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Small Town, Big Hell

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"Pueblo Chico, Infierno Grande" in Spanish is an old and famous saying in Latin America, which is about a Small Town that has its own drama since everyone knows each other, and so when something happens (usually something bad), the whole town gets the news and everyone takes sides. If a couple gets into a fight and later get separated, people take sides with either of the ex-lovers. If someone dies, Everyone Is a Suspect. If a rumor is spread, it's a matter of days (or even hours) before the whole town gets the "news."

This kind of plot is very much used in Latin America in Telenovelas, where all the action occurs. Also can be used in other media as well in other times, being also used in historical drama series and movies, before the big cities were founded. The plot is mostly Played for Drama, can be done for Laughs or Horror too, but mostly for Drama. However, it's not exclusive of Latin America, having various other similar plots like this one around the world.

The Spanish saying is very older and known, but the media goes Older Than Television: There're a couple of movies made in South America with this name, a Chilean one (1925) and an Argentinian one (1940).

This is not just famous in South America; Japan also has this phrase, but it refers not only to small towns but to the small communities each of us formed to (close family/friends circle) and how our actions can affect our circles for good or worse.

Sub-Trope of Small Towns. If this is Played for Horror, then it's a Town with a Dark Secret, the Sister Trope. If this happens in the United States, then the "big hell" occurs in Everytown, America, except if it's Only in Miami. Not to be confused with Small Town Rivalry, which is about two towns in conflict. See also Close-Knit Community, which is also about small towns and communities, but not necessarily has to do with drama.


Anime and Manga

  • Boy's Abyss takes place in a small countryside town, but it is a dreary, soul-sucking place. The residents don't take kindly to outsiders and bully them relentlessly, their biggest tourist attraction is a river where two lovers committed suicide together, and it seems like everyone is up in each other's business, as they are wary of the main character because of his mother's promiscuous background and abusive father. Everyone stuck there wants to either leave or make the most of their situation, but they get by on doing this by developing toxic, codependent relationships with each other. The series later makes mention of the yakuza (which Gen's family is heavily implied to be associated with) and underage prostitution (which the protagonist's mother did to pay off her father's gambling debts) happening within the town.

Comic Books

  • Marvel Comics
    • The Punisher MAX: "Little Girls In White Dresses" has Frank get called to the rescue of a tiny backwater near the Mexican border that's been converted to the mass production of drugs, holding their children hostage if they don't cooperate. He even ends up facing Jigsaw again, although they don't speak or even identify each other. It ends with Frank shooting up the place, and the Big Bad getting ripped apart by the mob of freed villagers.
    • Wolverine - Saudade: A graphic novel about the X-Man goes to Brazil for vacation, where his motorcycle was stolen by Street Urchins, one of them with a secret. All the story occurs inside the favelas, the ghetto section of Brazilian cities full of delinquency and poverty that work as separated towns inside the cities.
  • Gilbert Hernandez's stories in the first volume of Love and Rockets, about the sleepy Central American town of Palomar, are clearly inspired by this genre.

Film - Live-Action

  • There's a Chilean Silent Movie called as "Pueblo chico, infierno grande" made in 1925, this movie occurs in a small town in Maipo zone and tells the life of a young married woman who has to bear the inhabitants' critics for hosting two young guys in her house. His husband instead passes most of the time in taverns, usually drunk.
    • There's another movie with the same name, but it's an Argentinian movie from 1940, which is about a Disappeared Dad who comes back to his hometown 10 years later to get back his wife and daughter.


  • Commonly seen in Magic Realism works, where most of the action of the books occur in small towns. A common example is Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the story of the murder of Santiago Nasar by the Vicario twins, all the crime and their related events occurred in a small town where all the villagers know each other and the rumors and sayings are known for everyone.
  • According to her friends and family, Miss Marple' village of St. Mary Mead is one of these, since whenever she's confronted with a particularly sordid crime she can always link the behavior of the people involved to similar behavior in the village populace.
  • A recurring element in the novels of Stephen King, where small town open secrets and tensions are often exploited by dark, supernatural figures:
    • 'Salem's Lot: The close-knit town of Jerusalem's Lot, where everybody knows everybody and gossip spreads quickly via the town party line. Unfortunately, they almost all quickly fall under the sway of the vampire king Kurt Barlow.
    • Needful Things: The sinister Leland Gaunt sets up shop in Castle Rock, and begins turning up the simmering personal and religious tensions between the townsfolk.

Live-Action TV

  • A common trope for Telenovelas, where all the action and drama occurs in a small town where everyone knows each other, usually are located far from the city, in rural towns or where the technology can't arrive and the people still uses the old manners. Some famous telenovelas that use this resource:
    • In Chile, there're various examples like Aquelarre (a rural town mostly inhabited by women thanks to a witch's curse that only can born females), Sucupira (a beach town with uncommon inhabitants and a sea woman's tale), Oro Verdenote  (a town in the South of Chile in the middle of a forest with a Green Aesop) and Iorana (set in Easter Island, focused on Rapa Nui communities).
    • Colombia also is famous for this kind of plot, having some telenovelas like Café con aroma de mujernote  (set in a town with coffee plantations) and Pasión de gavilanes note  (set in a hacienda/mansion and the village close to it in the countryside).
    • There's a 1997 Mexican telenovela Pueblo chico, Infierno grande which is a historical drama in a town in the Sierra Purépecha in Michoacán, in early 1900s. The main story is about the richest woman in the town in her 30s and a worker 16 years younger than her, their forbidden romance and how the whole town is shocked by this.
  • Coronation Street: Weatherfield is a fictional suburb of Manchester, England, as far away as you can get from anywhere exotic, glamorous, sunny, and Spanish but it has a serious crime rate that must make it the murder capital of Britain. Weatherfield is seething with intrigue, jealousy, secrets, etc, and is packed with nosy people who make it their business to dig out other peoples' secrets.
  • Midsomer Murders: It seems every village and town in Midsomer County is one of these, with murders carried out in response to the theft, adultery, embezzlement, blackmail, prior murders, etc... The Queen of England herself asked why people even keep living there if they're just going to get themselves killed.
  • Storm of the Century: Stephen King's "novel for television." With all of the shared secrets and rumors between the people of Little Tall Island, it's amazing they didn't start killing each other BEFORE Andre Linoge comes to town to set them against each other.
  • Burden of Truth: The first season has the main protagonist, Joanna Hanley, returning to her hometown of Millwood to defend a pharmaceutical company being accused of causing numerous girls in the town to fall sick. It is ultimately revealed the source of the girls' sickness is the town's steel mill. Joanna also learns that she has a half-sister via an affair her father had with a woman who was underage at the time.


  • Colin Hay made precisely a song called "Small Town Big Hell", part of his 2002 album Company of Strangers. The song is about a man who turns the page after all the suffering he had in the past.
    Small Town Big Hell, for me for you
    Superstitious minds can kill the truth
  • Verónica Castro is a famous Mexican singer and songwriter as well a famous actress in telenovelas. And being The Protagonist of Pueblo chico, Infierno grande, she also made the main song with the same name, which also got their own music video based on the intro's cutscenes. The song resumes the telenovela, talking about the forbidden love of a Mrs. Robinson with a young man in the 1900s.
    Y es que nosotros nos amamos diferente, y no lo perdona la gentenote 
  • More Played for Laughs, but this is pretty much the premise of Miranda Lambert's "Famous in a Small Town." You'll never live down anything in a small town where everyone knows your business.

Web Animation