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Malevolent Mutilation

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That looks... uncomfortable.

There are many kinds of Body Horror. Some are done from a Painful Transformation, Gorn, Orifice Invasion, Chest Burster, or something else terrible happening to a person's body.

This is when a person's body is mutilated due to deliberate intent.

Such a character has been subjected to body modification (tattooing, piercing, cutting, etc.) to a degree that goes beyond "fashionable" and straight into Squick. The kind of body modification that would make a person look like a monster, and their onlookers wince in imagined sympathy pain.

Why a character would be subjected to such extreme modification is varied. They might have been an innocent used as a human guinea pig, in which case they might be The Grotesque. Unless the pain of their modifications is such that it drives them to lash out. Alternatively, it may be a sign that a character is Obviously Evil, especially if they did this willingly to themselves. Evil Is Visceral after all, and there is little more visceral than mortifying one's own flesh.

If a character has a few obvious piercings or tattoos, they are not part of this trope. This is only when those body modifications are taken to such a torturous extreme that only a twisted mind would want to inflict or receive them.

Compare Deliberately Painful Clothing. See also Cybernetics Eat Your Soul.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Downplayed with Kazundo Gouda in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Second Gig, a villain who has a horribly mangled face and strangely shaped head due to an accident. Although the damage was not voluntary, it's explicitly pointed out that he could repair his face using the world's futuristic technology and his wealth, but makes the choice not to. He claims it helps make him more memorable.
  • The Six Paths of Pain in Naruto are covered in so many body and facial piercings it's not even funny.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Black Mask in Batman: No Man's Land intentionally carved up his already deformed face to resemble a human skull. His blackened face was already there, though, since he accidentally got his face burnt in a housefire. Most adaptations cut this out and give him the skull look from the very beginning.
    • Professor Pyg has shown an eagerness to scar or otherwise mutilate their victims' faces. To say nothing of the Joker...
    • Victor Szasz leaves no survivors, but what he does leave is a carved line on his own flesh for each life claimed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Evil Dead:
    • This trope is utilized frequently by the Deadites in Evil Dead (2013). All three female characters who become possessed mutilate themselves in horrific ways: Mia splits open her tongue with a box-cutter; Olivia cuts open her cheek, exposing her jaw; Natalie shoots several nails into her face with a nail gun before turning it on her friends.
    • The Deadites in Evil Dead Rise also engage in self-mutilation in extremely graphic ways. The possessed Jessica pulls a drone into her face, Ellie turns her tattoo gun on herself, and Bridget munches on shards of glass.
  • Freaks concludes with a rare example of the good guys doing this, inflicting it on a villain as a Karmic Transformation to add said villain to The Freakshow.
  • Milton Dammers, the obsessed FBI Agent in The Frighteners, opens his shirt at one point to show that his chest is covered in scarification, presumably from his time spent undercover with various cults.
  • Karl Ruprecht Kroenen from Hellboy (2004), so very much.
    Professor Bruttenholm: Suffered from a masochistic compulsion commonly known as surgical addiction. Both eyelids surgically removed, along with his upper and lower lip. The blood in his veins dried up decades ago. Only dust remains. What horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?
  • The Cenobites from Hellraiser franchise are an iconic example, being an order of extra-dimensional Sense Freaks who seek to share their "pleasures" with those who can solve the Lament Configuration puzzle box.
  • Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace has every inch of his skin tattooed in a jagged black and red pattern to present an imposing appearance.
  • In a rare heroic example from Return of the Living Dead 3, reanimated Julie cuts her own flesh, drives sharp objects through it, and even suspends weights on cords running through her hand, all in a desperate attempt to distract herself from the Horror Hunger that spurs her to eat her boyfriend's brains.
  • Se7en:
    • John Doe seems to delight in invoking this with his murders.
      • The Gluttony victim is forced to eat spaghetti at gunpoint until he's so full that one swift kick to his abdomen causes his stomach to rupture, killing him almost instantly.
      • The Sloth victim is tied to his bed for an entire year, during which his body and mind atrophy beyond repair, but he is given just enough medical attention to keep him physically alive, and his hand is amputated for use in leaving a clue that links him to the Greed murder. By the time he is discovered, he has long since chewed off his own tongue.
      • The Pride victim has her nose cut off (to spite her face) and has a bottle of sleeping pills glued to one hand and a phone to the other, giving her a choice between committing suicide by overdose or calling for medical attention but living with a permanent and obvious disfigurement. She chooses the former.
      • The Lust victim is forced to have sex with a terrified man wearing a strap-on with a knife attached to it, mutilating her genitalia beyond all recognition before she dies from massive blood loss.
    • John Doe's removal of fingerprints by shaving the skin off his fingertips. He shows up at the police station near the end of the film with his hands covered in his own blood.
    • Just imagine John Doe fingerprinting "HELP ME" with Victor's severed hand.

  • Fleshcrafters in the Bas-Lag Cycle are capable of magically distorting flesh, reshaping it, blending it with mechanical parts, etc. to create horrible creatures which may be all-flesh or Magitek cyborgs, for heavy work, military, or other purposes such as when someone wants what would amount to superpowers for whatever reason. However, when given prisoners to work with, they have an annoying habit of Remaking them as surrealist artworks, sometimes with their crimes in mind (Perdido Street Station has a woman who killed her baby get the baby's arms grafted to her head), but otherwise, they seem to toss them together at random in whatever shape they think is funny, like an Exquisite Corpse game.
  • Eddie LaCrosse: In The Sword-Edged Blonde, Andrew Reese is disfigured, broken, and deformed, being physically twisted into a new shape which leaves him in permanent pain but unable to die. It's a punishment for him drunkenly trying to rape someone who was actually a goddess in human form and then being dumb enough to take his anger out on an animal she cared for.
  • The Blood Pact opposing Gaunt's Ghosts during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade are so named because they ritually cut their hands against the jagged edges of their patron's Powered Armor to seal their loyalty to him and their solidarity as fraternal warriors. They also tend to engage in further scarification, cutting chaotic glyphs into their faces and scalps in order to demonstrate their dedication to the Ruinous Powers. Even those tend to be covered up by the iron masks they wear which are shaped into grotesque and monstrous faces.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, the cultists of Dras-Leona ritualistically amputate their own body parts (in addition to sacrificing unwilling slaves). Their leader is missing all four limbs, along with a chunk of tongue for good measure.
  • Lilith's Brood: When a human village acquires two young half-Oankali girls, Neci is very persistent in wanting to cut off the small Sensory Tentacles that indicate their non-human ancestry — and that help them breathe, see, hear, and taste. She's prevented from doing so, but it's presented as a sign that she's even more prejudiced against Oankali than the others, and dim-witted and vicious besides.
  • Hemalurgy in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy involves pounding metal spikes into your body. The Steel Inquisitors, who use Hemalurgy the most, have railroad-sized spikes driven through everything but their noses, including two so far into their eye sockets that the points come out the back of their heads — and they're just as painful as they look, even years or centuries after they're installed.
  • Just about every vampire in the Necroscope series, especially in the "Vampire World" books. The Vamps there deliberately twist and torture their own flesh to make them as horrific as possible, it is something of competition amongst male vamps to see who can have the worst.
  • The New Jedi Order trilogy presents the Yuuzhan Vong, an extra-galactic species who revere pain as a way of life. Many of their religious ceremonies involve cutting, piercing, and scarring, that they might better experience the pain they believed their gods suffered to create the universe. Promotion ceremonies involve having their limbs and organs removed and replaced with artificially grown versions.
  • In the Revelation Space Series novel Chasm City, Orcagna has a large square hole cut through his abdomen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In American Horror Story: Freak Show, Penny's abusive father Vince reacts very badly to his daughter hanging out with the freaks from the show. He drugs her, and while she's out, he has an acquaintance tattoo her face all over with scales and fork her tongue so that she can "be with her kind".
  • The Reavers from Firefly. The way they scar themselves and jam random bits of metal into their flesh is the least horrible thing about them.
  • The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Strange Beauty" is a Very Special Episode about body modification, from tattoos and piercings, which Benson describes as a "gateway drug", to ear points and amputation — the villain is a psychiatrist who developed a sexual fetish after his mother, and then later on a 14-year-old patient, each had their legs amputated. He goes around amputating women's legs.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Humbug", Mulder and Scully meet the Conundrum (played by The Enigma) at a carny show. He has a jigsaw-puzzle themed tattoo covering his whole body. He's actually a very nice, if quiet, fellow and personally deals with the Monster of the Week.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Book of Vile Darkness from Dungeons & Dragons has rules for self-inflicted deformities that villainous characters can take to get bonuses.
  • This is true of many Phyrexians in Magic: The Gathering. In fact, one such creature, Elesh Norn, is known as the "Grand Cenobite." It should be noted that Elesh Norn appears to have had her skin flayed off beneath her vestments, and apparently does this to others she "converts" as well, that they may be better remade in the image of the Father of Machines.
  • Pathfinder's Golarion setting has Zon-Kuthon, the Midnight God of Torture (and Hellraiser homage), whose cultists follow in his footsteps and inflict as many painful disfigurements as possible on as many people as possible. In the Joymaking ritual, a favoured cultist is stripped of every non-essential body part and interred, alive, in the temple.
  • Members of Clan Tzimisce in Vampire: The Masquerade who make heavy use of their clan Discipline, Vicissitude, to modify their bodies are prime examples of these.
  • Warhammer 40,000: One of the many, many horrific things the Dark Eldar do to the unfortunate people they capture.

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia:
  • BioShock: The splicers are not an example, as their deformed bodies are the result of accidental mutation. However, anyone worked on by Dr. Steinman is. The mad plastic surgeon would deliberately reshape people's faces and bodies into grotesque forms to fit his insane standards of "beauty". This is a guy who found, for example, symmetry to be horrific.
    Dr. Steinman: I will be known as the Picasso of plastic surgery!
  • Dead Space:
    • The Regenerator necromorph (a recurring boss fought across all three games that all share the same programming) are one of the few necro's who enjoy killing. Rather than going for a quick kill, they instead butcher Isaac alive when they kill him. While the Bretheren Moons prefer whole corpses to make necromorphs out of, they can use bits and pieces if they must.
    • Some early enemies in the Dead Space 3 "Awakened" DLC are Unitology cultists who have cut off their hands and affixed prosthetic blades to the stumps, in imitation of the basic Slasher enemy.
  • Far Cry 5: John Seed tattoos one of the Seven Deadly Sins into the bodies of his flock and then cuts off that layer of skin while the victim thrashes around in pain. It's a twisted purification ritual. During the course of the campaign, he also does it to you, the player character.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords features the villain Darth Sion, a Sith Lord who learned to better draw on The Dark Side through his own pain. Medical scans indicate that every bone in his body has been shattered and re-knit together, and his skin is grey and leathery, with many cracks running across it as though calcified and broken. Ultimately, the strength in the Force he gained by doing this is all that holds him together anymore.
  • Soulblighter, The Dragon and Dragon Ascendant from Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soulblighter, respectively. He walks about stripped to the waist to display a long snaking scar on his torso where his heart was removed in a magical ritual that made him Nigh-Invulnerable. More obviously than that, his nose and lips were cut away from his face, leaving him with a permanent rictus grin.

  • In Kill Six Billion Demons, the upper echelons of the Cult of the God-Emperor Mammon extensively mortify their flesh as a sign of their devotion: extensive scarification is common, but no few of them are also pierced with nails and other objects.
  • In Maggot Boy, one of the things that marks Owen Wright as an undead Enfant Terrible is the fact that he appears to have torn his own face off and stitched it back on piecemeal.
  • Can and has happened in Runewriters. From what has been shown so far, it appears that certain runewriters can change their own and/or other peoples' bodies in various ways, such as giving them tentacles for hands, or sealing someone's eyes or mouth shut by "healing" them. Adding to this is the fact that the spells can be miscast, creating unexpected results such as becoming permanent.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), Baxter Stockman is punished by the Shredder by having parts of his body removed for every failure. Bit by bit, he becomes more and more disabled until by his later appearances, he's a Brain in a Jar with one eye still attached that looks around. However, he builds increasingly powerful robot bodies. Of course, he is more likely to use them against his Bad Boss than against the Turtles (though whenever he seems to be winning, his ambition returns and he's perfectly willing to smash everyone to try and become top dog). Far and away the darkest thing about the most Darker and Edgier TMNT series.

    Real Life 
  • Foot binding. Causing painful, permanent deformity to children against their will in the interest of "beauty" is pretty much the definition of this trope.
  • Female genital mutilation is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and makes even the above seem like an unwanted tattoo by comparison. Often performed with no anesthesia and instruments such as scissors, with less effort taken toward keeping things sanitary than you'd want from the guy at Starbucks who pours your coffee. It's less a medical procedure and more someone who sorta knows a thing or two about medicine cutting you up with whatever stabby implement is on hand. Hellishly painful, done from days after birth to just before puberty. Death from the procedure itself and/or its complications (to avoid Walls of Text, let's just say there are a lot of potential complications, and every last one is horrific) is exceedingly common, and underreported. The idea is that the parts removed are 'male' and a girl is cleansed by their removal.
    • FGMs turn most of the vulva into scar tissue, which has much less elasticity. This makes childbirth even worse than it is and needlessly lengthens labor, which leads to higher rates of infant and maternal death. Even if the mother and her baby survive the birth, the mother is not in the clear, as the labia scar tissue is much more likely to tear, providing an entryway for nasty bacteria that can cause life-threatening infections.
    • Related to the above is the Husband Stitch. It's not clear how rare it is (and when it happens, if it's deliberate or just a screw-up), but the idea is that after the perineum note  tears during childbirth/is cut during an episiotomy, the nurse or doctor sewing up the perineum adds an extra stitch "for daddy" to make the vagina tighter. It doesn't work that way, it violates medical ethics, and it has the opposite effect of making sex unenjoyable (or even painful, in the woman's case) for both parties.
  • Male circumcision may count, since it is usually done in infancy, without the ability to give consent. As for why it's done, let's just say the arguments can run the whole range from reasonable to insane.
  • Similarly, many intersex people have been subject to genital surgery to make their organs "fit" into the definition of one gender.
  • Throughout history, castration, has often been performed as a preventative measurenote  or a punishment (which can also be a preventative measure if done to sex offenders). In Italy during The City State Eranote , many musically gifted boys were castrated so they could retain their soprano voices into adulthood.
  • Beyond castration, mutilation has often been used as a punishment, from Babylon under Hammurabi's legal code to modern Saudi Arabia. A distinctive form of this showed up in the Byzantine Empire, where emperors had political rivals mutilated (often by Eye Scream, Facial Horror, and/or the aforementioned castration). The underlying logic was that, as God's worldly representative, The Emperor had to be physically immaculate. Disfiguring the competition thus took them out of the running. (Meanwhile, castration had the added benefit of ensuring that a defeated opponent couldn't produce an heir, and blinding prevented the victim from leading armies into battle.) Mutilation was also seen as more merciful than execution because it gave victims a chance to repent and save their souls.
  • Certain legal codes historically would sever the hand of thieves. The reasoning was that this was an equal punishment compared to a fine, where rich people could steal for fun and get away with it, while losing a hand was something everyone wanted to avoid. Even then circumstances were taken into account, and poor people stealing out of desperation would be much more likely to get a lenient punishment.