Lord Vladimere Hellsubus: Prepare to enter Hell, Elura; the Netherworld, the abode of the dead, the infernal regions, that place of torment, Pandemonium, abandonment, that vast unbottomed place that's...really really hot! Naraku! Gehenna! Hades! The boundless --Elvira: A'right, a'right, I got it, I got it! Sheesh, would somebody take away his thesaurus?!
—Elvira's Haunted Hills
A chamber of horrors exists where unspeakable things are done to people, which typically leads to their doom. It might seem like an inescapable madhouse or some unearthly realm of torment, but the truth is...it's just someone's cellar. Used in suspense and horror works, especially works that revolve around serial killers who enjoy torturing their intended victims.
Over-the-top decorations in blood and bones somehow do not result in insect infestation or a telltale stench alerting anyone to the evil doings of the house's owner. This may be due to visual media being bereft of a sense of smell, so it never occurs to them.
You would think that the above, plus issues such as problematic cleanup; soundproofing to prevent screams from being heard; deadly bacteria flourishing; and just plain incompetence on the part of the villain would make this the last straw as far as Willing Suspension of Disbelief is concerned; but the Rule of Scary tends to make this Fridge Logic. Sadly, real neighbors actually do "mind their own business round here" to the extent that truly unbelievable things happen in real cities and suburbs. The case of the torture-murder of Sylvia Likens from 1965 is a good example of this.
Worse, real serial killers get away with bizarre and murderous activities for years before being caught.
If the writers attempt to justify it, the villain will monologue about how people are stupid cows who do not pay any attention to anything besides reality TV. As seen above, this is entirely true.
- Hinamizawa has a few of these that everyone knew about and left for traditional purposes. Unfortunately, someone decided to put one of them back to work.
- Numerous Hentai works take place in one of these.
Comic Books[edit | hide]
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac had a complex, multi-story torture cellar that was bigger than his house. People who wondered why he had a wall covered in blood usually ended up there. Slightly justified in that he did have the sense to soundproof it. Lampshaded by Johnny ranting about how he's amazed he hasn't ever been caught, even after killing someone in broad daylight with people around.
- Johnny's inability to be caught is part of the overall story—not to say that it ultimately makes sense per se, but at least there's an in-story explanation.
- The Torture Cellar wasn't built by Johnny, but apparently came with the house. And is growing on its own accord, making more rooms and corridors as the series goes on...
- The Farm at North Cross and Lennox from the Sin City series, featuring in both "The Hard Goodbye," where it was Kevin and Cardinal Roark's base of operation for their cannibalistic impulses, and "That Yellow Bastard," where it was where the truly sick titular character took Nancy after kidnapping her.
- One appears in "Horror Hotel" in Ms. Tree Quarterly #6. In this case, the house in question was isolated enough that nosy neighbours wouldn't have been an issue.
- In The Phantom, two villains boast elaborate medieval torture rooms --- General Tara of Tarakimo and General Kon of Ughland. Tara's facilities are particularly heinous in that they are equipped with closed circuit camera systems, so the tyrant can "question" his prisoners remotely, from a plush private palace office.
Fan Fiction[edit | hide]
- Disturbia, also known as the "Teenage Rear Window", had a killer with a multi-story torture cellar.
- Parodied by Elvira in her film Elvira's Haunted Hills.
- Ironically, the parts of The Evil Dead that were set in the house's cellar were shot in Sam Raimi's garage.
- In The Gravedancers, one of the sociopathic ghosts was a judge who tortured women in his basement and was responsible for many deaths. Somehow, this was never discovered until after he died, despite the vast, theatrical torture chamber portrayed.
- House of 1000 Corpses takes this and all the tropes of the Texas Chainsaw tradition and cranks them to eleven. (The sheer number of skeletons eventually revealed, each and every one of them implying an unsolved missing-persons report, rather strains Suspension of Disbelief.)
- The Spanish film Killing Words features a philosophy professor who has an antiseptic dungeon in his basement that he claims is a torture and killing chamber. We eventually find out that he hadn't actually used it to kill anyone until he murders his wife at the end of the film.
- A key plot point in the French horror film Martyrs.
- The Nightmare On Elm Street series features Freddy Krueger who, when he was alive, murdered children in his basement and burned their bodies in the boiler. He was, however, eventually found out, but when he got Off on a Technicality, it led to the parents of his victims burning him alive in a vigilante killing that would set the stage for the events of the movies.
- In the remake, he had a secret room in the basement of the preschool he worked at, where he took the kids to molest them and make them pose for obscene pictures.
- The Vincent Price film The Pit And The Pendulum has a classic archetypal secret Torture Cellar. Justified because Nicolas Medina's father was a notorious member of the Spanish Inquisition.
- Shark's killer Wayne Callison just used his garage. The only inconvenience that caused was having to park his car in the driveway. Disposing of the bodies was slightly more problematic, but only slightly.
- One of the earliest occurrences of this trope in modern media comes from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; however, the murderous family's house is so far removed from civilization that it is only discovered by accident. In one of the later films, it is further mentioned that the bodies of their victims are buried in mass graves, which do break down and cause an extremely dangerous substance to form that can be fatal on contact. This detail is ignored in most other instances of this trope.
- Martin Vanger's house has a very well used one in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's on an island in the northern Swedish countryside, so soundproofing is not an issue. The cellar itself has a bed, kitchen, TV corner and a metal table for vivisecting people.
- Also used by the villain in Untraceable.
- Hostel - the whole movie is all about this trope .
- The people who sleep in rooms 110 and 112 of the Grand Hotel in Silent Hill probably have some interesting complaints for room service. In particular, the awful screaming and smell of burning flesh wafting over from room 111.
- The remake of House of Wax had one of these that ran under a (albeit small) town.
- In The Final, Dane and his outcast friends use the ranch house he inherited as one of these for a night of revenge against the popular kids.
- The Water Street Butcher from The Poughkeepsie Tapes carries out a large proportion of his crimes in one of these.
- Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane's father, a very religious man who thought his free-spirited wife was a witch and locked her in an iron maiden, is implied to have one of these, or at least access to one. Partly justified, since it was never implied that the torture chamber was secret. Torturing suspects was (at least in the world of the film) meant to be part of the historical setting.
- In An American Crime, Sylvia Likens was kept locked in the basement of the family looking after her, where she was tied, beaten, and starved by the family and the neighborhood children. It's made even worse given that it was heavily based off of a real life event. The movie also addresses how everyone ignored the event as it went on, by interrupting the movie with scenes of the trial for Sylvia's murder, as all witnesses were questioned about their silence.
- Used by the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers
Literature[edit | hide]
- "Buffalo Bill" of The Silence of the Lambs had a nice spacious basement with rooms for raising moths, sewing human skin, and keeping screaming kidnapped ladies.
- Lampshaded in the Emberverse novels when Norman Arminger tried to have a proper old fashioned "Dungeon" and realized that the terrible hygiene brought about by old straw and rats had this nasty habit of spreading disease outside the dungeon, and so now uses bare concrete rooms with large drains for easy cleanup after.
- The serial killer in The Mermaid Singing by Val Mc Dermid had a soundproof cellar in a country cottage that was used for medieval torture
- In both the book and (briefly) the movie of The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the Phantom) has one, making this Older Than Radio. It's a completely mirrored room except for one wall with a metal tree on it. When lit, the reflections cause the room to resemble a jungle. Erik also makes the room very warm and makes animal noises. It's supposed to drive its inmates to the point of insanity and cause them to hang themselves on the tree. In the novel at least one person actually does die in there. The fiance of the Phantom's love interest along with the only person who has ever shown any compassion towards Erik just barely manage to escape when the Phantom floods the room and leaves them to die.
- Bad guy Martin Vanger has one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The house with the Torture Cellar is located on the countryside, so soundproofing is not so much of an issue.
- An 1899 novel by Octave Mirbeau named The Torture Garden.
- At the beginning of Peter Robinson's novel Aftermath, two police officers arrive at a house to investigate a domestic disturbance and find the bodies of several murdered teenage girls in the basement.
- And by the way, calling it a "dungeon" is a mistake, albeit one that's got into the dictionary by sheer age. A "donjon" was originally the main building of a castle. When gunnery made the castles militarily obsolete they were used as prisons, until "dungeon" became just a fancy word for a prison. The association with torture chambers is self explanatory.
- In Angel, a private hell where former Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lindsey was sent to featured a very special Torture Cellar. On the surface, it was a nice suburban neighborhood, where Lindsey was a white-collar office worker-type with a beautiful wife and young son. But when he had to go down into the basement, a demon would force him on to a table and then cut out his heart. Worse, his heart would regenerate after the ordeal was over and his memory would fade, but he would be left feeling the trauma of his torture. Inevitably the cycle would be repeated again and again, until finally Charles Gunn took his place.
- Gunn is eventually rescued by Illyria, and confesses that he actually found the cellar easier to deal with than living in an illusion while knowing something was wrong with it.
- In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted is invited to design a new house for the extremely wealthy owner of a mansion. He's interrupted halfway through his pitch when the guy says he's not really concerned about the upper house so much as the basement... specifically, the laundry room, which he is very insistent be soundproof and easy to clean, and is exceptionally creepy about it. Everyone he speaks to acknowledges that the guy wanted him to make a murder house.
- In an episode of Criminal Minds the unsub has a slaughterhouse he has converted to be his own private maze from hell/killing ground. Somewhat justified in that slaughterhouses are designed to cut off its activities from the outside world, and it's in a bad part of town where there are few people around and fewer who care. By this point, probably 30% of all Criminal Minds episodes involve some sort of torture cellar.
- In the Torchwood episode "Countrycide," Ianto and Tosh end up in one of these. As it turns out, the entire town is one big Torture Cellar, and the villagers are cannibals.
- The serial killer in first episode of Wire in The Blood had a soundproof cellar that was used for medieval torture
- The final episodes of Waking the Dead featured Boyd given the choice of early retirement or being Kicked Upstairs; he chooses the former and resolves that the teams last case will be one that haunted him for years, about missing teenage tearways. To his horror they were all victims of a sexual sadist Serial Killer who operated out of a farm house converted into one of these, and more specifically based on the one used by real life American killer H.H.Holmes. It turned out the killer was the son of a gangster, but was long dead, murdered by his foster brother years prior, who since became a corrupt Assistant Police Commisioner and thus their boss.
- The Far Side used this setting in several strips. In one of them, there is a placard on the wall next to the prisoners: "Congratulations Bob, Torturer of the Month."
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has a variation of this with the meat room of Mrs. Lovett's pie shop after Sweeney Todd starts with their business of murdering Sweeney's customers and baking them into pies. No torture goes on there, as the customers in question are already dead at this point, but it's still a room where very bad things go down, as poor Toby discovers firsthand when Mrs. Lovett, in her crossing of the Moral Event Horizon, locks the poor kid inside preparatory to having Sweeney kill him (fortunately for Toby, they don't find him). Contrary to most versions of this trope, the smell is very much evident as Mrs. Lovett's oven pumps it into the air, but the lady who tells about it during the "City On Fire" sequence isn't believed.
- Variation: An episode of Story Corps on NPR referenced in a post on Snopes.com's message board, tells the story of a girl whose fingernails a general store owner pulled out in the middle of the store.
Video Games[edit | hide]
- In the Thief Gold mission "The Mage Towers", the most remote section of the cellars under the Central Tower was a Torture Cellar, containing an iron maiden and a few racks. Some of the documents in the room indicate that it is used as part of the mages' own training.
- In Thief II: The Metal Age, Sheriff Truart had a Torture Cellar under his mansion. It wasn't accessible from the ordinary cellars, but rather by way of either of two sets of secret passages (one of which had been boarded up).
- In World of Warcraft, the Scarlet Crusade have an Iron Maiden in the Stormwind Cathedral.
- The training stage of SWAT 4 features a Psychopathic Manchild who kidnapped women and tortured them in a "dungeon" excavated beneath his basement.
- Its predecessor SWAT 3 had a mission where you had to rescue the Turkish ambassador from a torture cellar under a store used as a front for Kurdish terrorists.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivon features a secret room that is used to torture Argonians. Unfortunately it's run by the Countess of Leyawiin, who everybody loves and respects and more unfortunately you can never expose her for her crimes; the best you can get away with is killing her in vengeance and even then you have to complete several missions before this becomes a possibility and it comes with a lot of consequences, i.e. a bounty on your head, pursuit by armed guards and possible suspension/expulsion from various guilds. And if murder's not your thing, it's not even satisfying.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer at the Red wizard academy a teacher gives you the keys to the school but tells you "Don't check behind the bookcase in my room." The journal itself tells you pretty much "Yeah. I know you. You're going to do it." Guess what's behind the bookcase?
- Resident Evil 2 has one hidden in Raccoon City's police station that's used by the police chief.
- Stanley Gimble's Prosthetics shop in Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines features a rather unsettling backroom filled with unnerving pictures on walls and prosthetic limbs hanging from the ceiling. And as the player descends further into the shop's basement, things get even worse...
- Amnesia the Dark Descent has one for the last section of the game.
- Sort of creepy that there really are Real Life examples, but here we go...
- Fred and Rosemary West and their "House of Horrors". They had a literal torture cellar. The house where they committed their crimes is now a pedestrian walkway, for obvious reasons.
- Dennis Nilsen lived in an upstairs flat, he had no basement, but still got away with dismembering and cooking young men. He committed most of his murders while living in a ground floor flat with its own garden. He did, however, keep corpses hidden under the floorboards there for months at a time, and disposed of them in large bonfires without the neighbors paying much attention. He wasn't caught until, trying to dispose of more than a dozen corpses, he clogged the drains with human flesh and fat.
- John Reginald Halliday Christie was actually stupid enough to rent out a room in his house in Rillington Place, the new tenants started to wonder about the smell from a papered-over wall closet... When the police finally came to search 10 Rillington Place, the back garden fence was found to be propped up with a human thighbone.
- Jeffery Dahmer got away with leaving corpses lying around in his apartment. People complained about the smell, but nobody did anything about it. Anyone could have caught him simply by walking in and opening his closet or his refrigerator—but nobody did, until one of his captives escaped and led the police to him. And it was fortunate that the police believed the victim that time. In another incident a drugged-out, 14-year-old victim escaped, bearing physical signs of his ordeal, including a hole that Dahmer had drilled in his head. The police dealt with it as a gay lovers' tiff, taking the victim back to Dahmer's apartment and telling Dahmer to take care of him. Dahmer assured them that he would.
- It gets even better. The two police officers who returned the boy to Dahmer were fired after Dahmer was finally caught... and then reinstated, with back pay, after appealing their termination. They went on to be named Officers of the Year by the police union. One of them is currently president of the Milwaukee Police Association.
- Dr. Henry Holmes built a three-story hotel in Chicago to serve as his Torture Cellar.
- Gary Heidnik kept women chained up in his basement, primarily for purposes of rape. At least two died, and he even fed their flesh to the other captives. Eventually, one managed to escape and report the matter to authorities.
- The Japanese secret police added a torture chamber to the Old Changi Hospital in Singapore during World War II.
- Josef Fritzl:
- He kept his daughter in the basement for twenty-four years - repeatedly raping her and fathering seven children with her during that time.
- His basement was underneath the 'apartment building he managed.'
- In addition, he had built a secret underground home for them including an electronically locked door, kitchenette, and such.
- Michele Mongelli, dubbed the 'Italian Fritzl', did much the same thing to his daughter (starting when she was nine), and got his son in on it too. It's sickening knowing that there are probably countless others like this in the world who remain uncaught.
- Ira Einhorn, aka "The Unicorn Killer" was caught because his neighbors started complaining of a foul odor coming from his apartment; the source turned out to be a badly decomposed body sitting in a trunk. Managed to elude justice only because he ran away to Europe before trial.
- In a humorous example, Motocross rider Carey Hart decorated his spare bedroom to look like a torture cellar, in order to keep hangers-on from getting too comfortable sleeping at his house.
- Ed Gein could be considered an example of this. Decorating his home with parts from graves he dug up, and eventually two victims.
- Eleven bodies were found in Anthony Sowell's house, including several buried in the cellar. People thought the horrific smell in the neighborhood was a broken sewer pipeline or the sausage factory next door.
- Mafia hitman [Roy DeMeo] and his crew kept a secret backroom in the Gemini Lounge where they would lure targets for assassination, and then dismember the bodies for covert disposal.
- A few years ago, the Turkish Police forces stumbled upon the primary safehouse of a domestic terrorist organization (they knew it was a safehouse but didn't expect it to be the primary one). Once secured, they sent teams to investigate the evidence and found out that the basement had been used for the torture and burial of several kidnapped people. Subsequent investigations revealed couple more of such houses. The clincher? None of these places were isolated. They were all in heavily populated urban centers.
- A very more light (but still NSFW) version exists in the BDSM world: the Dungeon, where they usually keep their "toys". The main differences is that the "victims" gave their initial consent, they like it, and death is heavily avoided (usually...).
- The "hole" in Alcatraz.
- John Jamelske of Syracuse, NY had a literal torture cellar. However, he tended to blindfold his victims and drop them off, alive, at various locations, after a period ranging from weeks to months.
- David Parker Ray, the "Toy Box Killer," who tortured and is suspected to have murdered women in a $100,000 homemade torture chamber that he called his "toy box," which was equipped with what he referred to as his "friends": whips, chains, pulleys, straps, clamps, leg spreader bars, and surgical blades and saws. He terrorized the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for a number of years before, like Gary Heidnik, one of his victims escaped and notified the authorities.
- The Feral Child Genie was isolated in a room like this, tied to a potty chair during the day, and bound in an enclosed crib with metal screening at night.
- The Bloody Benders had a method, where they would have folks stay the night, while the daughter, Kate, would pump them for information. If the person had money, they would strike the guest on the head with a hammer from behind a curtain, before cutting their throat and dumping them into a pit under the house.