Follow TV Tropes

Following

Possessing a Dead Body

Go To

"Daemons, when desiring a human form for evil purposes, take to themselves the bodies of hanged men."
H. P. Lovecraft's Commonplace Book

A type of The Undead resulting from a dead body being reanimated by a spiritual or otherwise non-corporeal being such as a ghost or demon. Depending on the case, possessing a dead body may or may not be better than possessing a live one. Dead bodies are easier to possess but (logically) less powerful because of the likelihood of decay having already set in, while live bodies tend to be more powerful but harder to possess. It also depends on the possessor themselves; their powers/nature may mean that they're just fine possessing a withered corpse, or contrarily are able to bestow the body with additional supernatural abilities beyond "just" being a walking corpse. A body that happens to be brain-dead would also count for the sake of this trope.

Advertisement:

Dispatching of this type of zombie is usually much less straightforward than other types of zombies as well, since the corpse itself is just a tool for the spiritual entity controlling it. Even if these are somehow destroyed then the spirit can often simply evacuate the body to find another one.

Compare Necromancer and Animate Dead, where the corpse is being reanimated by an outside party who doesn't inhabit the body themselves; Our Liches Are Different, a necromancer who possesses their own dead body; Dead Guy Puppet, where a corpse is literally used as a puppet through non-mystical means; and Parasite Zombie, where the corpse is controlled by a Puppeteer Parasite. See also Kill and Replace.

Subtrope of Our Zombies Are Different.

Not to be confused with someone who owns dead bodies; see Grave Robbing for that.

Advertisement:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Diotei Manual: Kamisama-tachi no Renai Daikou features a non-malevolent example where two gods possess the dead bodies of a murdered teenage couple they found in a park in order to find out about how humans work.
  • In Inuyasha, one species of demon known as Shibugarasu (or Dancing Corpse Crow), are able to bury into a victim's chest, devour their heart, and then possess the corpse to make it look like the victim is still alive.
  • Using the powers of his Devil Fruit, Brook from One Piece possesses his own skeleton. His actual self is merely a spirit that can leave for the purposes of Astral Projection.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, Foo Fighters is a colony of plankton with human-like intelligence due to being given a Stand. After being beaten and befriended by Jolene, Foo Fighters inhabits a nearby corpse in order to pass as human.
  • In Chainsaw Man, Fiends are the classification for devils that possess dead humans. Denji, the main character, sort of became a Fiend when his chainsaw-devil friend merged with him to save him from dying, though Denji is still in control of himself. The blood devil Power is a straighter example.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges, who are really astral entities, use dead bodies to physically manifest. These have to be specially prepared with chemicals that mutate the bodies, not just any corpse will do. Near the end of "Necropolis", one of them repeatedly tried to resurrect a normal corpse in vain after his previous body was destroyed.

    Fanfiction 
  • From Dusk to Midnight. Night Flurry gets possessed the spirit of an ancient warrior, Bellerophon—who turns out to be a good guy, and only takes control of Night's body if it's a life-or-death situation. The subplot is eventually resolved when Bellerophon leaves to possess the body of a slain enemy instead.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Skeletons and other undead, other than vampires and death priests are powered by "bound, suffering spirits of the deceased" and under the control of Crowned Death, an evil god of death.
  • Chapter 29 of Infinity reveals that Enlil is actually inhabiting Alicia's corpse. It also crosses over with I Have Your Wife, since she's basically using Alicia's body as collateral to ensure Precia's loyalty.
Advertisement:

    Folklore 
  • According to a legend printed in Ludwig Bechstein's Book of German Legends (1853), a student of the scholar and occultist Cornelius Agrippa (1486—1535) met his doom when he secretly read in a forbidden grimoire lying around in Agrippa's study, thereby accidentally summoning a demon who killed him. To avoid inconvenient questions about how the student died in his study, Agrippa summons another spirit and commands it to possess the dead body. The dead student walks out "like a living person" and drops dead at a random street corner, making everyone believe he died of some unknown but natural cause.

    Films — Animated 
  • The feature-length animation Heavy Metal has the segment "B-17" that has an aerial sortee of B-17's conduct a bombing raid over hostile territory. One plane in particular suffers heavy casualties, leaving only the pilot and co-pilot alive. During the return trip, a green orb called the Loc-Nar smashes its way aboard, where it reanimates the dead crewmen into shambling zombies hellbent on killing the two survivors.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hellraiser: Bloodline: Two Cenobite cultists in eighteenth century France kill a young prostitute so they can use her dead body as a host for a demon princess who then adopts the girl's name (Angelique). Note that most Cenobites don't actually require host bodies, but are rather humans whose souls were corrupted in Hell.
  • I, Frankenstein: The demon prince Naberius' evil plan is to stockpile human corpses, then, through a combination of his own demon magic and the research of Victor Frankenstein, summon the souls of slain demons to inhabit them and reanimate them as an army.
  • Monkeybone: Death allows Stu (who's comatose) to possess a recently deceased body in order to pass on a final message to his girlfriend. She naturally doesn't believe in who he claims to be until he manages to produce a Trust Password.
  • Night of the Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition: At the end, the unhinged Reverend Hicks declares to a reporter that the zombies are human corpses possessed by demons from hell. This is clearly supposed to be a crazed rant however, and is never proven one way or the other.
  • Towards the end of Stardust, one of the witches controls Septimus's dead body and makes it fight Tristan. The ghost of Septimus finds the whole thing less than charming.
  • A variant occurs in Tales of Terror where M. Valdemar's soul is trapped in his own dead body. Carmichael's mesmerism captures soul Valdemar's soul at the moment of death. Hid body is dead and slowly putrefying, but his soul still resides within it, but is unable to cause it to act in any way. Eventually, Valdemar is able to summon up enough rage to be able to control the body long enough to kill Carmichael.

    Literature 
  • Chalion: Discussed in The Curse of Chalion. Several characters say that a body slain by death magic must be burned before nightfall to prevent ghosts from possessing it; one describes such a possession, seen many years ago.
    I saw a case once, when I was a young divine. The degraded spirits are shambling stupid things, but it’s so very awkward to get them out again once they take possession. They must be burned...well, alive is not quite the right term. Very ugly scene, especially if the relatives don’t understand, because, of course, being your body, it screams in your voice...
  • Ciaphas Cain: The first step in creating a daemonhost appears to be providing a dead body for the daemon to move in to. In "The Beguiling", a Slaaneshi cult goes the Human Sacrifice route; in The Last Ditch a daemon possesses a servitor instead of one of the living crew members on the bridge. The Traitor's Hand strongly implies that Emeli sucked the souls out of her cultists before she could refashion their bodies into a suitable form for her.
  • The Laundry Files by Charles Stross features zombies (or Residual Human Resources) in a mixture of the voodoo and artificial, since sufficiently advanced science is magic.
    • These zombies take the form of Demonic Possession of a corpse, usually programmed in Old Enochian not to eat brains. Great for janitorial tasks, though the RPG book notes that following employee complaints, they are no longer used for food service. (Also, Laundry employees should be noted that decking the zombies in tinsel is discouraged for the holiday season.)
    • If the spirit animating the corpse isn't bound by spells or geases, that's when zombie apocalypses happen. Instead of infecting others with their bite, the demon — a being of electricity — tries to take over the nervous system of its victim in order to devour their soul, and skin is conductive. The living, active soul of a living being is stated to be much "tastier" than the dead informational echoes in a long-dead body.
    • Even if a zombie is bound by magic, a "death patterning" can be applied to it so that skin-to-skin contact with it is instantly deadly. This makes them excellent night guards.
    • Zombies which are kept around on a permanent basis are fed brains in order to keep their bodies functioning. But it doesn't need to be human brains; the Laundry buys cow brains from slaughterhouses for that purpose. It doesn't even need to be brains, it's just that cow brains are a cheap source of the needed fatty acids. In a pinch, the zombies could be fed on McDonald's milkshakes.
  • In the Old Kingdom, less powerful Dead such as Hands are created by a Dead spirit possessing and reanimating a corpse — any corpse will do, so long as it's mostly intact, though it's implied there's a stronger connection to the spirit's original body. More powerful Dead entities can do this too, but are just as likely to use artificially created construct bodies or even exist as raw spirit with no body at all.
  • The Space Trilogy: In That Hideous Strength, the amoral scientists of the N.I.C.E. communicate with higher-dimensional lifeforms by specially preparing severed human heads for the "macrobes" (as the scientists call them) to possess and speak with. What the N.I.C.E. is too blind to realize is that these macrobes are literally demons from Hell.
  • Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio: In "The Monk of Changqing", a monk's ghost accidentally possesses the body of a young nobleman killed in a hunting accident. The nobleman's family think he's just lost his senses when he insists he's a monk and rejoins his old monastery.
  • It's left implicit, but it seems the Barrow-Wights from Tolkien's Legendarium are dark spirits inhabiting the bodies of the dead, rather than regular undead as their mythological inspiration.
  • In The Wandering Inn, the Selphids, a race of body-snatchers, were reduced to only possessing dead bodies, and never living ones, by a treaty after they almost destroyed the world.
  • In Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon Hunting Soccer Mom demons constantly wander Earth in spirit form, and can only take physical form by entering the body of someone who has just died; the window is pretty short. Ever heard stories about someone who survived a horrible car wreck without a scratch, or had a heart attack and then got right back up? Well, now you know how.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Andromeda episode "Dance of the Mayflies", the Andromeda crew discover a plague that reanimates the corpses of the people it kills as zombies. It's able to possess Trance immediately, leading Dylan to question whether she was really alive to begin with (foreshadowing later developments).
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead: In season 3, Kelly is killed in a fight by Ruby, who then repurposes her deceased body to channel the spirit of one of her allies from the evil dimension she hails from. Ash later tries to rescue her from the netherworld, but she can't pass the dimension threshold because her body is still being occupied by someone else.
  • In the Buffyverse, this is explicitly said to be what a vampire is. You die, and an evil demon takes over your body.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Unquiet Dead" had recently deceased corpses being inhabited by the Gelth, gaseous aliens who had lost their corporal forms. It gave the impression of ghosts possessing corpses to rise as zombies. While the Gelth initially feigned victimhood to invoke sympathy in the Doctor, they're later revealed to be malicious, as they desire all living humans to be dead so they can inhabit their bodies too.
    • "The Witchfinders": The Doctor, Yaz and Willa discover that alien mud is possessing dead bodies, including that of Willa's recently deceased grandmother. The mud is from the Morax, aliens imprisoned under Pendle Hill for a long time who were recently freed. And they're not just limited to the dead, either.
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In the episode "Demon in Lace", a succubus can possess the bodies of recently dead women. It lures men into romantic situations and then changes the body to a horrifying appearance, scaring the man to death.
  • In the universe of Lucifer (2016), it's possible for the denizens of Hell to escape by possessing the body of someone who recently died.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Wolf in the Fold". A non-corporeal alien being is capable of possessing the bodies of living human beings. During the episode, Captain Kirk hits the body it's possessing and kills it. The being flees the dead body. Later on, with no other options, the being possesses the dead body again and makes it walk around.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Sub Rosa", the disembodied spirit that has been altering Beverly's mental state to try and get her to sleep with him decides to jump into Bev's dead grandmother's body and use it to try and attack the crew stopping him.
  • Supernatural:
    • In season 4, the demon Ruby took to possessing a human body that was technically dead after Sam objected to her using a living person's. The woman in question was comatose and had just been removed from life support before she moved in.
    • In the final episode of season 4, it's also shown that decades earlier the demon Azazel murdered a convent of nuns so that Lucifer could use one of their dead bodies to talk to him from his prison.
    • Castiel was initially using the human Jimmy Novak as his angelic host. However, Jimmy's fate is left ambiguous after Castiel is killed off and brought Back from the Dead several times, but it's eventually confirmed that Jimmy's soul was sent to Heaven after Castiel's first death at the Archangel Raphael's hands. This means that for most of the series, Castiel has been occupying an otherwise lifeless body.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank". A man named Jeff Myrtlebank dies of the flu and is about to be buried two days later. He suddenly wakes up in his coffin and appears to be just fine. The local townsfolk think that his body was possessed by an evil spirit while he was dead. There's evidence they're right - flowers die when he holds them and he can light a match without striking it, apparently with magic.
  • Similar to the Doctor Who example, in The Outer Limits (1995) there were aliens who needed to use the recently deceased as host bodies. Unlike the Doctor Who example, and unlike the norm for the series itself, they were quite benevolent. The worst thing to come out of it was a man who'd had a deceased loved one used as a host having to face the reality that the body's new inhabitant was a completely different person; a Tear Jerker but not evil or dangerous.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Module Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. When a Raise Dead or Resurrection spell is cast on a dead body, the body will be brought back to life and the dead person's soul will re-inhabit it. If this is tried on one of Lolth's planes in the Abyss, there's a chance that the soul of a dead Chaotic Evil person will possess the body instead.
    • Judges Guild adventure Dark Tower. If any humanoid creature is killed in either the Upper or Lower Temple of Set, there is a chance that the Lawful Evil god Set will possess the dead body and polymorph it into a 7 foot tall muscular, scaly body with a jackal's head. He will use it to attack all living things in the Temple area, including his own worshippers.
    • White Dwarf magazine issue #56, article "The Fiend Factory". The mind shadow is a fiendish creature that can possess and control a corpse, including having it attack other creatures. If the corpse is reduced to zero Hit Points or is turned by a cleric, the mind shadow is forced out of the body. Otherwise, the mind shadow can maintain possession indefinitely.
  • In Shadowrun Shedim are spirits from a distant metaplane who attach themselves to corpses, or the bodies of astrally projecting mages sometimes.
  • Hosts in Werewolf: The Forsaken are entities somewhat like animal spirits but with their own flesh in the material world. The weaker versions are capable of hollowing out human bodies and controlling the corpses. Spider hosts enter their victim's skull through the ear or nostrils and eat their brains, for example, while rat hosts burrow into the chest and eat the heart.
  • Call of Cthulhu, White Dwarf magazine #87 article "With a Pinch of Salt". One method of creating a zombie is to summon and bond a Cthulhu Mythos monster to enter and possess a corpse. Normally only a monster that isn't tied to a physical body can be used, such as a gaseous Fire Vampire or a ghost.

    Video Games 
  • Beyond: Two Souls: In "The Condenser" chapter, the spiritual entities who escaped from the Infraworld reanimate an entire hallway of human corpses to menace Jodie.
  • The Former Humans of the Doom series are of this variety. They were Marines killed by the demons, which then took possession of their fallen bodies.
  • Dragon Age explains in the codex that all undead are in fact corpses inhabited by spirits from the Fade ("demons" corresponding to the Seven Deadly Sins, and "good" spirits corresponding to the Seven Heavenly Virtues). Redcliff comes under attack by such demonic zombies and skeletons in Dragon Age: Origins, while in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening party member Justice is a revenant created when a spirit of justice took over the body of the Grey Warden Kristoff.
  • In DragonFable, Valtrith extracts the soul of Serenity, then uses her soul as part of a dark ritual which summons a darkness spirit known as Caitiff, who inhabits the Skullreaper of Doom. The end result of the ritual is the hilt of the Skullreaper gets impaled through the chest of Serenity's corpse, which in turn allows Caitiff to control her corpse as an extension of itself.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: In one quest, cultists of the Deadric Prince Boethiah will command you to perform a human sacrifice to their master to show you are worthy of serving them. If you do so, the victims' corpse will be possessed by Boethiah, who will comment on how distasteful they find using mortal flesh as a vessel, then order the cultists to murder one another with the last one standing becoming Boethiah's champion.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Ascians can do this, in addition to possessing living people, as shown when Elidibus possesses Zenos after his death.
  • Yomiel of Ghost Trick is a ghost who is able to animate his own corpse. This is thanks to a radioactive meteor, a fragment of which is lodged in his body and keeps his corpse perpetually on the edge between life and death, making him virtually indestructible (much like The Crow). By the end of the story, the main character is like this.
  • Guilty Gear: Zato-One has a Living Shadow named Eddie, who is its own entity. When Zato died, Eddie reanimates his corpse; his name in the selection screen becomes "Eddie" in some games rather than "Zato-One".
  • Legacy of Kain: Defiance: Raziel the wraith rebels against his former master, The Elder God, and as punishment is denied the right to use conduits between the spectral world and physical world. He gets around this by projecting his spectral form into human corpses and reshaping them into his own image.
  • Mass Effect: Saren Arterius's One-Winged Angel form consists of the Reaper Sovereign reanimating his body, already killed by Shepard ( either in battle or by talking him into suicide in a cutscene), using Saren's cybernetics. This evidently involved some form of mind transfer as well, because destroying the One-Winged Angel causes Sovereign the starship's Deflector Shield to fail, letting the Alliance Fifth Fleet finish him off.
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: At the start of the game, a group of Ing possess dead Galactic Federation soldiers and use them to attack Samus. Unlike the powerful "Darklings" seen in most of the game (created when an Ing possesses a living creature), the soldiers' movements are stiff and zombie-like.
  • Mortal Kombat: In Deadly Alliance, the Villain Team-Up of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, defeated and killed a lot of the Defenders of the Earth, especially the until-then protagonist Liu Kang. But later before the Cosmic Retcon of MK9 (Deception and Armageddon), a revived and heel-turned Raiden reanimated Liu Kang's body as a zombie to fight with him against Onaga and everyone who stands in his way, no matter if they're allies or enemies.
  • Warcraft II: Death knights (the orcs' mage unit) were made by forcing the spirits of Gul'dan's warlocks into the corpses of human knights. In III, the original death knights were remade into liches (ranged Squishy Wizard), while the new death knights (evil version of The Paladin) are the reanimated bodies of human nobles under the Lich King's thrall.
  • The zombies from Vagrant Story are of this kind. They are random corpses possessed by random souls. Once the zombie is destroyed, the soul is free but remains trapped on the physical plane until it ends up possessing another corpse. Rise and repeat. Of special note is the case of Grissom, a minor antagonist that appears early in the game. After his death at the hands of Ashley, Grissom's soul ends up possessing his own corpse by chance. He is left horrified at this "incomplete death" and is eventually driven insane by it.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Discussed and parodied in Red vs. Blue:
    Caboose: I have an idea. ...I HAVE AN IDEA!
    Tucker: Yeah, we heard you the first time, Caboose, we were just ignoring you.
    Caboose: Since you possessed that Red guy, and took control of him, why don't you just possess your own body?
    Church: Oh I see, so that way I would be living inside of my own dead body.
    Caboose: Yes.
    Church: Unable to move, just, laying there, rotting in the sun for all eternity.
    Caboose: Yes.
    Church: Okay, Caboose, I'll be sure to get right on that.
    Caboose: I think you are a mean ghost.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers Prime has the Grand Finale Movie start off with Unicron telling a deceased Megatron's spark that —thanks to doping himself on his blood while he was alive— he's Barred from the Afterlife and will live again... to serve him. He takes control of Megatron's corpse, resurrects it, upgrades it, and inhabits it while Megatron's spark is along for the ride as little more than a prisoner, unable to control his body's own actions. The movie ends with Unicron being extracted from Megatron's body and banished, leaving Megatron alive and in control of in his restored and upgraded body, whereupon he promptly disbands his faction and exiles himself, having undergone a Heel Realization while under Unicron's possession. It is unknown if Unicron's banishment has changed his Barred from the Afterlife status.
  • An accidental and heroic example shows up in Season 3 of Young Justice. Violet Harper aka Halo is the result of a dismantled Mother Box's spirit merging with the deceased body of Gabrielle Daou. Because she possessed Gabrielle's body after death, the Mother Box's soul is the only one present — aside from some residual memories there is nothing left of Gabrielle. This is why she vehemently rejects being called Gabrielle Daou by Artemis. Even before she realized the full truth, Violet subconsciously knew she wasn't really Gabrielle.


Alternative Title(s): Spirit Possessed Zombie

Top

Example of:

/

Feedback