unscarred beautiful face in the cell with her is an unnecessary twisting of the knife.
  • In Monster Party, the Dawsons keep their physically deformed, mentally deficient and homicidal son Mickey locked up in their basement.
  • Inverted in Nothing but Trouble with the two deformed, baby-looking grandsons of Judge Valkenheiser, Bobo and Lil' Debbul whom he keeps in the junkyard and whom he refuses to let into the house and recognise as members of his already remarkably grotesque household. Also worthy of mention is that they are probably the least dangerous Valkenheisers.
  • Kaylie and Tim's mother in Oculus eventually becomes this, when the mirror causes her to become increasingly insane and the father (who is also slowly being driven insane) chains her to her room so their kids wouldn't find out.
  • Saul Femm from The Old Dark House (1932), though not incredibly deformed, is a raging madman with a taste for arson and is thus kept locked in his room by the rest of the family with the help of a mute and deformed butler.
  • The Orphanage does this with the disfigured (but not disabled) Tomas by putting him in a mask and keeping him in a secret room. But in something of a subversion he's still allowed out, and to play with other children. The whole matter of keeping him in that room seemed to be a quirk of his overprotective mother, more than anything else.
  • Invoked in Paranoiac, where Simon thinks he's keeping his brother locked up inside the garage. What he hasn't realized is that Tony is long dead.
  • Parasite (2019): The Park family's Big Fancy House is so big that they never notice the underground bunker, where the housekeeper has stowed away her mentally unstable husband for years.
  • The title creatures of The People Under the Stairs. Tweaked, however, in that the imprisoned things weren't born that way, but were kidnapped as young children and imprisoned under horrid conditions that caused their degeneration.
  • Dario Argento's Phenomena has one of these. He's a severely deformed Serial Killer Creepy Child living in the basement of the protagonist's teacher, who is his mother.
  • In Psycho, this seems to be the case with Norman Bates' mother, who has murderous tendencies, with Norman doing everything he can to cover up his mother's crimes, including hiding her in the root cellar. It's eventually revealed that Mrs. Bates has been Dead All Along and that Norman is the actual killer, having developed a split personality of his mother.
  • Karl Childers in Sling Blade spends his childhood as one of these. The long-term hospitalization following his murder of his mother may also qualify.
  • In The Unearthly (which famously includes Tor Johnson saying "Time for go to bed") the Mad Scientist played by John Carradine has a bunch of degenerate caveman things in the basement. Crow thinks they look like Ian Anderson on the cover of Aqualung.
  • In House of the Long Shadows, the wealthy Grisbane family made a policy of enforcing their own justice rather than involving the police, and when the patriarch's youngest son Roderick murdered a local girl, they decided to lock him up in the attic for forty years. The movie is set on the night his sentence is finally up, and he is to be freed. It turns out that he had actually escaped long ago, but sneaked back into the attic every now and then to give the impression that he was still a prisoner. And then it turns out that it was all an elaborate ruse to win a bet, and all the Grisbanes, Roderick included, were just actors.


  • After Many A Summer by Aldous Huxley. The main character is an English nobleman in the 19th Century, who's sadistically abused a housemaid, who subsequently escapes and informed the authorities. He hides out in an underground dungeon in his ancestral house; years later a group discovers he has obtained prolonged life through a scientific formula, which has caused him to grow into an ape-like stage, in line with the "human beings are fetal apes" theory, popular in the 1930s.
  • The J.B. Stamper Tales for the Midnight Hour short story "The Attic Door" is about a girl going to spend a few days with her widowed aunt, and meets her aunt's deformed son, a result of her late scientist uncle's experiment, locked up in the attic. Naturally, the aunt decides the girl's seen too much, so they'll just tell the girl's mother she never arrived...
  • In Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, Lori's working hypothesis explaining the creepy looking vampire the twins saw in the woods turns on this idea; she thinks the neighbouring DuCaral family had a crazy son they kept in the house rather than an asylum, and the man escaped (possibly more than once) and stood in the woods watching the boys.
  • Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast has a Shout-Out to Jane Eyre when Beauty mentions that a count who once courted her sister Hope turned out to have a wife in the attic.
  • Chance the Gardener in Being There was confined to the Old Man's house all of his life due to his mental handicap, and no one but the maids who worked in the house knew he existed. And it's possible he's the Old Man's illegitimate son to boot. The story gets underway once the Old Man dies and he is turned out of the house by the lawyers who came to close the estate. He's a nice, well-spoken person, however (partially due to his being allowed to watch television, giving him some idea of proper behavior and speech), and winds up becoming a Parody Sue when he encounters people who have no idea what he really is.
  • In Richard Matheson's short story "Born of Man and Woman", a deformed child is kept chained in the basement by its parents. From the fragmentary descriptions we get, "deformed" is a severe understatement: I will screech and laugh loud. I will run on the walls. Last I will hang head down by all my legs and laugh and drip green [from earlier context, this appears to mean "bleed"] all over until they are sorry they didn't be nice to me.
  • In the poem "Castle Doom" by Jeremy Lloyd, the eponymous Scottish castle is home to "the Hairy Nairn of Nairn/Locked up since he was a bairn", in a pastiche of the Monster of Glamis.
  • The novel The Cellar is about a woman who keeps horrific rat-men in her old house.
  • Paul Auster's City of Glass features a character that was brought up at home in complete isolation as part of a crackpot linguistic experiment by his father. At the time of the story, he has been recovered and mostly rehabilitated — he has learned to speak — but is still quite disconcerting.
  • In the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Vanishing Point, this trope is reconstructed with a woman keeping a number of deformed and disabled people away from society. But in a bit of a twist, she's quite nice to them, treating them almost like family, and refers to them affectionately as "mooncalves". The story takes place in a Dystopia where they wouldn't be safe anywhere else.
  • Early Autumn: John Pentland is the scion of an old and very rich family, but that doesn't stop him from having a crazy wife locked up in one wing of the house. She's been there a long time; she was already roaming around the locked-up north wing when Olivia arrived 20 years before the story's setting to marry John Pentland's son Anson.
  • In David Eddings' The Elenium series, the tower of a Gothic Horror castle becomes the holding place for a noblewoman driven mad by Demonic Possession. Her last remaining loyal servant, unable to listen to her scream any more, finally slips poison into her food to Shoot the Dog, and then becomes The Atoner and joins an order of monks.
  • Alberto Blest-Gana's El Loco Estero has the titular Julián "El Loco" Estero, an ex-military man locked away by his sister Manuela supposedly to keep his borderline Ax-Crazy tantrums at bay, but in reality to use his share of the family inheritance (out of resentment for being passed up as heiress). Carlos Díaz, The Protagonist of the book, manages to strike up an Intergenerational Friendship with Estero and vows to set him free.
  • The novel Flowers in the Attic is written from the point of view of children locked away in this manner, to hide their existence from their grandfather, who would disinherit their mother (his daughter) for having married and had children by his son by his stepmother, a marriage that resulted in four healthy if somewhat inbred children. The grandmother is very much in on this (delivers meals, etc.), is rather abusive, and as Mom decides she has better things to do with her time than spend it with the kids, becomes the primary outside contact the kids have.
  • Forest Kingdom: In the Hawk & Fisher spinoff series' book 4 (Wolf in the Fold), the noble MacNeil family's dark Family Secret is the existence of "the freak". The physical deformities, it's noted, could have been overlooked — "occasional unfortunates were inevitable when the Quality became as inbred as it had in Haven" — but when the freak proved to be an immortal energy vampire who drained the life force of any living thing near it, that was horrific enough that his father walled him up in a secret room in Tower MacNeil where he remained undying but quiescent until the Family stopped feeding him.
  • The protagonist in Neil Gaiman's short story "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire" has an Aunt Agatha chained in his attic. This has no bearing on the plot, it's just one of the things that establish that he lives in a world of Gothic/adventure/fantasy/horror fiction clichés. A character in the story he's writing is also mentioned to have (had) a "hopelessly insane" wife whom he claimed to be dead. Well, he is writing a realistic, slice of life story based on the world he's living in.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire reveals that Bartemius Crouch Sr. did this to his son. Downplayed in that everyone already knew that Barty Jr. existed and was deranged, but they thought he'd died in prison.
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reveals that this happened to Ariana Dumbledore. She went mad after a vaguely described assault by a gang of Muggle boys, and was locked up after her father was sent to prison for attacking the Muggle boys, and refusing to say why he did it so she wouldn’t be sent to an institution. Everybody outside the family (the ones who knew about her existence, anyway) figured her mother had locked her up for being a Squib (someone born into a wizard family with no abilities), which was a bad thing to be during Ariana's lifetime. Which, in the present in the novels, is still a bad thing.
  • Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Horror at Chilton Castle" has this as its twist ending. Lady Susan Glanville, a witch, having made a Deal with the Devil to live forever, is chained in a hidden room by her descendants the Chilton-Paynes in the titular castle. As revenge, she placed a curse on the family where they must feed her the corpse of the current Earl of Chilton when he dies, and his son must witness the cannibalistic act as a Rite of Passage if he is to become the next Earl.
  • Mr. Edward Rochester keeps his violently insane wife Bertha locked in the attic of Thornfield in Jane Eyre. Arguably, she was better off there than in what passed for a mental health facility in those days.
    • Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea examines this example (yes, this one — same womannote ) more deeply, giving a possible Back Story of (the literal) Mad Woman in the Attic. It's also a deconstruction, similar in that to "The Yellow Wallpaper", since it's quite clear in this version that her identity was stolen ("Bertha" is not even her real name) and insanity was a role that was forced upon her in an effort to control her rather than something that would have happened anyway.
    • She also appears in The Eyre Affair, in which she inadvertently shows the heroine how to defeat the Big Bad.
  • H. P. Lovecraft:
    • The Dunwich Horror, an invisible kept in the attic by Wilbur Whately (actually his twin brother, but Wilbur looks more like their mother). The Horror eventually grows so large that Wilbur has to tear down the inside walls, nail the windows shut, and move himself into a shed.
    • "The Shadow Over Innsmouth": The narrator makes reference to a cousin (who has been slowly transforming into a fish man) locked away in an asylum. It's also noted that a few of the Innsmouth people have gotten so deformed that they don't go outside anymore. In this case, it's not that most of the locals would be freaked out by them, since most of them are in on the weird cult, but there's the occasional person around who isn't.
    • The Gardner family in "The Colour Out of Space" have Nabby Gardner, Nahum Gardner's wife, who goes crazy as a result of exposure to the Colour, and is locked in the attic, where she becomes even more strange... Same thing also happened with Thaddeus, one of the sons.
    • Rhoby Harris in "The Shunned House" goes insane and is confined to the upper part of the house, although this is apparently relatively public knowledge, found in an account of the history of the house, rather than a closely guarded secret. After the presence haunting the house attacks her, her protests are dismissed as just another symptom of her insanity.
    • In "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", some earlier members of the Jermyn family are said to have been kept out of public sight. However, as for the key figure of the great-great-great-grandmother of Arthur, she turns out not to have been insane so much as not a human being at all.
    • In "The Unnamable", what was kept in the attic was some super-vague... thing; a Humanoid Abomination Mix-and-Match Critter whose appearance caused someone to Go Mad from the Revelation. Its relationship to the people keeping it there was also vague. Then it had died and become even weirder.
    • The Outsider (1926) is about a being who has been sealed away inside a now-crumbling castle for as long as he can remember. Whoever was keeping him trapped inside it seems to be long-since dead, and he finally rallies the nerve to escape.
  • Island Beneath the Sea: Tolouse Valmorain's first wife, Eugenia, slowly loses her mind and is kept isolated in the plantation home on late 18th century Haiti Sainte Domingue. Her family history of mental illness among women and the increasing paranoia about a possible Slave Revolt do not help her condition.
  • In The Magician's Nephew, Digory and Polly, being familiar with this trope, consider that Uncle Andrew might have a mad wife hidden in his attic. He's actually experimenting with the magic rings that are among the MacGuffins of the series.
  • Kind of featured in the Woodland Mysteries book The Mystery of the Dark Old House, but the guy living in the title house is actually nice, just afraid of the outside world.
  • In the short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, a filthy, malnourished little child of indeterminate gender is locked in a windowless room and treated as an animal for the vague good of the community.
  • The horror novel Others has a whole wing of a nursing home filled with Freaks in the Attic. Some of them are nice people who just have a physical deformity of varying severity. The Others, though, either because of their imprisonment, or what the director of the home has been doing to them, or just madness, are true monsters.
  • The Phantom of the Opera is an early example, and also interesting because he exiled himself due to his face. But it still counts since he lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, hides himself from the world, and is insane enough to kill certain individuals who won't do as he asks, as well as stalking a certain blonde opera singer. Madame Giry and the Persian act as the confidants and liaisons between the Phantom and the outside world, although the Phantom occasionally dons a false nose and mustache to go shopping outside.
  • The Prudence Penderhaus series has autistic teen Cassius Shooster, who has been raised to adulthood hidden on the second floor of his parents' house due to their belief that he is violent and unpredictable. It turns out that when he was four, his mother tried to kill him, but accidentally killed his neurotypical twin Andrew. She told her husband that Cassius killed his brother, and that their only options were to keep him imprisoned inside the house or institutionalize him.
  • In Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, Mary's uncle keeps his son and Mary's cousin, a bedridden, sickly child named Colin, hidden away in the house for fear that he will not be able to survive in normal society, and shuns him because of the boy's resemblance to his dead mother.
  • The Stormlight Archive: As Roshar is a world about on par with our Middle Ages, and has an understanding of psychology and mental illness to match, this is unfortunately the way most mentally ill people are treated: locked in cells to be taken care of by the clergy until/if they regain their sanity. There's implications that Jasnah spent some time as this trope in her youth, but the details are unclear.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • Subverted by The Adventure of the Paradol Chamber, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche written by June Thomson. A woman who has befriended a young nobleman hires Holmes to investigate because she's afraid that his servants have imprisoned him in his own house. As it turns out, not only do the servants have a very good reason for locking him up, the nobleman actually wanted to be imprisoned in the first place, since it's revealed that he suffers from a form of hereditary madness that makes him Ax-Crazy whenever it strikes. In one of his moments of sanity, the nobleman decided to have himself locked up to keep from being a danger to anyone.
    • Another subversion is in "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier", written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. A soldier who made friends with another younger soldier in the Boer War hires Holmes when he thinks the younger soldier's parents are keeping him imprisoned on their family estate. Holmes indicates that there could be three possible explanations for his staying hidden there, one of which is that he's being held there because he's insane, and another one of which, upon which he settles, is the correct one. It turns out that the younger soldier contracted what he thinks is leprosy during his time in South Africa, and the family was keeping him at home in secret to treat him without his being locked up in a hospital. The younger soldier, who's actually only suffering from treatable icthyosis, voluntarily went along with this.
    • Played straight with "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". Miss Hunter seeks Sherlock Holmes to tell him about the weird circumstances of her job as a governess. Among other things, Mr Rucastle, her employer, demanded her to cut her hair, wear a special dress, sit near the windows of the front room and hear him telling stories to make her laugh. Thanks to a hand mirror hiding in her handkerchief, Miss Hunter notices there's a man outside watching her in these moments. It happens that Mr Rucastle had locked up Alice, his daughter, to keep her from marrying because she was about to receive an annuity of her late mother's will when she came of age. Mr. Rucastle hired Miss Hunter to impersonate Alice so her fiancee would think she was happy and had forgotten him (when in fact she got sick with a Brain Fever caused by her father's mistreatment, so her hair was cut, as it was usual in the Victorian Age). When Holmes and Watson came to save Alice, Mr. Rucastle tried to sickend his dog up them, but the starved mastiff attacked him instead. A servant told Holmes Alice's story, explaining that she had helped the girl's fiancee to free her.
    • Then there's "The Yellow Face," in which the suspected Madwoman in the Attic in fact turns out to be simply the main character's mixed-race daughter from a previous marriage, whom she'd kept hidden from her new husband. In a variation form the norm in this trope, the little girl is happy and healthy; she lived in a small but comfortable cottage in a remote part of the estate, she was well-fed and cared for, and her mother visited her whenever possible. Once Holmes reveals who she is, her new stepfather accepts her wholeheartedly.
  • In The Shuttered Room, a woman returns to her childhood home where her insane sister has been imprisoned by an elderly aunt.
  • The most terrifying kind shows up in the Stephen King short story "Gramma," from Skeleton Crew. She's been senile and dying in the back room for years, and her grandkids are terrified of her...with good reason.
  • The creature in Still Life with Crows is one of these kept in a cave who found his way out. Also Subverted in that he started out as a normal child (and apparently a very intelligent one) who was twisted by being forced to live in the cave (his mother gave birth out of wedlock, and her father forced this whole thing on her).
  • Hortensia in "If You Touched My Heart" from Isabel Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna (Cuentos the Eva Luna. She is seduced by Amadeo Peralta, who forgets her within the hour. She shows up later at his home. So that she does not interfere with his life, he settles her in the basement of an old sugar mill, where she stays for 47 years.
  • Both Charlie Angelfield and his father, George, in The Thirteenth Tale go mad after the death of their loved ones, and enter into a sort of self-inflicted imprisonment where they lock themselves in their rooms for extended periods of time.
  • Arthur "Boo" Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird. He only rarely goes out at night, and as a result is so pale that the fearful townsfolk think he's dangerous. He turns out to be utterly harmless and kind.
  • A major theme in Whats Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies is the characters' relations with "the Looner", the young protagonist's mentally defective and physically deformed elder brother who is kept locked in the attic due to the embarrassment at his existence arising from the combination of his developmental deficiencies and his illegitimate conception.
  • Downplayed in the Nero Wolfe mystery novel Where There's a Will. The novel plays on various Gothic Horror tropes, and one of the ways it does this is through the character of Daisy Hawthorne, who was accidentally scarred by her husband in an archery accident and consequently wears a Mysterious Veil all the time. While she's not exactly mad nor chained up against her will, she is rather reclusive, mentally unstable and malevolent (at least towards her family), and tends to creep around her house being all sinister.
  • Count Reiner Heydrich, the main villain of Vault of the Vampire, proves his sheer cruelty after murdering his lawful older brother, Count Sigfried, by drugging his younger brother into insanity. Taking over Mauristania, Reyner have Wilhelm imprisoned in the attic of his castle, where the insane Wilhelm spends his days lingering about the castle and mumbling to himself.
  • In Villainess Level 99, while Yumiella is in no way disabled, insane, or deformed, Valschein has systematic Fantastic Racism against people with dark hair and/or dark magic, and she has both. As a result, her parents leave her at the domain's mansion while they live in the capital, intending to see her as some kind of embarrassment or worse. That said, her case is more comfortable than most cases of this trope provided Yumiella is still accorded luxuries suitable to her status, including a personal maid as well as private tutors.
  • There is a book, Woman In The Wall, where an exceptionally shy girl with a phobia of wide-open spaces did this to herself, choosing to live inside the walls of her house instead of starting school. Then her family stopped seeing her or hearing her talk, though she would eat at night and fix things and sew.
  • "The Yellow Wallpaper": the main character is bedridden with some illness, and locked up in a room with ugly, confusing wallpaper. She goes crazy as a result. It's primarily a critique on the medicine of the time and the then-disturbingly common practice of keeping "ill" women stuck in a small room with nothing to stimulate them (known as the "Rest Cure", which was actually done to the author and she nearly went insane as a result). It's also a very creepy little psychological horror story.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A storyline on All My Children revealed that mysterious millionaire Dimitri Marick (who at the time was a new character) had hidden his wife away, although she wasn't "mad", just severely physically and mentally injured due to a catastrophic riding accident. Making the Jane Eyre ripoff complete, this is all revealed during a ball being held to celebrate Dimitri's engagement to another woman when the wheelchair-bound wife is brought into the ballroom by her mother. Aside from being stunned to learn that her intended is already married, she's further creeped out upon seeing that she bears a strong resemblance to the woman.
    • Even earlier, this is how Adam's initially evil twin Stuart was introduced, having been locked away by Adam to keep him from harming himself or anyone else.
  • American Horror Story:
    • On Murder House, Constance kept her disfigured son, Beauregard, in the attic. CPS was going to take him away but she had Larry kill him first, claiming he died of natural causes.
    • On Freak Show, conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler are kept in their house and not allowed to leave; many of the neighbors think that their mother lives alone.
  • In the Made-for-TV Movie Bad Ronald, young Ronald's mother locks him up and hides him so the police can't arrest him for a murder he committed. When she dies, he remains in the house, and a new family moves in.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Grey 17 is Missing" features a bizarre cult that has taken over one of the decks of Babylon 5, hidden it on the blueprints and computer schematics, isolated it so no one else can enter... and then locked themselves up on that level with a ravenous alien monster which periodically eats one of the cult members and thus makes them one with the universe via a perfect death.
  • Behind Her Eyes: A friend of Louise's invokes this trope when Louise shows concern about David forcibly medicating Adele and constantly checking up on her. The friend suggests David might be caring for his mentally ill spouse in this way, rather than controlling her.
  • Bramwell: A nurse who works for the clinic is soon revealed to be keeping her demented mother locked up. As cited in the "Real Life" section, this is sadly understandable as she knows the conditions in asylums back in those days were deplorable. However, her increasing frustration with her means she doesn't really treat her any better and she is finally forced to admit that she can't care for her and sends her away after all.
  • CSI had a rather sweet young woman who happened to have a serious case of hypertrichosis and lived in a secret room in her brother's (also a sufferer, but to a lesser extent) house. She wasn't locked up, but she'd been kept in the house in daylight hours for many years and always retreated to her room when visitors came, so no one knew she was there until after her brother's murder.
    • In "Go To Hell", parents imprison their daughter in the attic when they believe she is possessed.
    • In "House of Hoarders", a woman whose house is otherwise crammed to the ceilings with junk keeps her daughter chained up in a concealed room, because she found out the daughter was a serial killer.
  • Dark Shadows: There's something - or someone - in the tower room that the 1897 Collins family doesn't want let out... it turns out to be Jenny Collins, wife of Quentin (who had been sent to Egypt and was followed by his brother's wife). She was hidden away seemingly to prevent any scandal that would arise from Quentin abandoning a wife and children.
  • Dead Still: In the second episode when the team go to photograph a dead child, it seems the boy is haunting the house. It turns out his twin brother is autistic and their parents have been keeping him locked up in the "nursery" in the top of the house.
  • Death in Paradise: A mild case occurs in "The Secret of the Flame Tree", where a famous author keeps her severely addled sister out of public contact in an isolated bungalow on her estate. The sister actually wrote the author's most famous novel, and the author wants to ensure that no one ever discovers this.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Idiot's Lantern": A family keeps Grandma locked in her bedroom to hide the fact that her mind and face (yes, her face) have been stolen by an alien menace. Note that this episode was written by the same man who played the below-mentioned David Tattsyrup.
    • "The Crimson Horror": Jenny Flint discovers that Ada Gillyflower is keeping someone she calls her "monster" locked in a room in the attic, hidden away from her awful mother. It's the Doctor, who survived the process Winifred is using to preserve her "pilgrims", but because he's not human, the process didn't work correctly on him, so he can't speak and was nearly thrown away as a reject.
    • George Cranleigh in "Black Orchid" was locked up in Cranleigh Manor after an expedition to the Amazon left him disfigured and deranged by his experiences there. The family claimed he never returned.
    • In "Ghost Light", Josiah Samuel Smith, formerly an agent of Light's survey of the planet Earth, now posing as a Victorian householder, has locked up both Control, another agent who has become detached from reality since Smith abandoned their purpose, and Redvers Fenn-Cooper, an explorer who was driven mad in Africa in an incident possibly involving Light's survey, supposedly for their own protection, but in reality for his own ends.
  • Done with the half-breed Scorpius in Farscape. "Incubator" reveals that he was raised on a Scarran ship in a single room and his only visitor was his "nanny", Tauza - until Scorpius escaped. Quite worryingly, it's implied that Scorpius' mother was imprisoned in the same cell in a pretty similar fashion; according to Tauza, her impregnation at the hands of one of the guards drove her insane - making her a quite literal case of Madwoman In The Attic.
  • Father Brown: In "The Labyrinth of the Minotaur", an aristocratic family are keeping their mentally defective son hidden away inside their manor to avoid scandal to the family, albeit in very comfortable quarters. While not directly connected to the murder, the secret does serve to muddy the waters and make the truth harder to find.
  • Flowers (2016): Invoked but not ultimately done, as the show references it with Amy, who is mad, living in the attic, but she's not locked up, possibly the most reasonable in the family, and obviously she lives there out of choice and possibly practicality.
  • Gotham:
    • Police Commissioner Loeb sent his insane daughter to live on a remote farmhouse after she murdered her mother in order to hush up the matter and keep her from being sent to Arkham.
    • Prior to his death, Thomas Wayne had been keeping a young woman whose hand had been replaced by a claw at Indian Hill in a similarly-remote cabin. In this case, the woman wasn't his prisoner, but was hiding from Hugo Strange, who would've either recaptured her for further experimentation or killed her to keep his research a secret.
  • Referred to in the In the Heat of the Night episode "A Loss Of Innocence" as the officers search a house:
    Parker: "It's always down in the basement. The crazy mother, the deformed child, the head in the hatbox. You name it, it's always in the basement.
    • Indeed, they find a buried skeleton.
  • Parodied on The League of Gentlemen with David, inbred son of corrupt hicks Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup. They keep him in the attic.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • Jane Rochelle in the episode "Judgement Day". Because of horrible burn scars over her face, she has been living in seclusion in the house of her husband Edward Allardice, with most people in the village being unaware she exists. The secret of her existence almost leads Barnaby to conclude Allardice is the murderer.
    • In "Left for Dead", Patrick Bradley, who disappeared 19 years prior, turns out to be alive, brain-damaged, and locked in a cellar convinced by a couple that he was their lost child. When he finally figures out his true identity, he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • On Once Upon a Time the backstory of Cruella de Vil starts with how her mother has had her locked up in their attic since she was a child and convinces a writer (Isaac) who visits her to help break free. After succeeding, it’s revealed that her mother had a partly good reason for doing so; Cruella’s actually a sociopath who as a child poisoned her father and two stepfathers and confesses she used Isaac to break free because she missed the joys of killing.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "Unnatural Selection", a couple considering genetic enhancement for their unborn child learn that their neighbors' supposedly dead son is actually an Ax-Crazy basement-dwelling monster as a result of genetic engineering Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • QI: On the Christmas episode "Groovy", the panelists joke that the Osmonds' songs were all written by their deformed older brother Graham that they kept locked in the attic. Also, since David Tennant is guest starring, they suggest that his Doctor should be killed off by Graham Osmond (played by Bill Bailey).
  • Reign has one of these in the character of Clarissa, the secret daughter of Catherine, whose face is always hidden in a burlap bag with eyeholes, ever since she was disfigured as a child by a botched attempt at surgery to remove the birthmark that would identify her real father and incriminate the queen. She lurks in the secret passageways of the castle and at times intervenes directly in the political intrigue and action, while taking care to avoid being seen. She is known as "the Ghost". Her lifetime of isolation and abuse results in her becoming an actual madwoman.
  • Subverted in one episode of Sanctuary, the one with the young autistic boy who draws monsters, a missing twin brother, their dead father, and the room under the floor, which has shackles welded to one wall. The team originally assume the twin brother was kept down there by an abusive father. By the end of the episode, it turns out that the father was an Abnormal who developed laser eyes during fits, and he was locking himself down there to protect his family.
  • Parodied in Saturday Night Live in "The Corporal." Two relatively attractive women (Kate McKinnon and Aidy Briyant) have been forcing their drop dead gorgeous sister (Jennifer Lopez) to live in their attic, having convinced her she's utterly hideous by keeping her from ever looking at a mirror. When the two aren't conspiring to kill each other to gain the attention of the visiting Corporal, they try to make their sister seem less attractive and fail miserably.
    Jennifer Lopez: Sisters! H-has the Corporal arrived?
    McKinnon and Briyant: No GET BACK IN THE ATTIC!
  • Smallville has some parents lock their boy in the basement and never let him see the sun, because sunlight turns him into a super-strong, violent, rampaging monster.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: It's implied that one of these is on the fourth floor of Lord Burleigh's house in Captain Janeway's "Lambda One" holonovel, but the holonovel doesn't last for enough of the episode for us to see the payoff.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Season 2 reveals that Jean-Luc's mother, Yvette suffered from severe mental illness, what appears to have been either bi-polar or schizophrenia. This being the 24th century, actual mental health treatments are absolutely availabl3 but Yvette consistently refused to pursue them. It got bad enough that her husband Maurice, fearing that she was a danger to herself and their children (indeed, she once left her son Jean-Luc trapped in the tunnels under the house for hours during one of her episodes) resorted to locking her in a room during her fits. The one time Jean-Luc let her out, she hung herself.
  • Supernatural has this as the twist in "Family Remains", when Dean and Sam discover the last owner of the house kept the twins he conceived with his daughter. The daughter committed suicide and the father was killed by the children, then a new family moved in... Which, par for the course, was played quite disturbingly.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): Played with in the episode "The Howling Man". The title character is locked in a monastery cell and spends a lot of time howling mournfully. The protagonist of the story thinks he's crazy, but after the protagonist releases him he turns out to be Satan in disguise. Oops.
  • Played with in The Windsors, where William discovers that his father Charles has an identical twin brother who's been kept locked in the attic of Sandringham for the last sixty someodd years. However, the twin is actually the way more intelligent and mentally stable of the two—Charles was the one deemed defective as an infant, but Princess Margaret was in charge of locking the baby away and, due to being drunk at the time, mixed them up.
  • The X-Files:
    • "Home" deals with several backwoods-horror tropes, including this one. The local police force with Mulder and Scully's help conclude there must be a woman kidnapped and held by a family of young men who is probably responsible for the murder of a deformed baby. It turns out there is a living woman in the house; she was just assumed to be dead by locals.
    • "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is a deliberate deconstruction and Affectionate Parody of Frankenstein/the deformed monster. Several people have seen him, they just don't know who he is. He lives with an aging farmer whom he considers his adoptive father and who wants to protect him by hiding him.

  • The Alice Cooper song "Former Lee Warmer" is sung from the perspective of a man who keeps his mute and apparently insane brother locked up in his attic.
  • Aphex Twin's Rubber Johnny video features a deformed wheelchair-bound kid in a dark basement.
  • Crimson Glory's Lost Reflection tells of some poor soul going insane from being trapped in an attic, his only company a reflection in a dusty mirror.
  • Stephen Lynch's song Special Ed states that his best friend Edward lives in his mother's shed instead of the house, because "He's... special". However, he does get a bed and is allowed out to play with the other children, which is downright kingly compared to some of the other examples here.
  • Suzanne Vega's "Wooden Horse" in which the subject of the song is very closely based on Kaspar Hauser (see "Real Life" entry below.)
  • The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing reveal in "Victoria's Secret" that Queen Victoria keeps her beloved Zombie Prince Albert in the palace basement, fed nightly on the brains of commoners.

    Myth and Legend 
  • If not the Ur-Example, then certainly the Knossos Example would be the Minotaur. When Minos decided to keep a bull he had been sent by Poseidon to sacrifice to him, Poseidon made Minos's queen fall in love with the bull and conceive a child with it. To hide the resulting hybrid monster, the king commissioned Daedalus note  to build an elaborate labyrinth under the city from which no one could escape.
  • The Monster of Glamis, a deformed child supposedly born to the Bowes-Lyon family and bricked up in Glamis Castle. The most common version of the myth is that he was Thomas Lyon-Bowes, the firstborn son of Lord Glamis who had supposedly been born disfigured and hidden away in a sealed room (the real Thomas had died in early infancy). The myth seems to have originated in relatively modern times due to the fact that Thomas does not have a headstone in the family cemetary despite having been baptized, however this was common at the time due to high infant mortality rates.
  • Some versions of The Jersey Devil's Back Story would qualify, depending on how soon after its birth the creature escapes into the woods.
  • The Hawaiian demigod Kamapua'a. His mother was married to an ali'i (chief), but had an affair with another man. No one was sure who Kamapua'a's father was, and both potential candidates denied he was theirs. Neither one wanted anything to do with him, so he became a wild man, modifying his appearance to resemble a razorback. He also entered into a (very) Destructive Romance with Pele.

    Standup Comedy 
  • Emo Philips: When I was a kid my parents used to tell me, "Emo, don't go near the cellar door!" One day when they were away, I went up to the cellar door. And I pushed it and walked through and saw strange, wonderful things, things I had never seen before, like... trees. Grass. Flowers. The sun...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Saul Whateley, resident of Gomorra in Deadlands: The Weird West, was locked in the attic by his Big, Screwed-Up Family. His insane rantings are still loud enough to keep others in town awake at night. He's useless in a fight, though he might be seen as a sympathetic villain. He actually sees the future, and it's driven him quite mad. The family keeps him alive for scrying... and for unnerving the townsfolk.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the Cassalanters have a chain devil in their manor attic, trapped within a warding sigil so it can't attack everyone it sees. It's what's left of the son they traded to Asmodeus for worldly wealth.
  • In the Pathfinder adventure path "Strange Aeons", Countess Nemira Lowls is the mother of the Big Bad, and has been locked in the attic of the family mansion for the past twenty years. This is because when she and her secret lover used an occult ritual to infect her husband with a terminal wasting disease, the rite also caused her to slowly transform into an Eldritch Abomination. Her son locked her away and told the rest of the town that she had died of the same disease as his father so he could continue to study her condition.
  • In the third edition Ravenloft products from Arthaus, the role of half-orcs is instead given to 'calibans': a PC Race in the Attic, usually born to human mothers who'd been exposed to black magic or curses while pregnant.
  • Genestealer Hybrids in Warhammer 40,000 tend to possess obvious physical deformities such as greyish skin or multiple limbs until the third or fourth generation, and as such have to be hidden from the rest of society, either by their doting parents or the other members of the Genestealer Cult. A favored haunt is a hive city's Underhive, the derelict, lawless lower levels of the Imperium's arcologies.
  • Ogre Gorgers from Warhammer are cast out of a society of Big Eaters for the crime of being born too scrawny. Thrown into the labyrinthine, Warpstone-laced tunnels beneath an ogre settlement, if the Gorger survives the isolation and Warpstone will quickly mutate it into an insane, pallid, degenerate, and above all else ravenous monster.
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, some Silver Fangs hide their metis offspring at home in order to avoid public dishonor. Metis sheltered this way tend to be socially maladjusted.

  • In the horror B-movie spoof The Haunted Through-Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle, the sinister and deformed lurking figure is revealed to have recently escaped from the cellar where she was locked away years earlier by her sister, the owner of the castle. In a twist, it turns out that she's the good twin and the rightful owner of the castle, and was locked away by her Evil Twin who stole her life.

    Video Games 
  • The Interactive Fiction game Anchorhead features William, an inbred boy that has been touched by Eldritch Abominations.
  • Baldur's Gate III: Amanita Szarr, aka Lady Incognita, is arguably an Only Sane Woman who locks herself in the attic. She was thirteen when her uncle Cazador turned her into a vampire, but refused to drink blood. Cazador locked her in the attic as punishment until she drank from a prisoner he sent her. Now she's allowed to leave, but refuses to.
  • In Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a woman in the Waite's home is kept in the attic as she falls to The Corruption. The husband is just trying to keep his family safe, though. If you know about Lovecraft's story the game is based on, it's clear that the "woman" had never been a human being. The Third Oath of Dagon demands a follower to marry a pureblooded Deep One, and conceive a child with it. Since Deep Ones are immortal, the females instinctively try to kill their young, forcing the males to isolate them so their civilization can grow.
  • The Lighter, Softer, Pedantically Scottish and less successful remake of The 7th Guest, Clandestiny, features the Monster Child MacPhiles, who not only is a fright to behold but would haunt her familial captors with beautiful singing, just to remind them what scoundrels they are for locking her away.
  • Appears in the original Clock Tower.
    • In the form of a giant, deformed child who is the brother of the killer that's been chasing you around. And he's not happy about being woken up.
    • As well as Simon Barrows, Mary's husband, locked in the shed by Mary when he tried to kill her and their hideous children. He's gone mad from the confinement; if Jennifer makes the mistake of trusting Mary, she's locked in with him and must feed him, or else he will kill and eat her.
  • Croc has a surprising number of nightmarish creatures lurking in the dungeon of the villain's castle but none are more disturbing than a chained, rabid, (possibly) zombie prisoner that attempts to grab whoever comes near it. The chains imply that it cannot be trusted even by the Dantinis.
  • The Hillbilly from Dead by Daylight was this according to his Start of Darkness. He spent a good chunk of his life bricked up inside of his own room, only fed through a hole in the wall due to his parents shunning him because of his deformities. Eventually, he escaped and went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • The Deep Sleep Trilogy features a woman named Felicity at the very end of the second game who is described as this trope. She went insane because Her mind lost connection to her sleeping body and she can never again wake up, thus leaving her trapped for years.
  • In Chapter 1 of Deltarune, Jevil is locked away deep within the basement of Card Castle in an ominous area with an entirely different atmosphere to the rest of the place, and an elaborate and trickily placed set of keys are spread across the land to keep a wall between him and the rest of the kingdom. Seam the shopkeeper is the only person who will speak of him (and only does so after the party find where he is) and can go on to explain that the harlequin was once their friend and the court jester, but after an encounter with a strange figure, he learned information that shattered his worldview and fell into a dark brand of nihilism, coming to treat their very world as a game and seeking to play it with violent stakes to cope until his old friend, now living in solitude within their store after being changed by the events and his words, had to seal him away. By the time the party encounter him, Jevil still speaks in playfully cryptic and foreboding terms and claims to be 'THE ONLY FREE ONE', and he will gladly play with the party if they gather the keys and enter his little world.
  • Double Switch: It is revealed in the game that Eddie was locked in the apartment building basement by his own father, Lyle. Lyle did this because Eddie is Ax-Crazy, and he was just trying to protect people from Eddie.
  • Somewhat reversed in Fallout 3: Point Lookout with Kenny, who ran away after his deformed parents hid him in their basement for lacking the right "marks." This is to say, he looks like a perfectly normal boy instead of a misshapen hillbilly from a rather hamfisted cartoon version of Deliverance.
  • In Fallout 4, Lorenzo Cabot has been imprisoned in the basement of the Parsons State Insane Asylum since 1898 due to obtaining an Artifact of Doom that granted him immortality and superhuman powers, but at the cost of his sanity. Or so his son insists.
  • In Five Days a Stranger, the deformed, mentally challenged son of Sir Roderick Defoe is kept in a secret room of the house.
  • Hades: According to Patroclus, rumors in Elysium paint Zagreus as one, as the only god in the Underworld forbidden from seeing the surface. It's part of why the warriors of Elysium try to kill Zagreus; Theseus refers to him as a demon spawned from the lowest depths of hell, which Zagreus comments isn't entirely inaccurate.
    Patroclus: You're quite notorious, around these parts. The tales of your father's monstrous son, kept under lock and key within his House. Fear and ignorance make for great stories, no?
  • Senua spent her adolescence as one in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.
  • Hello Neighbor: This trailer implies this is what's in the Neighbor's basement, since when the player enters the basement, there are silhouettes of other figures, and the sound of a woman sobbing, before the voice of a young girl screams "RUN!!!", causing the lights to go out, and the woman's sobs to stop. The player tries to see who or what made the noise, but doesn't find anything... Until the end of the level where, right when the Neighbor is about to drag the protagonist from his hiding place, the little girl screams, causing the Neighbor to ignore the player, and go after the little girl's voice. The implications of this scene are... disturbing, to say the least.
  • Cloudcuckoolander Optional Boss Sucre/Sugar from OFF certainly invokes this, being found hanging out in the basement of Zone 0 surrounded by piles of sugar (which doesn't seem too bad unless you learn the Awful Truth of where sugar comes from in this world).
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: The Braithwaites, a wealthy Southern family whose fortunes have declined after the abolition of slavery, keep a deformed female family member locked up inside an outhouse hidden away on the family property, and she is understandably completely insane from her confinement, if she wasn't already when they locked her up. The Braithwaites are established to have, let's say, not the widest gene pool around, which may be a factor at play here. After the Van Der Linde gang wipes out the Braithwates during the climax of chapter 2, the surviving servants on the estate don't bother freeing her and she's left to starve to death, with John Marston potentially finding her remains after the Time Skip.
  • In Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, a monster codenamed Nosferatu, who is actually the mutated Alexander Ashford, is imprisoned in the Antarctic Base, and escapes shortly after Claire and Steve arrive. In the remake of Resident Evil, the grotesquely deformed and chained Lisa Trevor wanders the basement and backwoods of the Spencer estate.
  • Scratches, in a combination of both Type 1 & 2.
  • Adam Cadre's Shrapnel features an inbred boy that has been touched by Eldritch Abominations.
  • One of the Soul Series most iconic characters is Voldo; an Italian man who, after spending decades in his master's underground vault of all his worldly possessions, has become an insane blind man who can't speak. His mode of dress is something uncomfortably between Rummage Sale Reject and Dominatrix while his fighting style is a massive amount of Confusion Fu caused by his ability to contort his body in every which way while Dual Wielding a pair of katars. However, he is not to be underestimated as his reason for becoming such a freak of nature is that he was ordered by the owner of the vault to slaughter anyone who would so enter, including the people who helped build it, something he has done with ruthless efficiency.
  • Touhou Project's uberpowered little vampire, Flandre Scarlet, has lived in the basement of the Scarlet Devil Mansion for the past 495 years at her (slightly) older sister Remilia's behest. Since Flandre is emotionally unstable and has the power to almost effortlessly destroy anything ("I went 'kyu' and it went boom"), this is to some extent a safety measure. Fan portrayals of her circumstances played it for drama or horror as needed, but then the Cheating Detective Satori manga came along and revealed that Flan stays in the basement because she chooses to live down there, since she gets meals delivered daily and doesn't have to put up with sunlight. Plus, that power to destroy anything means that if she really wanted to get out, no one would be able to stop her anyways.
  • Kinzo Ushiromiya in Umineko: When They Cry locked himself in his little mini-apartment at the top of his mansion in Rokkenjima and refuses to come out. He's certainly crazy enough to qualify, given how he spends all of his time ranting about the Golden Witch Beatrice. In a subversion, it's not that he's crazy, but that he was actually Dead All Along, having died of natural causes about two years before the story starts. Krauss and Natsuhi burned his corpse and then told the rest of the family he was cooping himself up in there so they wouldn't find out.

    Visual Novels 
  • Tsukihime: SHIKI Tohno, the actual heir of the Tohno estate, has been locked up and away in the Tohno mansion for eight years, ever since he succumbed to ancestral madness and almost murdered Akiha and Shiki (his sister and adoptive brother, respectively).

    Web Original 
  • Creepypasta:
    • I Caught My Grandfather Talking to an Air Vent involves this. The narrator's grandfather had a secret twin sister who was locked away in the attic, and they learned that they could talk through the vents. When ""great"" grandfather found out, he murdered her and buried her in the back yard.
    • Perfect has the narrator's cousin chained up in a cupboard under the stairs because she had Downs Syndrome, and his aunt wanted a "perfect" family. The greatest irony was that the strain of this ruined the family: the other two kids are severely depressed and the uncle was murdered for refusing to put up with such ill treatment of his daughter, and fed to her. The aunt ends the story as a crazy homeless woman.

    Western Animation 
  • The Warners from Animaniacs are a parody example that got loose. The studio tries to lock them in the old watertower repeatedly, but they just keep escaping using Toon Physics and travelling the world causing mischief and being Karmic Tricksters.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender downplays this with the Beifong family's secret daughter Toph, who was born blind and thus confined to the family estate under her parents' misguided assumption that Disabled Means Helpless. The situation was a pretty cushy Gilded Cage, but she nonetheless yearned for adventure in the outside world. By the time the heroes meet her, she's been regularly sneaking out to battle other earthbenders as the "Blind Bandit" in the arena. At the end of she episode, she runs off with the heroes as a new addition to the team.
  • Bob's Burgers:
    • In "Slumber Party", Louise scares off Harley and Abby from the party by claiming that Gene has a feral, hunchbacked twin brother who communicates by farting, lives in the basement, and hates when people blink in his direction.
    • In "Mo Mommy, Mo Problems" Spencer, the guy running the open house, warns the kids to stay out of the third floor, and they hear a creepy old woman shouting "LEAVE!" from there. It turns out to be Spencer's mom Ethel, and she isn't really crazy (outside of her weird hobby of making taxidermy squirrels), she just doesn't want her son to sell their house and is trying to scare away prospective buyers.
  • Bordertown: When Bud and Steve runs a migrant smuggling tunnel under Bud's house, one of the immigrants asks about the hideously deformed man chained up in the basement.
    Bud: He's the son we don't talk about.
  • On Celebrity Deathmatch, the fight between Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen ended with neither of them winning, because the feral "third Olsen twin" broke out of her cell and tore them both to shreds. She also shows up during the final match and kills Jennifer Love Hewitt to be crowned Prom Queen. (Became Hilarious in Hindsight after Elizabeth Olsen far eclipsed her older sisters' fame.)
    Johnny: It's the legendary third Olsen twin! The one who couldn't act cute!
  • In an episode of The Critic, a grizzled sailor tells Geraldo that the Shermans keep a hideous child locked in their basement (read: Jay) and points to a lumpy shadow to prove it. Geraldo, not buying it, immediately recognizes the shape as a sack of potatoes.
  • It's implied that the Morgendorffers in Daria had moved into a house that previously had one of these. Daria actually picked the room with the padded walls. Course, we don't get to see that.
  • Family Guy has a one-episode gag involving Peter Griffin's unnamed hairless twin, kept in captivity by family his entire life. At the end of the episode, the twin escapes and unconvincingly tries to replace Peter.
  • The Oblongs do this to Granny. Sort of. Their son isn't even aware Granny is still alive.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror VII", with Bart's Evil Twin, Hugo, locked up in the attic. The Twist Ending was that Bart was the Evil Twin, so Hugo was allowed to go free (even though he was clearly insane - then again, you'd be insane too, if in his shoes) and Bart is locked up in his place.
  • In the South Park episode "Marjorine", Butters is selected to fake his death. When he returns home, his parents chain him up in the basement falsely believing he is a Damaged Soul and kill a woman so that he can feed. He is out in the next episode.

    Real Life 
  • In If Walls Could Talk Episode 17.13, the new owner of a 19th century house tried to determine the purpose of a second-story room with iron bars on the windows, a metal floor with welded metal loops, and a door that locked from the outside. An old woman at the library told him that "You have a Disappointments Room," where children with developmental disorders were kept by families that didn't know what else to do, and didn't want their secret known. The homeowner accepted this claim after learning that the former owner's daughter had died young, but never been mentioned in newspaper articles about the prominent family. The claim that the room had been designed to imprison her, however, or that such rooms were a common practice, is pure speculation with no supporting evidence.
  • Joshua's room. In 2015 when two potential buyers were scoping out an unoccupied house they discovered, what appeared to peepholes in the stairs. Upon further examination they happened upon the basement where they discovered crude writings on the wall, mostly about somebody named Joshua. The writings consisted of rules and warnings such as "No watching Isaiah through the hole" and "No writing or drawing on the walls." It is still unknown who Joshua was or why he was in the basement.
  • The Finnish word for "batshit crazy", seinähullu (literally "wall-crazy") implies this trope. The incurably insane children were chained on the wall for life lest they cause any troubles to other family members.
  • "Genie" (a pseudonym) spent her entire childhood locked up by her father (who wasn't the pillar of sanity himself) after he learned she was "mildly retarded" and blew it out of proportion. When she was rescued, it was discovered that she was non-verbal and her physical confinement had impaired her vision and ability to walk.
  • John Langdon Down (of Down Syndrome fame) advised against this in his writings, arguing that institutionalization was more humane, and that isolation and lack of education tended to make mental defects worse.
  • Patrick Henry kept his wife in their Virginia basement for the last four years of her life, feeling it was more humane than the public hospital. Given that she would have had a windowless cell with chains and a chamber pot at the aforementioned hospital, he was probably correct.
  • King George V of England's youngest son Prince John — who was epileptic and 'mentally feeble' (probably autistic) was rumoured to have had this done to him. The truth was that from about seven (when the expectation would have normally been for him to go to boarding school) he lived with his nanny 'Lala' Biggs (who, like many Edwardian nannies, seems to have been deeply bonded with her charge, more like a foster parent than a hired help) in a cottage in Sandringham Park, socialised with estate workers' children, and probably had a happier childhood than his healthy brothers. But because of the embarrassment of having a son with mental disabilitiesnote , his royal parents seem to have preferred to remain silent about his lifenote  rather than publicly address the rumours.note 
  • After being revealed as a serial killer, Elizabeth Báthory was imprisoned within a bricked-up set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passage of food, clothing, and other necessities. She was found to have died in bed after complaining of cold hands the night before.
  • Blanche Monnier was a 25-year-old woman from a wealthy family living in Poitiers, France, when her mother and brother locked her in a small attic room. Blanche desired to marry a lawyer which her family deemed unsuitable due to his lack of money. What probably started as a temporary punishment turned into 25 years of confinement as her mother refused to allow her to leave the room. Blanche's fits of anger and despair at her situation only convinced her mother and brother that she was mentally unstable, and enforced their belief that she should be kept sequestered. Though she was finally rescued, she never quite recovered, and ultimately died in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 64. Her mother died before she could stand trial and her brother’s conviction was overturned on appeal when he was found mentally incompetent.

Alternative Title(s): Bertha In The Attic, Freak In The Attic, Madman In The Attic