Hand in the Hole

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I'll bet there's treasure in there!


So. There's a hole in a wall or floor filled with an impenetrable, inky blackness and the vague promise of a great reward to those who stick their hand in. Should the character go for it?

Was that a question? Of course! Treasure! Well, that or a giant catfish ready to bite off the whole arm and/or deliver an incredibly lethal and painful poison.

This conundrum has plagued protagonist and player alike for eons. At best, Curiosity Is a Crapshoot which will yield a Plot Coupon, and at worst it will kill the cast because it's a Death Trap. Even when there's nothing dangerous there (or there is, but the character pulls their hand out just in time) expect another threat to use Offscreen Teleportation while they were distracted. You can also bet most villains and Temple of Doom architects will count on the protagonist/player's greed to make them go for it.

And of course, you can expect the Jerkass high on the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality to pretend to have his arm bit off to scare his companions... only to have it really bitten off or something even worse befall him.

The "modern" version involves a garbage disposal that's "on the fritz" and the owner sticking their hand in to remove the jam. In that case, the tension comes from "will the bad guy (usually some supernatural evil) turn it on and cut up the hand?"

Can be a type of Schmuck Bait. A more sexual-nightmare-type example incarnates as Vagina Dentata. Compare Clutching Hand Trap.

Examples of Hand in the Hole include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • This figured into a series of ads for Vanilla Coca-Cola. There's a clip at Metacafe.


Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, one of the portions of Seto Kaiba's sadistic "Death-T" course has a contraption with a hand-hole for each of the four characters running the course, each marked with some two-digit binary code (how Kaiba knew to use four holes when he was after Yugi specifically is anyone's guess). The contraption turns out to be a miniature guillotine ready to cut off their hands at the wrist if they don't press the button in the right hole before it drops. The proper hole is the one that Anzu puts her hand in, marked "11". The only clue is a sign marked "bllood". Yugi realizes at the last second that it's spelled wrong, and is a clue that it is made up of binary symbols (10,11,00,01). The misspelling is a clue as to the right button.
  • In Macross II, Hibiki re-enacts the belowmentioned Roman Holiday scene with Ishtar (it is even implied to be the same carving, La Bocca della Verità).
  • One of the first indications that Tsukasa actually has a sense of humor in .hack//SIGN is when he reaches into a one of these holes; and then pulls out just his sleeve; with his hand hidden tucked inside it. For the record, it is also a reference to Roman Holiday as Tsukasa's mother used to watch Audrey Hepburn movies.
  • In a recent Naruto manga chapter, Naruto is told to place his head in a statue's mouth. If he's overcome the darkness in his heart, the way forward will open. If not, the statue will come to life and bite his head off. Yeah, things didn't go well for Naruto. Gotcha![1]
  • Hamtaro uses this in "The Reconciliation", when Oxnard appears to get his paw caught in a miniature replica of the Mouth of Truth (see "Real Life" examples below), only to find that it was actually his sunflower seed that had gotten stuck. Much groaning ensues from his fellows.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Flash Gordon. While Flash is in Arboria, he's forced to participate in a Death Game (Sub-Trope of Duel to the Death) with Prince Barin. They take turns sticking their arms into a hollow tree trunk that contains a Wood Beast. It has a sting that causes death after tortured madness. Eventually, Flash pretends he was stung, then attacks Barin when he lets his guard down.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Indy and Short Round are going to get crushed to death in the trap full of bugs because Willie doesn't want to stick her hand in the dark hole to release the trap. It's a subversion, though, because it's not the dark hole that she's squicked by. It's the fact that the hole is literally crawling with bugs of all types.
  • Lampshaded in National Treasure 2. Gates sticks his hand in a hole to uncover a treasure, and pretends something horrible happened. Nothing happens, it's just a lever.
  • The Mummy Returns, where the high minion puts on the scorpion bracelet and sticks his hand with it into the mouth of a giant scorpion statue, to release the army of Anubis. His hand isn't bitten off, though. It gets sucked dry, and he's left staggering around clutching his now-skeletal arm until the Scorpion King seizes him and rips him apart.
  • In Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck's character sticks his hand in the mouth of La Bocca della Verità, a face carving claimed to bite if someone tells a lie with their hand in its mouth, and pretends that this is exactly what happens. Audrey Hepburn wasn't told about this prank beforehand.
    • Referenced in Only You, where both Faith and her love interest claim to have seen the movie. They both pull their pretend stumps out at the same time. The love interest actually has been lying to her, but he escapes with all his fingers.
  • The garbage disposal version happens in Final Destination 2 with a character dropping a ring down the drain and him reaching for it while the microwave shorts out the outlet on the other side of the room. There was a shot of his fingers poking between the grinder blades while the audience watches as nothing happens.
  • If you are in a Saw movie, and you see an invitingly hand-sized hole, it is probably a really bad idea to do the obvious.
  • In an infamous scene from the made-for-TV The Amityville Horror 4: The Evil Escapes, Amanda has her garbage disposal jam on her while doing the dishes. The teenage son of the electrician shows up instead of the electrician that another lady called to deal with the problems of the house, and when he sees her reaching in there to clear out the jam, he tells her that she should have taped the thing off. She does so, but then he reaches down there himself. Due to the house's problems being due to an evil possessed lamp (no, really), you can pretty much guess what happens...
  • In Silent Hill, Rose has to reach into the mouth of a corpse to retrieve a key.
  • Creepshow.
  • The garbage disposal variant is subverted in Halloween, but not until the suspense is built up to some levels.
  • In Leprechaun, the little guy hides in a hollow tree and bites an idiot who reaches it.
  • In Splice, the female lead reaches into the artificial uterus to extract the transgenic life form inside, without knowing anything about its properties. It stings her hand repeatedly, rendering her helpless.
  • The garbage disposal version is double subverted in 100 Feet, where Famke Janssen's character is being haunted by the ghost of her abusive husband. The suspenseful moments she spends fumbling around the drain pass without incident. She retrieves the item safely and removes her hand from the sink, but as she's turning away, the disposal comes back on and a ghostly hand reaches out of the drain and pulls her hand back in.
  • In a fully-lit variation, a man taken captive by the Mad Scientist in Sssssss is chained up, then given a choice between two glass tanks to reach into. One contains the key to his chains and a harmless snake, which is virtually indistinguishable from the other tank's lethal viper and phoney key.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Dune, the ritual of the gom jabbar is a test employed by the Bene Gesserit, performed by requiring the examinee to put her hand into a box that causes excruciating pain by nerve induction. A poison-coated needle is then held to the "victim's" neck with the threat of instant death should she withdraw her hand without permission. The test is whether the person can master her instinctive desire to flee the pain, thus proving her "humanity". Paul Atreides is one of the few males to be administered the test, and his passing of it is seen as a sign of his future role as the Kwisatz Haderach.

"He thought he could feel skin curling black on that agonized hand, the flesh crisping and dropping away until only charred bones remained."

  • There's a book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, The Cestus Deception, which is not dissimilar to the above. Obi-Wan has to prove his goodwill by reaching into a basket with something moving inside. He wonders if it's something venomous and this is a test, but although there's something alive and moving and wet inside, it doesn't hurt him. It's one of the native Force-Sensitives testing his intent.
  • Played with so frequently in Goosebumps books that this line of a review sums it up best:

This event comes at the end of a chapter, so I'll let you be the judge as to whether Carlo really did get his hand bitten off or whether he I really shouldn't have to finish this sentence.

  • In book 1 of 99 Fear Street, the garbage-disposal variation occurs, apparently because a ghost turned it on at the worst possible moment. In book 3, a(very fictional) movie about the haunting is filmed on site, and an actor puts his hand in a fake garbage disposal to film a scene of this—which cuts off his hand anyway, despite the lack of an actual blade. A ghost did it.
  • In Joel Rosenberg's Keepers of the Hidden Ways trilogy, the heroes are required at one point to have one of their members take part in an initiation ceremony with the "Brothers of Fenris". The ceremony involves sticking one's hand in the mouth of a statue of Fenris, which will cause it to be burned off. A somewhat shell-shocked war veteran volunteers to undergo the ceremony and comes out of it stronger than before. The burning was caused by Mjolnir, and weapons of the gods could only be touched by gods without harm; mortals would be burned. But the being who had made Mjolnir admitted he had been distracted while making it, which lead to it being able to be picked up by some mortals, though the reason the soldier can and others can't isn't explained in that book.
  • In R.A. Lafferty's "Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes", Austro claims that in his day, neighbors would retaliate for potentially-lethal Halloween pranks by replacing their doorbells' black buttons with booby-trapped holes. He professes that he lost his fingertip trying to ring a "doorbell" that concealed a miniature guillotine.
  • A variation of this concept occurs in Where the Red Fern Grows. A simple way to catch raccoons involves drilling a hole in a log just big enough for them to get their hands in, and placing a bit of butter at the bottom. Then some angled nails are installed that would prevent the raccoon from getting its fist closed around the treat from getting out. The main character only does this once, as he finds the practice needlessly cruel.
  • In Jean Ray's short story "Gold Teeth", a professional graverobber cuts four-inch holes in coffin lids to reach in and remove the occupants' valuable dental work. This works fine, until someone who's figured out how he makes a living beats him to a target and installs a small wolf trap...
  • In Legacies, a thug who's searching Repairman Jack's booby-trapped decoy house reaches into a safe to retrieve the money he sees inside, and gets his hand pinned by a mechanical spike. And that's just the start of his troubles.


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The IT Crowd: When Douglas sticks his arm in a stone face's mouth, he pulls it out seemingly missing a hand. He reveals it was just a joke only when he's already being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, making this an in-universe usage of Overly Long Gag. Although it's implied that he's so stupid that he doesn't realize it's a joke.
  • One of the trials on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, under the title of "Hell-Holes". Most memorably played by Paul Burrell, whose frantic squealing at everything he touched (ants, snakes, spiders) had Ant and Dec in hysterics.
  • Frasier. One of the funniest moment of the series is when Daphne asks Niles to retrieve a ring from the garbage disposal. Niles demurs, and proceeds to look for it, while complaining about the ickiness. Unfortunately, Martin picks that point to use the coffee grinder; when he starts grinding beans, Niles reacts predictably at the noise, thinking the disposal was turned on.
  • Heroes. It's a nice way to test your invulnerability - stick your hand in the garbage disposal - then turn it on.
  • One opening scene of Malcolm in the Middle showed Francis reaching into the garbage disposal to remove a jam and not paying attention to how close he is to the on switch, until he accidentally turns on... the garbage disposal in the other sink. After breathing a sigh of relief at the close call, he goes right back to trying to remove the jam.
  • Herpetologists on Animal Planet regularly deal with this trope, either while extracting reptiles in the wild from holes in the ground, or removing trespassing serpents from under the junk in somebody's garage. Often averted by using a snake-handler's hook.
    • Jeff Corwin was fond of sticking his hand in dark holes and then pretending to have been bitten by something horrible.
    • On his trip to the Congo, Jeremy from River Monsters had to reach bare-handed into a basket containing an unidentified eel-like creature, without knowing if it was aggressive or not. In this case, the uncertainty came from the language barrier between him and the man who'd trapped it, not an inability to see the fish was there.
  • Done with a booby-trapped vending machine in the miniseries of The Tommyknockers.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Home", a repairman suffers the full-on gruesome consequences of reaching into a garbage disposal in the Winchesters' childhood house.
  • In Star Trek: Voyager ("Sacred Ground"), Captain Janeway has to stick her hand into a basket with a nesset—some creature that makes hissing noises—as part of an alien Vision Quest. It bites her.
  • Total Blackout often require contestants to reach into tanks or cages without knowing if what's inside is alive and/or dangerous.


Myth And Legend[edit | hide]

  • In Norse Mythology, Tyr puts his hand in Fenrisulfr's mouth to prove that the Norse Gods are sincere about their promise to let the Wolf go if they manage to hold him in their bondage games. They weren't, which is why Tyr is depicted with only one hand. Differs in that Tyr knew exactly what was going to happen to him.
    • Might also be considered a Heroic Sacrifice as Tyr not only had strong feelings in the matter (having raised Fenris from a pup), but also the fact that as the God of War, his hand is pretty important to him...


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • An arc in Peanuts had a few of the team's girls express fear that bugs might have crawled into their baseball mitts. They asked Charlie Brown to put his hand in to check. Eventually, he did find a bug in one glove. "Auggggh!" This apparently wasn't done as a prank, because they didn't laugh at his shock, just thanked him for taking the risk for them.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons adventures:
    • "The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan". A bat statue's mouth (which will bite down and drain blood) and a stone head (which will bite down if the PCs try to grab a ring in its mouth).
    • "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth". A stone head, which will bite down if the PCs try to grab a gem in its mouth.
    • The Tomb of Horrors module has this as one of its more infamous Death Traps. The hole in question contained a sphere of annihilation (which annihilates anything it touches), and stories abound of hands or even heads being lost to the hole when they were stuck in; by the rules, if so much as a hair touches a Sphere of Annihilation, your entire body, along with your soul, is utterly and irrevocably destroyed. They're that deadly.. The Baldur's Gate reference below may be a Shout-Out to it.
    • The book Fiendish Folio II has a bas-relief of former Devil Prince Geryon, which is missing its head and hand. Sticking one's hand into the hand-hole gets it cut off, but a new one grows in its place that has supernatural powers. Sticking one's head in the head-hole is instant death.
  • Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) adventure "The Underground Menace". A farmhouse has a hole in the wall: if a character reaches into it to grab the book inside, he's bitten by black widow spiders and could die.


Videogames[edit | hide]

  • Double subverted in Baldur's Gate II, one quest requires you to do this to get an item and you'll only suffer minor damage. That item? A severed hand.
    • There's also an entire frieze of faces you put your hand in. However, each simply asks you a riddle and shoots a fire arrow at you if you answer wrong.
  • Dragon Age: Origins invokes this trope in one of the main quests, where one of the options to retrieve a minor plot device involves digging around in a 'dark hole' (implied to be the home of a very crazy mage), which will activate the trap hidden inside the hole. If Zevran is brought along for the quest, he offers to help the Player Character, and while he is searching in the hole he cheerfully remarks:

Zevran: Ha! Let's see... When was the last time I slipped my hand into some dark hole? Hmmm... Long story, that.

  • Breath of Fire 2 had this in the thieves' hideout, when you were told that the switch to open the door was in a dark hole. You could either stick your hand in the hole, get bitten (and subsequently poisoned), and end up in battle with a spider, or you could refuse, and get attacked by the spider anyways, but without the poison.
  • In The Dig, a character puts his hand through a crack in the wall, trying to reach a life crystal in the hole. It doesn't end well: The rock shifts as he does so, and his hand becomes stuck in the rock, requiring the player to use a jagged-toothed alien jawbone to saw his hand off, without any kind of anesthetic to boot. Parodied in The Curse of Monkey Island, if you have your character put his hand through a similar crack. "Aaah! My hand's stuck! You'll have to cut off my arm.... Just kidding."
  • The fourth Mega Man Battle Network game has an example similar to the one in Roman Holiday. The statue asks Lan to stick his hand in its mouth so it can confirm his identity and says it will bite it off if he's lying. Lan is creeped out but does it so he can participate in the Tournament Arc. Lan's hand comes out okay.
  • In Prince of Persia 3D, a guard opens a door sticking his hand into a hole in the wall. If you try exactly the same immediately your arm is trapped and it's game over. You need a bracelet for it to work.
  • James of Silent Hill 2 has no problems sticking his hand down an incredibly filthy toilet (without even rolling up his sleeve first!) to retrieve a clue; in the next game, if you have a save on the same memory card, Heather approaches a similar toilet and recoils, wondering out loud who would do such a disgusting thing. In the fourth game, Henry's irrational fear of toilets seems a bit silly given how he'd been crawling through or jumping down plenty of mysterious holes without hesitation, and even reaches into the pocket of a corpse to retrieve a Plot Coupon.
    • Also in Silent Hill 2 there is a scene when James has to reach into the hole to obtain a key. In Silent Hill Homecoming Alex also has two "hole times" and he can even be killed when doing this.
  • Two Tomb Raider games feature this as part of the game mechanic: The Last Revelation and Chronicles. It gets clever later on when Lara has to stick her hand in a hole from which flames shoot out intermittently.
  • Riviera: The Promised Land: in the Underwater Ruins dungeon Tethyth, protagonist Ein is asked to put his hand inside the gaping mouth of a lion statue. It results in an increase to his stats. However, you can also put the Team Pet in, with humorous results.
  • Hilariously reversed in Acclaim's NES adaption of Total Recall, where enemies will punch blindly through holes in wooden fences in a desperate attempt to hit the player character. The Broken Pixels crew identified these as Martian glory holes:

"Aaah! What's coming out of this hole?! Maybe I should put it in my mouth..."

  • In Space Quest, don't look in the hole in the cliffside, or the creature in the hole will eat you and spit your bones out.
  • These were added as part of the tombs in The Sims 3 World Adventure. They can hide switches to deactivate (Or sometimes activate) traps or hide treasure. They are also sometimes full of bugs that causes sims to freak out in addition to the switch or treasure. Sims without the Brave trait will refuse to stick their hand in one if they were recently covered in bugs.
  • In the first dungeon in Dragon Quest VII, you have to stick your hand inside a lion statue's mouth in order to proceed.
  • Uncharted has a variant without a hole: Nathan Drake carefully pulling a scroll from the clutches of a skeleton. He screams in terror when he touches the scroll but Nate being Nate, merely turns out to be screwing with his companions.
    • The third game has a true example, wherein there are switches located inside suspicious-looking holes in a hidden pillar somewhere in Syria. If you stick your hand in willy-nilly, Elena will warn you just when Nate gets his hand nearly crushed, and you take some damage.
  • A fairly creepy example occurs in Dark Fall: Lost Souls, with a minor Plot Coupon hidden inside a wall.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • This was referenced in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, here.
  • There was a hilarious one-off story in Knights of the Dinner Table where the characters found a hole in the wall with some sort of treasure visible behind it... Bob's character immediately reached in to grab it, only to have his arm guillotined off by a trap. A rat started to drag the arm away, and his knee-jerk reaction was to try to stab the rat. *WHACK*! I think Dave's character lost an arm to it shortly thereafter, or maybe it was both arms. Anyway, Hilarity Ensued.
    • To clarify; I believe Bob saw the treasure first, and reached in to grab it. CHOP! Then Dave said "Aw, that sucks. Here, I'll get your arm back." CHOP! Then Bob saw a rat trying to drag his arm off, and tried to stab it. CHOP! The last line of the comic was Brian saying to Sara, "We're going to pick their pockets while they stand there and watch."
  • The castle challenges Agatha of Girl Genius to stick her arm into a giant clank's mouth to prove her identity; unfortunately for her, it's a blood test... Since she really is a Heterodyne, she only gets a couple punctures. The hundreds of skulls around her feet tell us that no one else got off that easy.


Web Originals[edit | hide]

  • This YouTube video, The Black Hole.
  • The web novella Ted's Caving Page revolves around the title character, an amateur spelunker, discovering a fist-sized hole in a cave and endeavoring not just to stick his hand in, but to open it up and crawl through to find out what's on the other side. Cosmic Horror ensues.
    • It's a web adaptation of a short story by Thomas Lera variously known as "The Fear of Darkness", "The Fear Within", and "The Terror in Hupman's Cave", which has the same premise. The Ted the Caver version ends about halfway through the original story, before the vague explanations offered in the latter half.
  • SCP Foundation-645 references the Bocca della Verita sculpture mentioned above. Then takes it to its logical conclusion of sorts.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Drawn Together parodies the Wood Beast from Flash Gordon by using it as a test to see if someone is gay. Xandir had to stick his hand in a hole and if the Wood Beast bit him, then he was gay. It took off his entire hand (it grew back of course).
  • In the Family Guy episode "Peter-assment", while Peter is continuing being harassed by his boss Angela, she tells him to put his hand in a hole.

Peter: Ohhh...ohhh...oh, god. I really hope there's a hungry horse back there.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • A little rhyme I once heard at an aquarium, regarding certain eels: "Stick your hand in a crack and you don't get it back, that's a moray".
  • Reminds me of a number of kids games, like "what's this slimy object?"
    • Also "Lucky dip"
  • A coin-operated fortune-telling machine exists that challenges people to stick their hands into the mouth of a carved stone face to have their fortunes told.
    • That stone head is "la Bocca della Veritaico" (the Mouth of Truth), a stone face made in ancient Rome that originally was probably a waste disposal. Many legends from medieval times tell that if you insert your hand into the face's mouth and tell a lie it will eat your hand whole (even if some people managed to trick it through Logic Bombs), and even nowadays it's a major tourist attraction. (Incidentally, it's the one used in the Roman Holiday example above.)
  • The practice of "Noodling," a sort of redneck extreme sport that involves catching catfish by hand. It's done at a time of year when the big she-cats dwell in holes at the bottom of lakes. You swim down to the bottom until you see a likely looking hole, then reach in and try to taunt the catfish into biting down on your arm, so you can drag it out and wrestle it to the surface. (A catfish you catch by noodling is likely to weigh upwards of sixty pounds and have jaws nearly a foot wide.) This is particularly insane for two reasons: first, that the hole could very well contain a nest of poisonous snakes, or a large snapping turtle that could de-finger you with one bite; and second, even though catfish don't have sharp teeth, they have VERY strong jaws. There is an account of a noodling expedition where one fellow caught an ENORMOUS catfish... and had to have it removed from his arm with a car jack, losing a good deal of skin in the process.
    • In an episode of Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls demonstrates this procedure, although he doesn't dive all the way underwater to do it.
    • This was also featured on an episode of Wreckreation Nation. There they made it clear that noodling is a catch-and-release activity, so after going through that insanity you don't even get dinner to bring home.
    • And, of course, Dirty Jobs did it. It was apparently not catch-and-release there, and Mike did get a nice dinner out of the deal.
    • Also done in Survivorman. Les quits after a few minutes when he decides it's a pretty stupid thing to do.
  • Try this in Australia and you will either get your hand crushed into a bloody pulp by a wombat, or be bitten by a spider with half-inch long fangs.
  • This is one way to catch a monkey. Put something that the monkey wants, like a piece of fruit, into a hole in a tree where the hole is just the size of the monkey's hand. The monkey reaches in and grabs it but then it's fist is too big to pull out of the hole. Then you run up and grab the monkey before the monkey realizes that it has to let go in order to run away.
    • This also works on Racoons, and any other animal with vaguely thumb-like appendages and a love for food or shiny things.
    • Also, a climbing technique called 'hand jamming' involves sticking your fist into a small hole, and clenching it, much like the monkey, but specifically so that it can't be pulled out. Done right, it can save you a lot of energy that would otherwise be expended in holding yourself against the wall. Done badly, it could rip most of the skin off your hand.
  • In the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum there is a hole that says Don't stick your hand in here or something like that.
  • Censored for those who don't like discussing sexual things:
    • Glory Holes. For men to stick their penises in, and 'hopefully' receive some sort of 'sexual gratification'.
  1. It's actually just a slot that has a switch for the door in the back, and Killer Bee pulled the same trick