is a literary
and dramatic plot device
where a villain
, who typically has captured the hero
, attempts to use an elaborate and usually sadistic method of murdering him/her.
It is often used as a means to create dramatic tension in the story and to have the villain reveal important information to the hero, confident that the hero will shortly not be able to use it. It also is a means to show the hero's resourcefullness in escaping.
This plot device is best known in the James Bond film series and superhero stories.
It is a common criticism that it is unbelievable in story plots to have villains try to kill the heroes in such elaborate ways when they could use simple methods like shooting them.. Through the decades, comic book writers have responded to these complaints by devising ways in which the deathtraps used have other purposes. For instance, one Legion of Super-Heroes by Jim Shooter had a team of Legionnaires put into a variety of deathtraps whose real purpose was to have them use so much energy to successfully escape so the villains can harness it to their own benefit. Other stories have had villains use deathtraps as a means of testing the heroes or to distract them while the villain attends to other matters. Other supervillains use it for personal reasons like The Riddler who has an uncontrollable compulsion to create intellectual challenges for his enemies and The Joker simply enjoys the challenge.
Famous Examples of Deathtraps
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- Raiders of the Lost Ark: Sealing Indiana Jones and Marion in the Well of Souls
- Escape method: Seeing a possible tunnel entrance, Jones climbed a statue and toppled it towards the wall to create an entrance to a passageway that led to the outside.
- Goldfinger:James Bond is shackled spreadeagled to a table and a powerful laser is approaching to cut him in half.
- Escape method: Bond persuades Goldfinger that his replacement might know about his plans and Goldfinger cannot take the chance of another spy coming in to interfere.
- The 1960s live action television series Batman usually had two part episodes which have a cliffhanger involving bizarre deathtraps.
- The Perils of Penelope Pitstop always involved improbable deathtraps, usually set by the Hooded Claw.
- Dick Tracy was the first comic strip to use deathtraps extensively. The most famous was devised by Mrs. Pruneface. Her creation was that of Tracy lying chained to an apartment floor underneath a refridgerator supported by two ice cakes which had a sharpened pole aimed at the detective's heart. The heat was turned up and as the ice cakes melted, the pole would descend until it impaled Tracy.
- Escape Method: Tracy noticed that the floor was on a slight incline and hit upon the idea of repeatedly striking the floor with his pelvis, thus caused the fridge to be slowly shifted to one side until the pole missed him. Meanwhile, Pat and his police comrades eventually found Tracy and freed him.