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Mutilation Interrogation

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Carolina: Alright, think he's in a position to answer a few more questions?
Dr. Grey: Oh, absolutely! Lemme just go put him back together...
Red vs. Blue, "Accentuate the Interrogative"

The hero is strapped to a chair. They are told to talk by the villain. If they don't, the henchman standing beside them will start cutting their fingers off. One by one. If they aren't talking by then, he'll move onto other areas.

This is a quick way to show the interrogation subject that you are not screwing around and will cross moral/legal boundaries by inflicting permanent damage. Pain is transient, but starting with small mutilation announces to the victim that you will move on to progressively worse, permanent damage if they don't talk.

One of the many forms of Cold-Blooded Torture or the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. See also Fingore and Knee-capping, which this tends to include.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan this is what happens to Grisha Yeager as punishment for being part of La Résistance. He loses all of his fingers before the Marley military officials give up on trying to get any information out of him and send him, along with all the other members of the Eldia Restoration Movement, to Paradis Island. He gets better, as he ends up with the powers of the Attack Titan, which include a healing factor, much like the other Shifters.
  • Knight Hunters. In one of the drama CDs, Birman is interrogated this way - by the time Weiss manages to rescue her, she only had enough fingers to pick up a gun and shoot herself.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Black Mask likes to use this trope, drills, irons (as in clothes irons, with the steam and the hurting and the OH GLAYVEN. His ... interrogation partners end up looking a whole less pretty than they used to be.
  • Eric Draven does this to a bad guy in The Crow graphic novel to get him to talk: "It took three fingers, but he talked."
  • In ElfQuest, Ekuar reveals that the troll King Guttlekraw would torture his elven prisoners by amputating fingers, then limbs. As proof of this, Ekuar himself has only one arm (with a finger missing), and a wooden leg.
  • The Hellblazer arc Son of Man has Mob torturer Gestapo threaten a target with nothing more than a pair of nail clippers. We later find out what they were used on: his eyelids.
  • When King Mob is being tortured by Sir Giles in The Invisibles, he has his fingers dropped in his lab after a convenient blackout. Subverted in that he's merely been injected with an experimental drug that allows him to perceive written language as a tangible object — e.g., he's given a slip of paper reading "Your Severed Fingers," and sees his severed fingers.
  • The Punisher:
    • In The Punisher MAX story-arc "Up Is Down and Black Is White", Frank and some friends have Smug Snake Rawlins tied up in a motel room and are trying to think of how to get him to talk. Frank is left alone with him and...
      O'Brien: What'd you do to Rawlins?
      Frank Castle: Took an eye out of him.
      O'Brien: ...well, why fuck around when you don't have to.
    • In The Slavers, The Punisher is tracking down the leaders of a Human Trafficking ring. When he gets one of the three bosses, he knocks the man out, drags him out to the woods, and cuts him open, pulling out the man's intestines. Then he wakes the man up and starts asking questions...
    • A bunch of mobsters interrogated one of Frank's fellow tenants Dave, a guy with a lot of facial piercings, for his location. By pulling all of his piercings out. Frank saves Dave from bleeding out by hiring a back alley doctor.
    • Nicky Calavella and his hitters, Pittsy and Ink, kidnapped a C.I.A. agent for information. Pittsy threatened to cut off the guy's balls and put them in a paper cup if he didn't cooperate. Though it's implied the agent cooperated, Pittsy followed through anyway.
  • In Watchmen, Rorschach takes this trope and runs with it. He goes to a bar where he believes he can get some information, grabs a random person, and then asks the rest of the bar for the answers. Getting no response, he breaks one of his fingers, then asks again. Next shot, he's walking out of the bar, having received no information. We never hear what happened to the guy.

    Fan Works 
  • Happens in the Artemis Fowl fanfic "Within Temptation" (not to be confused with the symphonic metal band of the same name).
  • The My Hero Academia fic Every Step of the Way has Aizawa facing a villain who has a beef with All Might. Aizawa refuses to talk so the guy uses his burning touch quirk to sear Aizawa’s eyes out one at a time. He does one, Aizawa still won’t talk, so he does the other.
  • Wolfblood: Vizimir has Aiden tortured for years trying to get him to divulge the formula for making witchers, but as his victim points out later while under Triss' medical care he didn't know that to give it up even if he'd wanted to. He's left badly scarred and blind in one eye even with witcher healing.

    Film — Animation 
  • Played for laughs in Shrek when the Gingerbread Man gets both of his legs broken of and his head dipped into a glass with milk. Lord Farquaad then crushes one of the legs in his hands, but the other leg is later reattached with frosting, making it necessary for Gingy to walk with a candy cane.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Happens in Battle Beyond the Stars, though it could have just been because the Big Bad wanted a new hand.
  • In Blue Thunder, Lymangood is kidnapped and threatened with having his fingers broken, one by one, until he reveals the location of the tape exposing the Government Conspiracy. Surprisingly for a character who had, until that point, been the Plucky Comic Relief, he feigns acquiescence and then makes an escape.
  • Near the end of Body of Lies, the protagonist is tortured by repeated smashing of his fingers with a hammer. It is later implied that he lost at least parts of one finger in the process.
  • In the film noir/lesbian romance Bound, a mobster steals a couple of million dollars from his employers. Despite a savage beating, he refuses to tell them where he's hidden it. Then one of the mobsters produces pruning shears, holds the guy's hands over a toilet bowl, and says: "I'm going to ask you ten times."
  • Quoth Durant from Darkman after taking out a cigar cutter. "Now, let's consider my points, one by one. One. I try not to let my anger get the better of me. cut "Two. I don't always succeed." cut "Three. I have seven more points."
  • Played horrifically straight in the French film Female Agents (Les femmes de l'ombre), involving some Nazis and one of the eponymous femmes, who is a member of La Résistance.
  • Five Fingers of Death has this as part of a Coldblooded Torture sequence, when the hero is subjected to having his fingers hit repeatedly by two clubs held by the Co-Dragons.
  • The Goonies: After the Fratellis get Chunk, Mama Fratelli threatens to put his hand into a blender if he doesn't tell them where his fellow Goonies are. Chunk only escapes it by sharing embarrassing stories, like setting off a Vomit Chain Reaction at a movie theater.
  • The Gray Man (2022). Lloyd uses a pair of pliers to torture Fitzroy by tearing off several of his fingernails.
  • Kill Bill: "I'm gonna ask you questions. And every time you don't give me answers...I'm gonna cut something off. And I promise you, they will be things you will miss." No mistake about it, Beatrix Kiddo does not fuck around. And the very first part that she starts with is Sofie's other arm, as she already chopped off the other one... The Japanese cut has her making good on this threat.
  • James Bond in Live and Let Die: Tee Hee puts his claw hand around Bond's finger while Kananga threatens to cut it off if Solitaire gives the wrong answer while reading the tarot cards.
  • The Longest Nite: Sam, the corrupt cop Villain Protagonist enjoys pulling this off while performing a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique on his suspects. In an early scene in a pub, he had his underlings hold a man down while smashing his spread-out fingers with a bottle (and afterwards, taunting him to pick up a gun), and in a much later scene, he tortures an informant by driving pointed, metal rods underneath the fingernails.
  • Looper features a particularly chilling use of this trope, where the past version of a character is mutilated to affect his future self. The audience doesn't see the torture itself, just the future!characters's desperate attempts to reach safety as his body parts disappear one by one. He doesn't make it.
  • In Man on Fire, John Creasy does this several times in the movie to people involved in the kidnapping ring.
    • He tapes a guy's hands to the steering wheel. He cuts off the man's fingers one by one, slowly, and then cauterizes the wound with the car's cigarette lighter immediately. Then he gives the guy a smoke and pushes the car off a cliff (though at that point the guy was just glad it was over).
    • He blows off a man's fingers with a shotgun.
  • Marathon Man. Two words: Nazi dentist.
  • In Money Movers, Jack Henderson persuades Eric Jackson to allow him to take over his robbery plan by tying him to a chair and having his henchman Ernest start cutting his toes off with a set of bolt-cutters till he agrees.
  • This happens to Mel Gibson's character in Payback. He kidnaps the son of the most powerful mob boss in the city, so they politely ask him for the location using his toes and a hammer.
  • In Oldboy, the protagonist Oh Dae-su tracks down the illegal holding facility where he was kept for 15 years after being kidnapped off the streets. Dae-su asks the warden who paid him to hold him, and when the warden doesn't answer he duct tapes him to his chair. He then uses his claw hammer to pry out the man's teeth one at a time, telling him that he owes him one tooth for each year of his life that was stolen from him. After about 7 or so, he gives the warden a chance to talk, with the implication that he'll continue through with all 15 if he doesn't.
  • Pan's Labyrinth has Vidal, a Torture Technician who utilizes this trope to chilling effect.
  • There's the scene in the film The Punisher (2004) in which Castle chains up a man in his room and proceeds to go into a lengthy explanation about how torture via blowtorch basically has you smelling your own flesh cooking before feeling cold from the nerve endings being fried, before letting the soon-to-be tortured man catch a glimpse of a blowtorch and letting him have it. Subverted ultimately because Castle never did blowtorch the guy. He only cooked a slab of meat (hence the "smell your own flesh cooking" bit) and poked the man in the back with a Popsicle. The result was that the man thought he was being burned to death and spilled his guts only to be released unharmed.
  • Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs:
    • During a planning scene for the heist, Mr. White mentions this to Mr. Orange:
    "If you wanna know something and he won't tell you, cut off one of his fingers. The little one. Then tell him his thumb's next. After that he'll tell ya if he wears ladies underwear. I'm hungry. Let's get a taco."
    • Defied by Mr. Blonde in the torture scene. He starts cutting pieces off the cop he captured (Marvin Nash), but he specifically notes beforehand that he doesn't care at all about any information the cop might tell him; he's doing this just for fun. This, in addition to the kill-crazy rampage he goes on earlier in the movie, marks Mr. Blonde as a complete psychopath.
  • Scarred: While torturing Tiny's father, Jonah Kandie takes a knife and cuts off one of his fingers.
  • In Scream and Scream Again, Torture Technician Konratz uses a pair of bone shears to cut the finger off a young woman he is interrogating.
  • Played for laughs in Spaceballs when Dark Helmet threatens to have a surgeon give Princess Vespa a hideous nose job if her father doesn't give the access code to Drudia's shields. Even funnier in that this is stated to be the original appearance of her nose before having some work done. Crosses the Line Twice when you remember the line "Funny, she doesn't look Druish."
  • Chevy Chase's character in Spies Like Us was threatened with this one after being captured by Soviets. Only through Obfuscating Stupidity (or actual stupidity) was he able to stall long enough to keep his digits:
    Soviet Agent: For every question you do not answer, I cut off a finger...
    Fitz-Hume: Mine, or yours?
  • In Sugar Hill (1974), King interrogates the piano player Preacher about the murders of Morgan's people. When Preacher says he doesn't know anything, King smashes the piano lid on his fingers.
  • In Suicide Kings, four college students hold a mob boss hostage in a friend's home and cut off the man's right pinkie (complete with ring to prove it's him) in a ill-fated attempt to get him to help find the kidnapped sister of one of their group.
  • In Syriana, George Clooney's character gets his fingernails pulled out in a torture chamber.
  • In The Tourist, the Big Bad threatens Angelina Jolie's character with this after she is captured.
  • Transit: While trying to force the location of the loot out of Nate, Losada cuts the fingers of Nate's left hand with a machete.
  • Sir from Truth or Consequences, N.M. tortures Raymond's friend Wayne by cutting off some of his fingers.
  • Unthinkable: Samuel L. Jackson plays an interrogator specialized in Enhanced Interrogation Techniques who is called in by his CIA handlers to torture the whereabouts of hidden nuclear bombs in the United States out of a muslim American terrorist. The first thing he does is to violently hack off his captive's thumb, prompting a What the Hell, Hero? reaction from his colleagues. He later proceeds to do remove the nails from the rest of his fingers.
  • Alluded to in Van Helsing, where VH gives the heroine a cutting implement and tells her to clip off one of the evil henchman's fingers, should he fail to cooperate. Subverted when she replies that she'll clip off "something."
  • In The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Black and Tans interrogate one of the Irish rebels by pulling out his fingernails one-by-one with a pair of wicked-looking pliers.

  • This trope happens in one of the later Anita Blake books, where Anita threatens to cut the fingers off of a henchman when he doesn't tell her where Richard's mother and brother are. He loses one finger before he talks.
  • Claire from Baccano! does this to one of Ladd Russo's men, Dune. Claire being the master of overkill that he is, doesn't simply cut off digits, but rather pulls him under a moving train and slowly grinds his arm off on the rails until he starts talking. Claire likes doing this in general — hence the horrific condition of the corpses left behind by the Flying Pussyfoot. And when one of his victims claims that he's been through enough torture to be immune to it, Claire informs him that he can do far worse yet.
  • In the Dragaera novels, this turns out to be the reason Vlad Taltos is missing a finger in the later books: he got caught by a Torture Technician in Jhegaala.
  • In Dragon's Winter the bard Azil has his hands mutilated and burned so that he can never play the harp again as part of a Past Victim Showcase; his lover was very fond of his music.
  • In Don Pendleton's The Executioner series of books, the mafia have interrogators that turn people into "Turkeys" by taking several days to slowly carve them up. The first two cuts are to remove the eyelids, so the victim is Forced to Watch their own mutilation in a mirror.
  • Inflicting this is the job of Glotka in Joe Abercrombie's The First Law books.
  • Referenced in Full Metal Panic!. A traitor to Mithril is being questioned, and when he refuses to answer, his fingers are broken. Tessa and Kallinin are watching from the other side of a two-way mirror, with Tessa upset by the brutality. Kallinin informs her that if he were the one doing the interrogating, he'd cut the fingers off, instead. Given his background, it's likely something he's actually done before.
  • Another inversion in The High King's Tomb, third book in the Green Rider series. In this one, a female interrogator does this to an evil henchman who had already lost one hand. To top it off, this same henchman had driven the interrogator's brother to suicide by blaming him for an incident that made their sadistic master cut off both hands.
  • In the Lensman books, when Jill is captured, she is threatened with this. Her brave defiance is Honor Before Reason because she managed to alert the Lensmen who are in telepathic contact with her and urging her to talk because they can ensure that no one who hears will get out alive.
  • Martian Deathtrap, a novelization based on the Mars Attacks! comics/card series by Topps, has the Martians capture a showgirl and using a surgical tool that cuts and cauterizes at the same time on the bottoms of her toes after she refuses to tell them (a) how many humans are still alive in the mansion they're all trapped in and (b) how to drive a car, of all things. Given they could have just forced her to take them to the cars and have her drive them to safety at gunpoint, the torture might have been a bit excessive, if not totally unnecessary.
  • Neverwhere: Mr Vandemar breaks Richard's finger and is about to cut off his ear when Door gives in and agrees to open the door to Heaven. She's lying, though.
  • This happens to Tia, a major character of Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy. This is more of a warm up for the torture that would have occurred however. Years later the protagonist asks her if she has any idea what her enemy would do to her and she replies that she has a pretty good idea, holding up her mangled fingers for emphasis. The protagonist, Dirk, swiftly explains that she has no idea whatsoever, having being made privy to some of the real methods that the Torture Technician employs (he was very happy to explain it to someone who he thought would be able to appreciate how cleverly brutal and twisted, and effective, it could be. The protagonist Dirk had to pretend to find it fascinating).
  • Happens to the cop protagonist in the book/film Sharky's Machine. He loses two fingers before he escapes.
  • Multiply inverted in Dean Koontz' novel Sole Survivor; agents of a secret conspiracy threaten to do this to a flight controller's son if she doesn't keep quiet about what she heard on a black-box recording. Worse, her son will be told that she could save him by cooperating, but in fact they'll keep cutting regardless of what she does, once they've started.
  • In the Stephanie Plum novels, the main character was threatened with this on at least one occasion. There was a slight subversion in the latest novel, where the villain was trying to motivate her to do something for him by mailing her someone else's fingers.
    • She's actually sent dismembered body parts or finds them in her fridge in more than half the books, but that usually isn't an interrogation method as much as it the psycho of the book trying to warn her to back off or get her attention. (Memorable instances include a giant mole and a dismembered penis. The penis made her grandmother nostalgic.)
  • In Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears, the Arab terrorists who set off a nuclear bomb in Denver have their fingers broken one by one by John Clark until they reveal their sponsor (specifically, he muses later that he didn't have to break all their fingers, and that what mattered more was how you worked the broken digits). It turns out that they're lying in an attempt to provoke all out warfare with the Arab world, but the good guys figure this out in time to avoid a catastrophe.
  • Lawrence Block's insomniac thief, Evan Tanner, does this to one of the baddies in Tanner's Virgin (originally published as Here Comes a Hero).
  • In The Wheel of Time, Perrin Aybara of all people uses it to great effect. The Aiel are trained to resist pain, but the threat of being dropped off at the nearest village as a quadruple amputee for the children to gawk at is a whole other story. Perrin took one hand before the man talked.
  • The principal viewpoint character of The Zoo Gang by Paul Gallico has no fingernails because the Gestapo pulled them out approximately twenty-five years before the events of the book. That the rest of his group are still alive indicates he didn't talk.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: Happens to Sydney Bristow in the pilot episode "Truth Be Told" — with teeth. She ends up losing her number 5 right molar (not a visible tooth usually, because Beauty Is Never Tarnished).
  • Blake's 7: Blake suspects (correctly) that the surgeon who's repairing Gan's malfunctioning Morality Chip is delaying the surgery long enough for the Federation to catch up with them. Blake tells him that if the operation isn't finished by a certain time, he'll destroy his hands; a very apt threat for a surgeon.
  • Mentioned in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the first time Angel loses his soul and goes evil. Angelus expresses a desire to use chainsaws in his interrogation of Giles, but never actually progresses to that point.
    Giles: You must perform the ritual... in a tutu. Pillock!
    Angelus: All right. Someone get the chainsaw.
    Spike: Now, now, don't let's lose our temper.
    Angelus: Keep out of it, sit n' spin.
    Spike: Look, if you cut him up, you'll never get your answers.
  • In the Climax! TV movie Casino Royale (1954), the ball-whacking is substituted out for Bond's toenails being painfully pulled out.
  • Firefly:
    • Jayne threatens mole Dobson with this in order to find out how much the Alliance knows from the transmission he sent. A spooked Dobson immediately blurts that the Alliance knows everything, leading a disappointed Jayne to deduce that they know nothing. "Was gonna get me an ear, too."
    • In a later episode Niska cuts Mal's ear off and gives it to Zoe when she tries to ransom him and Wash from Niska. It gets reattached at the end of the episode.
  • Lost:
    • Ana-Lucia threatens to cut off Nathan's finger unless he confesses to being an Other. However, this threat causes the real Other to kill Nathan and make it look like he got away.
    • In a later episode, the Others capture Sawyer and Juliet and threaten to cut off her "other hand" if they don't tell them who they are, saying that the first hand is non-negotiable. He thankfully doesn't get the chance to go through with it.
  • Octavian and Pullo use this method on Evander in Rome to get him to fess up about having had an affair with Niobe.
  • In a season 2 episode of Veronica Mars, Veronica unwittingly ends up in the home den of the Fighting Fitzpatricks gang when she's investigating a corrupt plastic surgeon. When they find out who she is, their leader threatens that she better start talking, or she really will need a good plastic surgeon. Then he brings over a tattooing needle and prepares to start carving up her face before Logan saves her.

    Video Games 
  • Armed and Dangerous One of the King's interrogation specialists started with the torture by cutting out the tongue and proceeding from there, and then complains he can't get the guy to talk. Apparently, it's his first day.
  • In the final mission of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the Big Bad has one of his men cut off the U.S. Secretary of Defense's finger in order to compel him to give up vital information. By the time the camera pans back to him, his whole hand is gone and all that's left is a bloody cut open arm.
  • Near the end of Yakuza 0, Tachibana is brutally tortured by Dojima's men, including having his toes crushed with a sledgehammer.

    Web Animation 

  • This happens to Luca from The Meek, and as a result, his fingers still don't work right, years later. As he put it, "It took them seven fingers to figure out that I didn't know anything."
  • Last Res0rt: The first time we see her, Daisy Archanis is missing her left leg from mid-thigh on down, and Veled apparently had something to do with it...
  • Sarilho: Eurico and Estanislau definitively employ this when torturing the Foreigner.
  • In Spacetrawler, Yuri is captured by bounty hunters who attempt to torture her, not knowing anything about human anatomy they take her suggestions of feeding her chocolate pudding and massaging almond oil into her feet. Then it turns out her feet weren't attached at the time, and neither were her arms, for that matter.