Exploring the Evil Lair

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There are very few situations that warrant an "Oh Crap" quite as much as waking up in the villain's Evil Lair. The reasons are many and obvious, but this wouldn't be All The Tropes if we didn't analyze 'em all!

For starters, the place is probably full of Death Traps, and the owner is likely not far off and just waiting to sneak up on the intruder at just the right time. That they've been brought to the lair alive is seldom good news, he "has you now, pretty!" and can intend anything from marrying, killing, eating, mating, or wearing the captive.[1] Fun times.

If that isn't nerve wracking enough, the villain and/or monster might be sleeping not-very-soundly among the memorabilia and leftovers from their last kill. If the hero is really up a creek, he or she will wake up next to said villain, with the latter keeping a paw on them or wearing the only key to the door out around their neck.

Which makes the idea of a free protagonist willingly exploring the lair once they find it (and alone, which is usually the case) all the more bizarre. Of course, exploring the lair represents an enormous opportunity for the heroes. If they don't know who has been killing them off, or how to kill the unkillable, exploring the lair represents a treasure trove of clues in the form of finding a Stalker Shrine, Shrine to Self, Supervillain Lair or other clues to their identity/weakness (remember, villains always keep the one thing that can harm them in their lair). It can also present them with the irresistible and incredibly dangerous chance to attack the villain or monster in their sleep. The Genre Savvy advise the True Companions to Never Split the Party; threaten to leave The So-Called Coward to wait alone to get him to cooperate, if necessary.

Typically, whoever is doing the exploring may be unlucky and killed or captured, or get lucky and manage to hide from the villain and escape in a tense and nail biting sequence (or think they did, only to have their arm bust through a wall and catch them). Usually, they get just as far as the threshold before the one, tiny sound[2] wakes it, or it shows up at the doorway. Survival varies by victim, of course.

Examples of Exploring the Evil Lair include:


  • Dragonslayer, when Galen entered the dragon's lair to rescue the princess.
  • Legend. Jack and his friends enter Darkness' lair to rescue Lilly and the unicorn.
  • In Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Jeffries (convalescent with a broken foot) helplessly watches his girlfriend Lisa checking out the villain's lair apartment.
  • In Return to Oz, Dorothy going into the witch Mombi's original head case to get the key and powder of life. Of course, the head wakes up and screams like a living nightmare.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling winds up playing hide-and-seek with "Buffalo Bill" in his basement to find a hostage, instead of getting out and calling for backup.


Live Action Television

  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow is taken to the Mayor's office and guarded by one incompetent vampire. After she escapes she starts looking around for information on his plans. She's caught by Faith, who quite rightly mocks her for "Nancy Drewing" instead of escaping.


  • Older Than Feudalism: The Odyssey: Odysseus and his men explore the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus in which they're trapped by his return, knowing it's only a matter of time before he eats them all.

Video Games

  • Near the end of Heavy Rain, Madison manages to track down the base of the Origami Killer, and bravely/foolishly breaks into it, hoping to find information about where the kidnapped boy, Shaun, is being held. Whether she succeeds at that or not, the killer surprises her on her way out. She CAN escape with her life - potentially - but if you don't think fast, she will die there.
    • And then she does it again in the Downloadable Content episode The Taxidermist; the entire episode consists of breaking into a man's house, finding out he's a serial killer who stuffs women, and then trying to escape when he comes home. Whether she gets out of the house undetected or in a chase (if she does get out at all!) is entirely up to the player.
  • Rosella does this in King's Quest IV. Justified in that case, as she does need to grab Genesta's talisman and the magic fruit if she hopes to see Daventry again.
  • The entire point of the Dragon's Lair games.


  • Subverted in Earthsong, where Willow finds herself in Tristram's lair. She gets up to walk off while he's asleep, and then he calls after her...to note that there are some pretty crystals down that passage there, and, oh, she'd never find her way out.

Western Animation

  1. (And hopefully, it'll be in that order)
  2. (Or ringing cell phone, in modern versions. Extra Irony points if it's the trespasser's partner calling to warn them that they're in the villain's lair)