When the bad guys aren't satisfied with killing one or two people at a time, and couldn't care less about Evil Is Stylish, they may hit upon the "creative" solution of applying industrial efficiency to their vile practices. Rather than spend time crafting personalized tortures for their victims, they will automate their evildoing to an efficient and loveless routine that is all the more creepy for it's impersonal detachment. It may not involve machines (though those can be used to amp up the metaphor), but a systemic approach much like a Technician Versus Performer... of evil!
Why should vampires spend hours hunting a juicy bloodbag when they can just breed and slowly exsanguinate people in an assembly line? Or for that matter, the repressive police state may just build an all purpose Agony Beam rather than bother with psych evaluations to put political prisoners in tailor made torture chambers. A werewolf may decide that rather than wait for college students to wander into his forest to hunt, he could just kidnap people off the street and release them for sport.
As with Real Life automation, one of the "benefits" of this approach is a potentially vast scale of application. While even the single murder of an undeveloped Innocent Bystander can be tragic thanks to the Rule of Empathy, mechanizing/serializing it and putting it on a national or even global level gives a sense of extra dehumanization and elevates the horror to near incomprehensible levels. And it's precisely because A Million Is a Statistic that using this trope can be risky; the flippant treatment of human life and lack of "anchoring" individuals can alienate audiences. It's not even a case of Show, Don't Tell, unless the threat or horror is represented as tangibly real it can't be conveyed even by dialog.
Add Horror Hunger, Powered by a Forsaken Child or And I Must Scream with this trope for extra (evil) fuel economy. Since the execution of this idea requires order and discipline, the perpetrators will usually be Lawful Evil unless they are an uncharacteristically well organized Neutral or Chaotic Evil, or they represent Blue and Orange Morality. Less vile examples may be Obliviously Evil or an example of Humans Are Cthulhu. Compare Ludd Was Right, where technology and science are considered bad in and of themselves.
Film - Live Action
- In Disney's The Black Hole, the humanoid robots are actually the mass - lobotomized crew of the Cygnus. Dr. McCrae finds herself on an assembly line, where she is about to be turned into one.
- In Daybreakers, a Vampire Apocalypse has forced humans to near extinction, and the remaining people are plugged in as living plasma batteries in farms.
- The Machines in The Matrix famously turned humans into batteries (physics notwithstanding, due to Executives thinking viewers wouldn't understand Wetware CPU).
- In The Chronicles of Riddick, the evil Necromongers have a highly automated process to convert the inhabitants of conquered planets.
- Metropolis is probably the Ur Example of this trope.
- In Discworld, the new lord of hell tried this approach - since people get used to pain, he established a lot of rules that changed hell into a tedious, bureucractic horror. Even the demons were horrified and quickly arranged to have him Kicked Upstairs.
- Similarly, the Magpyr family in Carpe Jugulum. They turned their predation upon the local townsfolk into a mechanical process in which everyone, including children, were drained slightly, transforming the fear of them from an occasional thrill to a daily banality of horror. When given the chance, the people turned against them very quickly.
- In The Lord of the Rings Mordor and especially the post-Face Heel Turn Isengard are depicted in early industrialization stage. This is an oft-repeated trope in JRR Tolkien's work because Tolkein had an intense dislike of industralization.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, "A Taste of Armageddon", the Enterprise discovers two planets are involved in a bizarre war in which computers simulate the conflict, and civilians deemed "killed" in the simulation are required to report to disintegration chambers. The people willingly go to their deaths, believing that in doing so, they are preventing an actual war from breaking out.
- The process of assimilation employed by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Wish" shows how The Master might have adapted to modern times by "evolving" vampire practices by replacing hunting humans into a literal abattoir.
- In the videogame Prey the Sphere pretty much runs on this.
- In Quake 4, the Strogg take captured humans and put them through a industry line the saw off body parts and attack cyborg limbs. The player even goes through this, in first person.
- The Reapers in the Mass Effect franchise. Ambiguous Robots Mechanical Lifeforms operating on Blue and Orange Morality, every several thousand years they awaken from their slumber in the dark space between galactic spiral arms to "harvest" all star-faring civilizations. Their process is extremely methodical, with their own Mass Relay technology left behind as Lost Technology for ascendant civilizations to find as part of a Batman Gambit to nudge those civilizations into developing along predictable lines. This helps ensure that galactic leadership becomes centralized at the Citadel space station, which is the first thing they take control of in a surprise attack, simultaneously decapitating galactic leadership and giving them access to the records of how those civilizations have been spreading. The Reapers will then sweep away all space-born resistance and prioritize targets based on what can offer the biggest military challenge. Following this, a combination of Mass Hypnosis and military dominance allows them to round up survivors and render them down into organic liquid that will then be "archived" into new Reaper hulls. When all is harvested, they retreat to dark space, go back to sleep, and wait for the cycle to begin again, like clockwork.
- Floor 13 is this Up to Eleven. The player character is an Eichmann and is a Featureless Protagonist except for giving the character a name, and the evil is so industrialized that they even managed to make the game panned as boring.
- In The Legends of Treaure Island, at one point Long John Silver is Killed Off for Real and sent to Hell. He's given the tour of place and shown the demons "torturing" (in the Bowdlerized way you'd expect from a kids show) the damned. Silver scoffs at this and claims he can implement a much more evil system in exchange for being released from hell. He is allowed to do so and when he is finished we see that he has basically turned Hell into a huge machine where the damned are placed in conveyor belts. The machine itself doesn't even seem to do that much torture, which the head demon comments upon. Silver replies that that's the whole point: the damned are simply shuffled around from place to place by an indifferent machine with no rhyme or reason and fully aware by the pointlessness of it all. The head demon calls it brilliant and Silver is returned to Earth.
- This is a major reason why the 20th century's wars were so much worse than what had gone before; and that's probably all we need to say here.
- Often cited as one of the things that makes The Holocaust worse than any other genocide; the tools were not (just) famine, or mobs, or armed soldiers hunting people down. It was trains, poison gas, and furnaces to dispose of the bodies- organized, efficient, industrialized mass murder.
- The Aztec Empire and surrounding cultures were guilty of this during the Flower Wars, a series of low intensity campaigns intended to provide POW victims for ritual sacrifice in order to ensure plentiful crops. This trope (probably) wasn't in play for these peoples due to a combination of culturally ingrained More Than Mind Control, Martyrdom Culture and A Good Way to Die.
- Judging by Fast Food Nation, this is Eric Schlosser's idea of McDonald's, and judging by Supersize Me, this is Morgan Spurlock's idea of it. McJobs were accurately named, because the fast food industry is fundamentally dependent on menial labor.