Maybe you're being stalked by some depraved serial killer. Maybe your nemesis is a horrible alien abomination seeking new, exotic Earth meats. Maybe you're facing something out of a Cosmic Horror Story, or maybe even Satan himself! Surely the best and brightest shall be the first to fall.
Not quite. It turns out that the common ground most monsters and antagonists, regardless of alignment, intelligence, or sanity, seem to share is a habit to pick targets who have just exposed some minor vice of their own. Given the choice between the prim and chaste (but initially vulnerable) Final Girl, or the smoldering, seductive temptress, they will, without fail, gut the temptress, probably just after she's had sex to show us how promiscuous she is.
Such a pattern will continue throughout the tale until the monster is out of sinful meat and will be forced to finally make an attack against their more saintly counterparts. By the end of the tale, the monster will run out of the "instant death" moves that allowed it to kill a normal human being before they even realized it.
A close relative of Karmic Death, except that victims of the Scourge of God generally aren't Asshole Victims, instead being "guilty" of comparatively minor foibles. One is left with the impression that the Big Bad, whomever they are, is the arbiter of some decidedly twisted justice, and that those who perished are somehow supposed to have deserved their fate. Occasionally, the "guilt" of these crimes can spill over to the innocent as either a parable for these original sins being so bad that others suffer too, or to include an Anyone Can Die vibe.
The name comes from the Romans' nickname for Attila the Hun, claiming that his success at pillaging half their empire was God's punishment on the wicked.
It is especially ironic that even director John Carpenter, who essentially caused the "boom" in the masked slasher genre by making the film Halloween, was often mistaken to have been making a statement about promiscuity. Quite the opposite in fact: Carpenter has said on many occasions. The characters who were picked off during or after sex were only treated so because they were distracted and not concentrating on what was happening, not because he wanted to make any sort of moral statement. The main survivor of the teens in the film survived, for example, despite having partaken in illicit drugs earlier in the film, but was collected enough to survive a run-in with a masked maniac (with a fortunate chance stop-in of a psychiatrist with a vendetta, armed with a gun, who ended the encounter and saved her life). Similarly, in the first Friday the 13th, the survivor partakes in illicit drugs and, in the original script, a premarital affair. The survivor being a chaste and pure character is something that has occurred with the Flanderization of the genre.
See Death by Sex, Death by Gluttony, Death by Irony, The Punishment, Can't Get Away with Nuthin'. If the "god" is implied to be the Earth itself in retaliation for environmental damage, this is Gaia's Vengeance. Unrelated to Word of God or Shrug of God.
- Death Note's Light Yagami claimed constantly to be a god of justice, and the bulk of his victims were criminals, however he had the bad habit of killing anyone who tried to stop him too... or that annoyed him. He also used to have standards, such as not writing the names of people that had killed in self-defense, or the names of people who had done their time and made a commitment to being functional, law-abiding citizens, but by the end, those standards had gone out the window.
- Child of the Storm: During the Forever Red arc of the sequel, Ghosts of the Past, this is Asgard's response to the Red Room kidnapping, torturing, and brainwashing Harry. They curse Russia, and all nations under their influence, so that all their natural resources wither away (crops fail, fuels turn to dust, etc) as do any imported from elsewhere. And they make it clear that this is the just the start, and that they won't let up until Harry is freed and the perpetrators are surrendered.
- Godzilla is the 100-to-500-foot, plasma-breathing, Immune to Bullets sublimated-god embodiment of this trope, and is referred to as such on a number of occasions.
- Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight begins as something like this in his conversion to the 'Fallen Angel' of Two-Face, but as the story reaches its climax beings to subvert the trope. He begins with those of with the most guilt and least sympathetic motivation (The Joker, Det. Wertz, Maroni) and moves on until he begins to punish those who are only questionably guilty or downright innocent.
- Eric from The Crow is a far more altruistic example than most, with the sinners in question being some of the most depraved, murdering, raping sadistic scum you're likely to ever meet, and he even helps a drug addict who he justifiably sees as more a victim than anything..
- Used in the 1950s horror movie The Horror of Party Beach (which was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000). The main character's girlfriend at the start of the movie is a hard-drinking party girl who flirts with any man she sees, so naturally she's the first victim of the mutant fish monster. Of course, this frees our hero up to get with his boss's sweet, chaste, beautiful daughter.
- In another MST3K movie, Horrors of Spider Island, a dancing troupe is stranded on an island and their manager Gary gets bitten by a radioactive spider, turning him into a sort of were-spider. Naturally, his first victim is the only stripper in the group, who had also shamelessly flirted with Gary in front of his secretary-slash-girlfriend Georgia.
- Death in the Final Destination movies primarily goes after those who cheat him in some way, and is particularly ruthless in balancing the books, but at least in the later films, Death seems to wait for ridiculously minor infractions before bringing down the scythe. Such as disobeying the "No food or drinks allowed" sign (particularly onerous when you're at a theater with the same taboo, solely to force you to pay their markups).
- Played with extensively in Se7en; the serial killer targets people demonstrably guilty of one of the seven deadly sins (mostly). Subverted when the last person he kills is Brad Pitt's innocent (and pregnant) wife, which is then used as the justification for his own death via Suicide by Cop.
- Sam, from Trick 'r Treat, is a variation on this: he's the Scourge of the Celtic god Samhaine. Hell, he probably is Samhaine. Sam targets people who don't respect Halloween. Serial Killer Steven Wilkins has a similar agenda, but he oversteps his bounds by killing an (apparent) innocent, and is then eaten by a werewolf, with Sam's implicit sanction.
- Jackson the sniper in Saving Private Ryan.
- In John Waters's Serial Mom, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is the eponymous protagonist. She's a Scourge of God but not against violators of morality, rather those sins are against propriety or etiquette, such as wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
- The Big Bad of Blood and Bone quotes Genghis Khan's pleasure of killing a man, riding his horse, taking his crops, having his way with his woman, leaving no one alive to mourn the dead; and the protagonist in return quotes that line at the top of the page. The antagonist thinks this is just to show that he also knows Genghis Khan but he really means what he says.
- The protagonist in Faster gives off a line relating to this trope after a man he killed realizes his wife was warning that he had it coming to him.
- In Pacific Rim, there's a cult in Hong Kong that view kaiju as this, using the skull of one as a place of worship.
- Referenced in Scream (1996) where Randy explains the rules to surviving a horror movie, with the explanation of Death by Sex and drug use are 'Sins' and those who break these rules are in for a Karmic Death.
- Hand Of God: Pernell believes himself to be charged with carrying out divine punishment against criminals, starting with his daughter-in-law's rapist, which his cohort KD carries out.
- The Bible had no small number of these, the plagues of Egypt being perhaps the best-known.
- The Horsemen of the Apocalypse in particular, while by far not the most impressive, are sufficiently iconic to deserve a mention.
- The angel of death and destruction, Abaddon is perhaps the singular personification of this, being the one who is said would personally unleash Armageddon on God's command.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, the Count believes himself to be God's instrument of vengeance upon his enemies. Somewhat justified considering that some of his main targets were rather naughty individuals besides betraying him. Not justified considering the Count's revenge also affects some of the enemies' innocent family members.
- Inverted for Agatha Christie's book, And Then There Were None. The murderer killed his victims from the ones he considered most innocent to the one he considered least innocent, so that the ones he considered the most guilty would suffer from anxiety and shock, while the slightly less guilty get a quick death.
- Subverted by Simon R. Green in Beyond the Blue Moon. Contrary to popular belief, the Walking Man couldn't care less about minor vices. He reserves punishment for real monsters — like a pedophile/child-murderer/necromancer, who gets beaten into a barely recognizable corpse... bare-handed.
- Baron von Rothbart in The Black Swan (Mercedes Lackey's retelling of Swan Lake) captured the maidens and turned them into swans (ostensibly) because they had been unfaithful to men (their husbands or fathers).
- Willie Rushton pointed out the essential flaw in this logic. In The Filth Amendment, he discusses the Puritan streak in British religion and cites the folk-myth that a stone circle in the countryside is really a group of girls who tempted fate by dancing on the Sabbath, offering the Devil an unparelleld opprtunity to manifest and turn both them and their musicians into pillars of stone for their sin. Rushton pointed out that Satan is a pretty unlikely founder of the Lord's Day Observance Society, and it would be in his best Satanic interests to encourage rampant sin, not punish it.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Oberyn Martell references this trope when he tells Tyrion that he is living evidence of the god's kindness. Because if gods were cruel, they would have made him (a bloodthirsty and violent man) the first born and heir of House Martell, while his older, more thoughtful and rational brother Doran, would have been the younger.
- In Ravenloft novel Vampire in the Mists, elven vampire Jander Sunstar is transported from Faerun to the Land of Mists by the Dark Powers to punish the vampire lord Strahd von Zarovich of Barovia for his crimes. While in his stay, he has vowed to destroy vampirism in all of its forms and views this as a crusade against the Dark Powers themselves.
- Inverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when a monster called "The Judge" kills on sight if he sees any sort of goodness or humanity in your soul. This becomes significant when he sees Angelus and lets him live.
- Babylon 5:
Ivanova: Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova. Commander. Daughter of Andrei and Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart! I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me.
- Ivanova references this when she encounters hybrid shadow-human ships:
- Sebastian the Inquisitor claims to have once believed himself to be such, pursuing a murderous course of action while believing himself to be The Chosen One. The Vorlons abducted him and taught him the error of his ways. His punishment is to spend the rest of his very long life only being allowed to torture and kill people by way of testing their worthiness. He hopes they will allow him to die one day.
- Invoked in an early episode of Supernatural. The Hook Man (undead serial killer with a hook for a hand) is unknowingly linked to a very devout woman and kills people she views as sinners. He even comes after her when she realizes the correlation and views herself as immoral for wishing their deaths.
- Slasher: The Executioner targets people who are guilty of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Most of his victims turn out to be rather despicable people guilty of crimes such as rape, murder by inaction, and extortion. When The Reveal comes around it is somewhat hinted that his father, a priest obsessed with punishing the sinful, was a source of inspiration in all this.
- The Soldier from Team Fortress 2 paraphrases Genghis Khan's line occasionally when dominating an opponent.
Soldier: If God had wanted you to live, he would not have created me!
- In Final Fantasy X, Sin seems to be this. In reality, this is just a lie the Church of Yevon teaches the people of Spira.
- Terraria: The Wall Of Flesh only appears when you chuck a voodoo doll of someone you know into a pit of lava.
- Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem: At the culmination of Roberto's chapter, the warlord that hired him Pious Augustus quotes Timur the lame as he lets people fall to their death to become part of the Pillar of Flesh, right before he allows Roberto to make his greatest contribution to the project.
- This is the name of the Hunnic Unique Power in Civilization. The Huns can raze cities at double speed, and gain extra production from pastures. They also have two unique units: The Battering Ram, which is really good at attacking cities (and nothing else), and the Horse Archer, which can be made without having any Horse resources. Don't ask how this works.
- The Darkspawn of Dragon Age are said to be what came of the Tevinter Imperium's attempt to invade heaven. The Maker was so angry he struck the magicians responsible with a terrible curse and cast them back to Thedas to sow chaos and destruction-according to the Chantry anyway; there are those who believe the Darkspawn's origin was something else, though the series hasn't definitively stated anything either way. While the magicians are revealed to be real, they claim that heaven was already corrupted by the time they invaded, and there are evidence that the darkspawn's taint precedes these events making the Chantry's version of these events unclear.
- Marduk from Sacrifice claims to be this to entire worlds. After arriving in a world, he examines it for traits he himself possesses. If it does, that world is unworthy and he destroys it.
Marduk: I am the embodiment of all Creation's ills, and my purpose is but a simple one: To annihilate all that is unworthy. All that is a reflection of myself.
- Vampyr: The Red Queen is responsible for unleashing diseases and plagues to punish mankind for it's inequities. She was the one behind the Black Death and is the true source of the Spanish flu and the Skal epidemic ravaging London during the game.
- Back in The '80s, a lot of conservative Christian groups proclaimed that AIDS was punishment for homosexuality and drug use. This (mostly) stopped once straight people and non-junkies (most notably Ryan White) started getting AIDS too, and especially once it became a public health catastrophe in Africa.
- In fact, we could make an entire list of proclamations by religious groups or televangelists that some disaster or another (9/11, Katrina, the Haitian earthquake) was divine punishment for the sins of its victims. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Fred Phelps are particularly infamous for this, and it's one of the major forms of political rhetoric in the Islamic world.
- Abraham Lincoln suggested this was the divine purpose behind The American Civil War in his second inaugural address. The speech is chock full of biblical references, and this passage hammers the point home: "...if God wills that it [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" It's a pretty chilling speech, considering most people on both sides of the war thought they had the blessing of the Almighty on their side (see: Battle Hymn of the Republic).
- Some people (including Ulysses S. Grant) also saw the American Civil War as a divine punishment for the preceding war against Mexico.note
- C. S. Lewis deconstructed this sentiment by saying that while this may indeed be true, if we desire to have the devil's job, we must be ready for his wages.
- Invoked by Ronald Schaefer who wrote a history of the strategic bombing campaign of World War II called Wings of Judgement.
- Winston Churchill used a Biblical quote about vengeance to justify the British bombing campaign against Germany. Alluding to the earlier Luftwaffe blitz on Britain, he pronounced: They have sown the wind. They shall reap the whirlwind. One bombing offensive was even code-named Whirlwind.
- During the run-up to the 2004 US Presidential election, a map of the paths taken by hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan in the 2004 hurricane season started making its rounds of the internet claiming that the hurricanes only hit counties that had voted Republican in the 2000 election, implying that God was punishing those counties for their vote. The map deliberately manipulated the paths of the hurricanes to make the claim, however, and the hurricanes trashed counties that voted Democrat as well.
- The infamous Westboro Baptist Church believes all natural disasters and actions committed by people to be God's will. They believe things like earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, car crashes, and mass shootings to be part of God's punishment for society's growing acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, other religions, divorce and remarriage, and the selling of Swedish vacuum cleaners. Their funeral protests are just their way of saying "thanks".
- The first Viking attack on Lindesfarne was described by the monks as this.
- During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther said the Ottomans invading Europe were sent by God as punishment for the Holy See's corruption, saying that "To go to war against the Turks is to resist God who punishes our iniquities through them". This got him into hot water with some people including the Pope, who perceived this as advocating for capitulation to the Turks.