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Sinister Suffocation

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Let's be honest, there are probably just as many ways to hurt or kill others as there are people to hurt or kill. Some of these ways, while painful, don't last very long — removing the head, for example, is a gruesome but quick way to die. Other ways are a bit slower, and it's pretty much agreed that intentionally dragging out a person's suffering is a crueler thing to do than just ending it on the spot. One particularly painful way of doing things is by suffocating the victim.

While this can just be done with Choke Holds, the victims can also be drowned, smothered, hanged, or starved for air in any other way, such as locked in a room with a depleting oxygen supply. The villain will also typically have some evil fun doing it — they wouldn't do it if they didn't get a kick out of watching their victim suffer. If they're particularly cruel, they'll draw it out even longer by giving their victim a few seconds of air in between the suffocating — if they're planning to keep the victim alive, this makes for an effective form of torture. As a matter of fact, the real-life act of waterboarding typically involves simulating the feeling of drowning. It's just a brutal thing to put someone through, and even if they're intending to leave their victim alive, it's all too easy to go too far and accidentally murder the poor guy.

Of course, villains who cross this line will be portrayed as particularly horrible. Even if they're just a schoolyard bully, putting their victim through this makes them more monstrous and crueler than just being the kid who steals your lunch money — they're someone who'd be fine with outright murdering their victim. Witnesses will be shocked and horrified, and it'll force the hero to work even harder to stop them. If the hero themself engages in this, even as an act of pragmatism, it'll mark them as a dark Anti-Hero at best and someone undergoing a Face–Heel Turn at worst. (Sometimes, though, Super-Toughness or an immense Healing Factor might mean that the windpipe is the villain's only weak point.)

Overlaps with Buried Alive, when the burial is intentional. Another common method is the Vorpal Pillow or being Thrown Out the Airlock. This is one way to end up with Bloodless Carnage, as suffocation victims don't usually end up covered in gore. Can occasionally overlap with Neck Lift or Psychic Strangle.

No Real Life Examples, Please! While this sort of thing can be common in real-life, especially as a form of torture, we're not going to discuss that here for moral reasons.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Monica's Gang: A 1994 comic follows Astronaut as his suit is invaded by an oxygen-eating alien, who is implied to have committed genocide on a global scale after consuming its home world's atmosphere and causing all other life forms to suffocate. Despite only appearing in this one storyline, the alien is portrayed as a thoroughly sinister villain that poses a serious threat to Earth, sharply contrasting the franchise's other antagonists, who are Laughably Evil at worst.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Franz Xaver von Schönwerth's "The Three Flowers": Katie's babies are throttled to death by her evil mother-in-law.
    The hunter's mother was an evil woman who disliked Katie. She was constantly scolding the young woman and making her life miserable. When the time came for Katie to deliver a child, she bore a son, whom the old woman took and choked to death.

    Fan Works 
  • Flyover Country: Rinkin is a ninja, and when fighting seriously, her rules of engagement are basically "Use whatever works and complete the mission." Filling an enemy's throat with expanding urethane foam is just one more tool in her kit.
    Rinkin: Bulletproof and unbreakable. Still had to breathe though.
    King: Nasty way to go.
    Rinkin: He deserved it.

    Films — Animated 
  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker: The Joker, who is portrayed as Batman's most fearsome and deranged enemy, shows a clear predilection for asphyxiation as an assassination method. His weapon of choice is a poison that causes victims to laugh uncontrollably until the respiratory system ceases to function; and during the final battle, he tries to finish off the hero by strangling him to death.
  • Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox: The alternate version of Wonder Woman makes her introduction by ensnaring Steve Trevor's neck in her lasso and slowly flying upwards to hang him. The scene establishes her as a cold-blooded and ruthless tyrant, unlike her heroic counterpart from the original timeline.
  • The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea: The Big Bad reveals her true nature by trapping Melody in an underwater cave. To further distress the young girl, she mockingly says that the spell that turned the heroine into a mermaid is about to wear off and she is doomed to drown.
  • Monsters, Inc.: Randall intends to kidnap countless human children across the globe and subject them to a machine that forces them to scream uncontrollably, leading to death by suffocation. Mike is clearly terrified when Randall tries to use him as a test subject, while Sully goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge when the villain attempts to use the device on a human girl he had befriended.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien: Ash attempts to suffocate Ripley by pressing a rolled-up manual against her mouth. He wears a very creepy emotionless expression during this scene.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Thanos lifts Loki up by the neck and starts to choke him. He draws out the strangulation a good while, with Loki desperately struggling, while also making sure that Thor is watching. Eventually, he squeezes even harder wearing a Psychotic Smirk and breaks Loki's neck, killing him.
  • The Batman (2022): Falcone begins to strangle Selina after being confronted. He starts out using a stick, and when that's shoved away, he just starts strangling her with his bare hands and would've gotten the kill if Batman hadn't shown up. What sells this is Falcone taunting her about how she brought it upon herself, just like her mother.
  • The Cell: The Serial Killer murders his victims with a Death Trap that very, very slowly fills with water, so as to draw out their fear as much as possible. The film depicts the attempt to find his latest victim in time to save her life.
  • In Deadpool (2016), one of the tortures Ajax puts Wade through is to be locked in a machine that slowly suffocates him, only to eventually give him enough air to keep going. This torture is the one horrible enough to unlock Wade's superpowers, but Ajax also decides to just keep him in there afterwards while he leaves, cementing him as a cruel sonofabitch.
  • In Galaxy Quest, Big Bad Sarris attempts to kill off the ship's Thermian crew by locking them in their barracks and slowly venting the atmosphere. Cold and ruthless though it may be, it at least gives Alex and Quellek enough time to save the crew.
  • In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), this is suggested to be one of the serial killer Martin Vanger's favorite techniques due to aging and that the victims are usually younger and stronger than him. He knocks out Mikael with gas and then tortures him by putting a bag over his head.
  • GoldenEye: Xenia Onatopp's sociopathy has been shown to frighten even her closest allies. Her favourite killing method involves wrapping her legs around the victim's torso and constricting them until the target cannot breathe.
  • Kild TV: The first murder victim in the movie, the TV show receptionist, is killed by being strangled to death by some kind of a strap.
  • The Lord of the Rings: After Sméagol and Déagol find the One Ring in a river, the former is immediately smitten by it and strangles his cousin to death in order to claim the artifact for himself. This act marks the beginning of his descent into insanity.
  • Star Wars: Force choking is a common technique from the Dark Side of the Force. Darth Vader loves choking his own officers for failing their objectives.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Davy Jones kills Ian Mercer by suffocating the man with his tentacles, all the while sporting a sinister grin on his face. This murder is meant to symbolize Jones' anguish and hatred after being forced to serve the East India Trading Company and is uncharacteristically drawn-out and gruesome as a result.
  • Sky High (2005): During the game of "Save the Citizen", Speed creates a vortex around Warren to drain the oxygen around him. Will is noticeably horrified by this strategy, as he immediately relinquishes the opportunity to win the game and hurries to save his partner instead.
  • Discussed in Strangers on a Train. Bruno playfully asks two women what they would consider the best way to murder a person. He then dismisses all of their guesses and replies that strangulation is the only correct answer, as it leaves no bloodstains, produces no noises, and causes death in a relatively quick time frame.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Magneto stabs Wolverine with several metal wires and tosses him into the bottom of a lake, intending to have him drown. The scene then cuts to Xavier's future self, who is aware of the hero's predicament due to reading his mind, but can do nothing but stare at him with an expression of sheer horror.

  • Actually justified in Chrysalis (RinoZ), when the only way Anthony and his team manage to take down a powerful Garralosh Praeceptorum monster is blocking its throat with rapidly congealing acid that entirely blocks its windpipe, at the cost of it biting off Anthony's acid gland. They're too injured by the fight to finish it off more mercifully, so Anthony just watches it gradually turn blue and expire as he pants for breath.
  • Done by Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files when he discovers the noose which grants archenemy Nicodemus immortality is also the only thing which can hurt him. He grabs hold of it and tightens it to choke Nicodemus, and does not let up even as his face starts turning not just blue but black. He lets go only when Nicodemus's daughter shows up, at which point Harry distracts her by dropping him into Lake Michigan.
  • In The Grace Year, Tierney finds a set of female skeletal remains with a red hair ribbon wrapped around the neck, indicating that whoever killed her choked her with the ribbon. Later, she wakes up with her ribbon wrapped around her neck in a knot that becomes tighter the more she tries to remove it. At first, she thinks that this was done by one of the poachers trying to hunt down the girls, but later learns that it was Hans, who killed the first girl and now wants ''her'' dead.
  • Kane Series: In "Lynortis Reprise", Sesi is tortured by being hanged with a rope around her wrists and around her neck, so that she either suffers the pain of dislocated shoulder joints or slowly suffocates.
  • The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk: The villain of Stormsong commits one murder by magically forcing the victim to stop breathing. Grace talks the victim's father into an Enemy Mine arrangement by describing what a slow, torturous death it was.
  • Old Scores: After he is ambushed and his human companion Anita is attacked, the vampire Simon almost strangles one of their attackers to death with a length of metal chain until Anita begs him to stop.
    Eyes bugging out, he lurched up to his knees away from Anita, clawing at his throat. Simon stood over him, a coil of chain in each hand, tugging it tighter as her attacker’s face flushed red and his gasps started to wheeze toward silence.
  • In The Outsiders, Ponyboy and Johnny get attacked by a group of Socs, who proceed to start shoving Ponyboy's head into the water of a fountain, slowly drowning him while laughing about it. Johnny kills them to save his life, as he would've died otherwise.
  • Perfume: Grenouille stalks a young woman because he wishes to smell her body. To prevent her from crying out for help, he covers her face and accidentally suffocates her. This incident marks the beginning of his transformation into a serial killer, as his distress upon noticing that a person's aroma fades upon death fuels his desire to kill women and preserve their scents in the form of perfumes.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Medusoid Mycelium is a parasitic fungus that rapidly grows on the victim's airways, obstructing the throat and causing death by suffocation. Following its introduction, the bioweapon has proven to strike fear into everyone's hearts and preventing the Big Bad from unleashing it upon civilization is a major plot point in the final three books.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is the method of both of Walt's major kills that mark his Protagonist Journey to Villain in Breaking Bad: he strangles Krazy-8 after briefly considering letting him go because he's afraid of gang reprisals. A couple of seasons later, he leaves Jane to choke to death on her own vomit after she does drugs with Jesse.
  • Played with in "One Night" in Cold Case, where a murderer's M.O. is to bury adolescents alive. He claims that he doesn't want to cause pain and that the idea is to give them a prolonged death to see them go through the stages of grief for their own life and to eventually accept death as inevitable.
  • This is the murder method in two different episodes of Columbo. In "Any Old Port in a Storm", Adrian Carsini the vintner locks his brother into the wine cellar to suffocate. He does not realize that by doing this he'll destroy his wine stocks. In "Try and Catch Me", Abigail Mitchell lures her victim into her safe, then slams the door shut and leaves him to suffocate. She is undone when the man she killed manages to figure out a clever way to leave a message for the police.
  • In The Fall (2013), sadistic serial killer Paul Spector strangles his victims with his bare hands and is depicted as letting them breathe at least once, if not multiple times, as a form of torture before finally killing them. This is also an extension of Erotic Asphyxiation for him, as he is mentioned as having done this (under the guise of Casual Kink before it became clear to her he had far more violent intentions) to his ex-girlfriend.
  • Forever: Twice in "The Ecstasy of Agony," first to the victim of the week by using a continuous low-grade electrical charge to force his diaphragm to seize up, then later with Henry using a leather collar attached to a pulley to pull up on his neck while his bonds hold his body in place, choking him repeatedly.
  • Played for pitch-black comedy in the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Saves The Day": Dennis's Imagine Spot sees him shot in the head by a robber and nursed back to health by sexy reporter/nurse Jackie Denardo. Ironically, after they fall in love she's hit by a bus and comatose. Rather than return her favors (and upon learning "her breasts were obliterated") Dennis smothers her with a pillow with a disturbing look on his face... while "Walkin' On Sunshine" plays in the background.
  • Smallville: Linda Lake is introduced as a snobbish, self-centered, and overall thoroughly unpleasant gossip columnist. However, when she demonstrates her hydrokinetic abilities by luring her target to a fountain and holding him underwater until he dies, the audience grows aware that she is a manipulative and remorseless killer.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock 2, in order to break the links bounding her daughter Eleanor to Delta, she's smothered by her mother Sofia Lamb until Delta's heart stops beating.
  • The Heist of Konpeki Plaza that ends Act 1 of Cyberpunk 2077 goes straight to hell when Yorinobu Arasaka strangles his father Saburo to death and then puts the hotel on lockdown.
  • In Freedom Planet, Brevon deliberately vents a part of Final Dreadnought 2 the heroes are traveling through, forcing them to travel quickly and find Water Shields in order to breathe.
    Brevon: "You're forgetting something important about our troops. They don't... need... oxygen!"

    Visual Novel 
  • Zero Time Dilemma: In the "Monty Hall" puzzle, a trio of heroes is trapped in a small room whose air is being slowly syphoned out. Even if the player guesses the correct answer to the question, the team is only given one oxygen mask, thus ensuring that only one of them survives. This segment is one of the most blatant demonstrations of the Big Bad's philosophy that "life is not fair".

  • Genocide Man: If their name wasn't enough of a red flag, the Genocide Agents' signature weapon is a magnetic pistol with paralytic darts that kill through slow suffocation. The defected agent Jacob continues to use one as an Anti-Hero, which is unbearable for his Empath friend to watch. It's also Exploited when one of his Only Mostly Dead victims is revived by the villains and comes back with a grudge.

    Web Original 
  • Dino Attack RPG: Finister, the Alternate Timeline counterpart of the fittingly-named Sam Sinister, uses a torture device of his own design called the Truth Receiver. As a Shout-Out to the Scream Extractor from Monsters, Inc., the Truth Receiver is essentially a giant vacuum that repeatedly suffocates its victims without letting them pass out. Its horrific nature is especially played up in the Director's Cut, in which it highlights Finister as the cruelest member of FUTURE. When Finister reveals that he killed Roger Remous with the Truth Receiver, Rex notes that it must have been a ghastly way to die.

    Western Animation 
  • Centaurworld: When the elk half of The Nowhere King is trying to reason with his human half about the mistake he made separating them into two different beings, his human half attempts to drown him in a nearby lake. Unfortunately due to them being linked, his human half cannot kill him or they both will die.
  • Code Lyoko: "Franz Hopper" is one of the few episodes in which the villain displays genuine fury towards the heroes. After falling for Jérémie's trap, X.A.N.A.'s spectre suffers a Villainous Breakdown that causes its body to degenerate into an amorphous smoke cloud. Rather than try to reassemble its physical body like in previous episodes, the spectre impulsively invades Jérémie's body and clogs his airways, in a desperate and maddened attempt to kill the boy.
  • Family Guy:
    • Discussed in "The Simpsons Guy". Though Peter is prone to violent outbursts and rarely displays empathy, he is genuinely appalled when he finds out that Homer regularly strangles Bart as a form of discipline.
    • In "Excellence in Broadcasting", Brian joins the Republican Party and tries to waterboard Nancy Pelosi. This extremist act disgusts Rush Limbaugh, who tells Brian that he is not a true conservative.
  • The Legend of Korra: Zaheer used his airbending to suffocate Earth Queen Hou-Ting and bring anarchy to Ba Sing Se. This is the one of few times airbending is used to kill due to the Air Nomads preaching pacifism.
  • W.I.T.C.H.: Desperate to save Kandrakar and convinced that the new guardians are too incompetent, Halinor decides to steal their powers for herself. She uses a fire bubble to drain the oxygen around her ally, thus preventing anyone from interfering with her plan. However, this act of treason denounces the vulnerability of her soul, enabling the Big Bad to corrupt her.


Video Example(s):


A dunk and a standoff

The AFP-NCIS task force pounces on Hammer and Nails when they try to put a rogue DOD employee in the water to torture him. Michelle warns Nails that using the suspect's pistol will force them to shoot him in return.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / MexicanStandoff

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