A Fete Worse Than Death

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"Now you better get runnin'
And you better get ready to die!"
A Rakdos party is a flop if anyone lives to talk about it.
—" Slaughterhouse Bouncer", Magic: The Gathering

Even a Town with a Dark Secret likes a good party now and then. But being the kind of place it is, the town's big event probably wouldn't be the sort of thing you'd want to attend. Oh, yeah—face painting, parades, that's how it always starts. But then there's running and screaming. And you're the one doing both.

Perhaps you're first on the menu for the bake sale, maybe you're the winner of a Lottery of Doom, or maybe - and this one's popular - you're going to be sacrificed in a fertility ritual. Either way, expect your impending horrible death to be offset by bunting, may poles and dancing.

A type of Nasty Party that is orchestrated by an entire community for some reason connected to their Dark Secret, usually without a specific target in mind. It's a common trope, of course, and with good reason; the idea of a bizarre town conspiracy that kills outsiders is creepy enough, but to have that turn into a big celebration that you can bring the kids to adds an extra level of twisted terror to the proceedings. It also provides a useful way to get all your creepy village extras in one big scene and emphasize that whatever is going on is happening with the full consent of everyone, except possibly the protagonist.

A variation on the trope is that the killings are performed by a minority and that the rest of the town is oblivious. This, too, has a twisted horror to it - the idea that families are participating in a horrible murder without realizing is very creepy.

Not to be confused with Fate Worse Than Death, though the two can overlap.

Examples of A Fete Worse Than Death include:

Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, a young boy discovers that the village he has just moved to suffers mysterious deaths and disappearances after every Watanagashi Festival.
    • The way Watanagashi apparently was originally celebrated. Wata can mean "cotton" and "intestines".
    • The sequel, Umineko no Naku Koro ni, tries hard to follow in its predecessor's footsteps. During the ending of the second arc, Beatrice throws a ball and gets her new slave, Battler, to dress her up for it, then brings him down to the ball to show off to all of her Mook guests. After that, he and his grandfather become the main course.
  • In One Piece, the town of Whiskey Peak seems like a constant pirate boozefest, but it's actually a pirate trap, run by a large group of bounty hunters. They get pirates to pass out drunk, then kill them.
  • The manga Umi no Misaki has this same eerie flavor for a little while, until the main character realizes that it's more a case of A God Am I.
  • In Pandora Hearts, Isla Yura throws Oz a second Coming-of-Age party since his initial ceremony was interrupted. At first, the party proceeds as normal with friends, family, and members of high society showing up to congratulate Oz and celebrate the occasion. Cue the discovery of a crazed religious cult, a slew of Brainwashed and Crazy Evil Orphans, and the Headhunter who's been killing off members of the Nightray family, all within the mansion where the party is being held, and you get this trope. Turns out, Yura plotted the whole thing as a means to recreate the Tragedy of Sablier by using Alice and Leo as sacrifices and having Oz unwillingly perform the role of the treacherous friend. Suffice to say, it was one of the more tragic and disturbing story arcs in the series.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Cut!, a town's Meat Fest turns out to offer a very special kind of meat.
  • A town in Hellblazer accidentally causes one of these when they don't realize the pagan costume festival they're reviving is causing everyone to go insane (example: a man in a baby outfit reveals he's jealous of the attention his infant son gets from his wife and kills them both; a person with a Rictus Grin mask makes sure everyone around him is smiling...). Constantine and a friend figure out that loud Punk Rock can disrupt the effects but are too late to prevent the entire town from being blown up, along with Constantine's friend.


Film[edit | hide]

  • A classic example is the original version of The Wicker Man, in which a policeman investigating a girl's disappearance finds out that she is going to be sacrificed by pagan villagers. But the truth is even worse...
    • The remake does much the same thing, although much less believably. Don't watch it without the Riff Trax!
  • Two Thousand Maniacs! is based on this; the murderous celebration in question is an instrument of revenge for a Southern town's destruction in the Civil War a century earlier.
  • In Hot Fuzz, someone is murdered at the village fete by having part of the church tower land on their head and tear it apart. The headline? "A fete worse than death."
  • In Dagon, a Spanish town looks to be harmless enough... until its populace comes to drag you to their temple for a ritual sacrifice in the form of breeding if you're female, or being skinned alive if male... props for the "God" being actually there to savor the sacrifice.
    • Dagon is based on HP Lovecraft's novella The Shadow over Innsmouth, which does have human sacrifice in the original story as well, although it's unclear how frequently they've been doing it after all the survivors in the town converted to the cult.
      • If you read to the end of the novella, the changes happening to the narrator imply that maybe the inhabitants of Innsmouth didn't want the narrator dead (although he certainly thought so at the time), but simply wanted to prevent him from leaving because they had recognized what he was. In the end, he returns to Innsmouth by his own free will to go into the sea and join the other Deep One hybrids.
      • It should be noted there is an actual story called Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft. It, however, is a completely different story.
  • In the 2007 movie Cthulhu (also loosely based on The Shadow over Innsmouth) the May Festival is both mentioned and seen, but plays little apparent role in the apocalyptic events and Human Sacrifice that follow.
  • Inverted in Population 436. In that movie, the founder of the town decided that everything was fine and there were no problems in the town as long as the population remained at 436 exactly, but if it ever went higher or lower, disaster would strike; also, punishment would fall on anyone who deliberately messed with the status quo. To that end, when the census taker sent to investigate gets there, they won't let him leave...and they have a big sendoff party for a woman from the town (who goes to the gallows happily!) to balance him out. Near the end, the census taker escapes town with a young woman who was being held captive. In an unexpected twist, the rule proves correct, as he and the girl are killed when they're hit by an oncoming truck.
  • In the James Bond flick Live and Let Die, there's a scene in the opening where a British agent is watching a somber funeral procession in New Orleans. When he asks a stranger whose funeral it's for, the stranger says "Yours," then stabs him right in the middle of the street. The procession casually walks over to the body and places it in the coffin, then breaks out in celebration in a dark twist on the tradition. Mind you, this is happening on Bourbon Street in broad daylight and the funeral goers are all ages.
    • It later happens again to an American agent.
    • The "celebration" is actually a jazz funeral, a New Orleans tradition.
  • In the film and musical of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the entire number "God, That's Good!" is a celebration of this trope. Slicing up the odd barbershop customer for meat pies is bad enough, but watching the patrons of the pie shop devour the delectables with insatiable mirth is very eerie, no matter how cheery the music.
  • Averted in Joe Versus the Volcano, where the eponymous Joe knows about his fate going in; he volunteers to go anyway because he thinks he's going to die of a "brain cloud" anyway.
  • And then there's Jack Sparrow in the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, where he's being honored by a primitive tribe as a god who they intend to "free"... by roasting and eating his corporeal "prison".
  • Way, WAY before that, Star Wars. Han is spared this ONLY because Luke sets up C-3PO as a shiny, flying, wrathful god-being of his own (much to C-3PO's surprise) with a little help from Force-levitation and Force-shoves. It is noted that the Ewoks do get their feast at the end of the movie. After all, what do you think were the original contents of their "drums" that they're playing?
  • The 200th Anniversary celebration in Batman, where the Joker hosts the party—and then releases the Smilex gas.
  • In the 1990 black comedy Quick Change, three bank robbers are trying to flee the seemingly infinite sprawl of New York City, while pondering their next move, they suddenly realize that they're in a very poor and squalid Hispanic neighborhood, where two men are staging a barbaric "jousting match" for the entertainment of an unsmiling audience. It gives one of our anti-heroes the heebie-jeebies.
  • In the future depicted in Logan's Run everyone looks forward to their renewal in a celebration known as Carousel. Unfortunately Carousel is actually a brutal form of population control, where you obliviously sacrifice yourself as your friends and neighbours cheer you on.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, a village holds a village event in which families draw straws to see which family - and which family member - is the winner. That member is then stoned to death by everyone else.
    • This was parodied at the end of the South Park episode "Britney's New Look", where a headless Britney Spears is photographed to death by the locals.
      • In fact that's what celebrities are for: SACRIFICES, which makes sense.
  • In American Gods, the protagonist visits a small town in which, every year, a child goes missing. At roughly the same time, the people of the town play a game in which an old car is left on a nearby frozen lake and they bet how soon into Spring it will be before it sinks. The protagonist puts two and two together and opens the trunk of the car to find a murdered girl inside. Even worse, he's swum to the bottom of the lake to do this and can see all the other cars down there. The killer is a small god who sacrifices the children to himself in exchange for keeping the town prosperous.
    • An extra dark example, because the townsfolk don't know the significance of their own ritual.
  • In Stephen King's Wizard And Glass, the people of Mejis celebrate a harvest festival which culminates with the burning of an effigy. Until, that is, The Dragon convinces the townspeople to substitute Roland's girlfriend...
  • Inverted in the Discworld novel Soul Music, where the Band with Rocks In is seemingly about to get eaten in the sinister town of Scrote, but avoids this fate by performing a rock concert.
    • Used straight in Faust Eric, where Rincewind and Eric visit the Tezuman Empire (a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Aztecs), are first welcomed with a tribute, but then the trouble starts.
  • The Book of Three, the first entry in Lloyd Alexander's extremely Welsh Chronicles of Prydain series, briefly involves the Horned King building a bunch of big, anthropomorphic wicker baskets, and then filling them full of peasants... This scene got completely omitted from Disney's adaptation, for obvious reasons.
  • The Cars That Ate Paris, by Peter Weir, is a classic example.
  • In Robert McCammon's short story, residents of a certain small town are all prosperous and successful. But a few days before Hallowe'en they receive a list from the Devil, requesting various treats from each house. A few of the treats are small pieces of their bodies, toes and the like. Refuse to provide them, and "He'll Come Knocking On Your Door".
  • The auto-da-fé in Candide is depicted as one of these.
  • Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon features a quaint little New England town called Cornwall Coombe that celebrates a harvest festival involving fun activities that will insure the life of the corn crop. Attending this particular festival uninvited carries a pretty steep penalty.
  • The titular winter solstice rite beneath the town of Kingsport in HP Lovecraft's short story "The Festival". The town is made up of monstrous worm creatures posing as human who, yearly, go beneath the earth to engage in various unspeakable rites. However, it is never made clear whether or not the protagonist was dreaming.
    • Also, the Mirocaw slum denizens' "inner festival" in Thomas Ligotti's "The Last Feast Of Harlequin", which is a direct Homage to the aforementioned. Possibly even more nightmarish, by dint of involving the sacrifice of selected female townsfolk, as well as being indisputably real.
      • Semi-subverted by the main festival in the latter story; their own "scary festival" is a frightened mimicry of the actual ritual.
  • Invoked in The Hunger Games, where the Capital forces the districts to treat two of their children being forced to fight to the death as a festival.
  • The novel Wringer by Jerry Spinelli is about a town who's big annual festival centers on the slaughter of pigeons. The protagonist is a young boy who has reached the age where he gets the privilege of becoming a "wringer," wringing the necks of pigeons who are wounded by shooters. He's less delighted about it than most boys his age.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In True Blood, the maenad Maryann tries to sacrifice Sam's heart to Dionysus, the Greek god of intoxication and drunken raves. The sacrifice ritual itself plays out like a white wedding/orgy combo.
  • In "A Man of Substance", an episode of the 2000 remake of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, Randall goes to a small village where visitors are killed and cannibalised as part of a ritual to stop the village from being sucked into Hell.
  • In "Scarecrow", an episode of Supernatural, the Winchester brothers discovered that a village was sacrificing people in a fertility ritual.
  • In "Our Town", an episode of The X-Files, Mulder and Scully's investigation into a series of murders in a small town reveals that the residents engage in a cannibalistic ritual borrowed from primitive tribes.
  • Doctor Who, "The Awakening": A small village's celebrations of an historic anniversary incorporate ritual prompted by the evil being sleeping beneath the village church. The Doctor's companion, Tegan, is offered the Guest of Honor's place - on top of a pile of kindling, tied to a stake.
    • In "The Daemons", the Third Doctor gets this role.
  • Midsomer Murders paid homage to The Wicker Man in an episode where The Vicar is burned alive inside a straw effigy during a village festival.
    • There's quite a lot of this in Midsomer. The wannabe-druid expy in The Fisher King, the (hilarious) Illuminati expies (I forget the episode), so on and so forth...
  • In Young Dracula, the Count threw a traditional Hunt Ball in which the Branaughs were invited to a party where all of the other guests were vampires. At midnight, the vampires would reveal themselves to the 'breathers' and hunt them down.
  • In the Torchwood episode "Countrycide", we meet a Village of Cannibals that seasonally prey on people passing by. The episode has been described as "The Hills Have Eyes with fat Welsh people"
  • Two Words: Sunnydale, California
    • When? True, a lot of Sunnydale special occasions are made more "special" by the arrival of the undead, but I can't think of an example where the residents throw a party with the intent of killing outsiders. Except possibly "Graduation Day".
      • How else do you define a small town with a grade school, high school, college, nightclub, mall, zoo, marina, water park, theme park, dirt cheap housing, low taxes and a death rate so high that the high school newspaper has a (weekly!) obituary column? All that dazzle is to attract food for the town's real population - more monsters than a Hammer Horror marathon! There are parties - daily - it's just that the only humans present are the elements of the five-course feasts.
  • In an episode of Angel, Doyle attends his ex-wife's fiance's bachelor party. He knows in advance that the man is a demon, but his family has assimilated into human society. Then he finds out that they have a custom whereby they eat the brains of the previous spouse to ensure a happy marriage.
  • In the Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons", Landru's mind-controlled followers have a regularly-scheduled Festival where they really blow off some steam.
  • The Smallville episode "Harvest" has Lois Lane invited to share dinner with a very nice family in a small town—which plans to sacrifice her in a ritual to insure a bountiful harvest.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Exalted features the Republic of Chaya, a country where this holds sway. The people of Chaya have what may be the closest thing to a truly representative democracy in the game, and there's a heavy emphasis on community and celebration. But when the fire-trees are in the bloom, the citizens go into an orgiastic fury and tear any outsiders to shreds.
  • Played for laughs in Kobolds Ate My Baby. Kobolds love parties and are gourmet cooks. King Torg (all hail King Torg) has decided to throw a party tomorrow. Kobolds are terrible planners and the tastiest meat for parties - human babies - is not in the pantry. The second tastiest thing in the world to a fresh baby is a fresh kobold. End result: the player characters, also known as the runtiest, weakest, and stupidest members of the tribe, better go round up dinner or become dinner. Hilarity Ensues.
  • As quoted above, the Cult of Rakdos of Magic: The Gathering is really into this trope.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • This was the plot of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, at least the second part, which involved one of a circle of virgins being selected for Virgin Sacrifice to a pagan god. Though Stravinsky's music is more often heard as a concert piece than a ballet, the violence musically embodied in such sections as "Glorification of the Chosen One" is obvious.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game): The Dark Corners of The Earth, one of the most frenetic and phobia inducing moments is when you're unarmed and asleep in your hotel room in a mysterious village and the townsfolk come in for a visit... tearing the wall of your room with an axe in order to kill/torture/sacrifice you.
  • The fete in Final Fantasy XII is just a show designed to draw the attention of the Insurgence.
  • The final mission in Rainbow Six: Raven Shield has a Grim Reaper-shaped parade float carrying a blister gas bomb about to enter the Festa Junina parade in Rio de Janeiro.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The Fun Cult in Oglaf, unsurprisingly, at least sometimes throws a party. At this party, one of the things they do is sacrifice to the fun god while the cultists are wearing clothes like jester hats.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The lynchings in the Southeastern U.S. of the 19th-to-mid-20th centuries frequently had a celebratory, carnival atmosphere, attended by dozens of people. The often drawn-out tortures, commemorative photos and subsequent retrieval of "souvenirs" from the corpse had all the fervency of passionate social ritual.
  • In 1853, before the Civil War and only five years after its admission as a state to the union, Wisconsin abolished capital punishment, in part because of how the state's single execution became a spontaneous celebratory spectacle.
  • Public executions in Europe were a popular day out for all the family, complete with a carnival atmosphere and large, poorly constructed viewing platforms to ensure that no one missed the fun.