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When you want to activate a Weapon of Mass Destruction, a Mad Scientist's invention, an electricity-based method of execution (especially an electric chair), or other badass electric device to be suitably dramatic, you have two options. One of them is the Big Red Button, and the other is the old-fashioned electric switch with a huge handle, which sends sparks flying when activated. Called a "knife switch" in supply catalogs and that other wiki.

While the Big Electric Switch is obviously common in Steampunk and period pieces (including neo-retro Film Noir pastiches like Sin City), it can make surprising appearances even in technologically advanced contexts, despite the obvious anachronism.

Examples of Big Electric Switch include:


Anime and Manga

  • In the animated adaptation of Howls Moving Castle, the spell that removes the magical powers of the Witch of the Waste is activated by a Big Electric Switch. A REALLY big one.
  • Jack and the Witch.
    • Allegra throws two such switches to close a door and cause the stairs that Jack and his friends are on to disappear.
    • Allegra throws a single switch to turn on the machine that turns normal creatures into harpies.

Comics

  • Fantastic Four: One of Doctor Doom's inventions has a Big Electric Switch.

Film

  • A classic example in Metropolis with Rotwang's laboratory.
  • Young Frankenstein. During the reanimation of the monster, Igor throws the first two switches with no particular result. When he reluctantly throws the Third Switch (labeled "The Works"), sparks fly out of it and all of the lab equipment goes to full power.

 Igor: Not the third switch!

  • Sin City: The electric chair used to execute Marv is activated by a Big Electric Switch.
  • In Igor, all Mad Scientist devices are activated by one of these. It is the job of the titular Igors to pull the switch.
  • Addams Family Values: evil nanny Joan Cusack has the entire clan (minus baby Pubert) wired up to electric chairs with an enormously-handled electric switch. Gomez and Morticia have a marital-torture nostalgia-fest whilst Pubert does some handy re-wiring.
  • The Ghostbusters have one attached to the containment-grid that holds the captive ghosts.
  • A Big Electric Switch turns on the Psychophraculator in Mystery Men.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show features Frank N. Furter throwing two Big Electric Switches to start the floorshow.
  • In the 1939 Wizard of Oz film, the "wizard" uses these to create the thunder and lightning effects in his throne room.
  • In Cats Don't Dance, Darla tries to stop the animals' big musical number by pulling "The Grandaddy Of All Switches". It only makes it more spectacular.
  • Our Man Flint. Flint throws several of these in the Galaxy communications room in an attempt to mess up their operations.
  • Buckaroo Banzai.
    • The electrical apparatus that Lord Whorfin uses to give himself electrical shocks is activated by one.
    • The sled that Dr. Emilio Lizardo uses to fling himself into the wall is also activated by one.
  • Batman (1966). The Instant Bat Costume Change device (between the slide poles to the Batcave) is activated with one of these.
  • Batman (1989). After Batman drives into the Batcave with Vicki Vale, he turns on the lights by throwing a switch.
  • Top Secret. The electric fence around the castle is turned on and off with one of these.

Literature

 Ponder: Initialise the GBL!

Ridcully: What does that mean?

Ponder: It means...pull the great big lever.

  • The switch in The Green Mile was facetiously labeled "Mabel's Hair Drier (sic)"

Live Action TV

  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Shadow Play. Adam Grant is put to death by electrocution when the guard throws two of them on a console.
  • Befitting his status as a Mad Scientist, Dr. Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 uses one of these to launch both Joel and Mike into space.
    • and when planning to "cleave in two this puny planet".
  • Batman
    • "King Tut's Coup". King Tut throws a switch to lower Batman (who's in a sarcophagus) into a pool of water using an unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism.
    • "The Cat and the Fiddle". Catwoman throws one to turn off an elevator so Batman can't easily reach a high floor in a building.
    • "The Joker's Hard Time". The Joker uses one to drop a net over the Dynamic Duo.
    • "Catwoman's Dressed to Kill". One of Catwoman's henchmen throws one to activate the pattern cutter saw that is supposed to slice Batgirl in half.
    • "The Duo is Slumming". One of the Puzzler's henchmen pulls one to activate a shower of balloons on the Dynamic Duo, which allows the Puzzler and his henchmen to escape.
    • "A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away". One of the Riddler's henchmen throws a switch to drop a net on Batman and Robin, and one is later thrown to start the spinning Death Traps to kill the Dynamic Duo.

Professional Wrestling

  • The infamous opening bout of the 1991 edition of WCW's Halloween Havoc pay-per-view, an eight-man "Chamber of Horrors" match pitting the team of Sting, El Gigante, Rick Steiner, and Scott Steiner against the team of Scott "Diamond Studd" Hall, Big Van Vader, Mick "Cactus Jack" Foley, and Abdullah the Butcher. The match took place in a steel cage filled with weapons; the object of the match was to place a member of the opposing team in the electric chair in the center of the ring and pull the Big Electric Switch, thus "electrocuting" him (no electricity was involved, just pyrotechnics and overacting). The match can be found in three parts, but non-masochists may wish to skip to the third part. Sting's team won when Cactus Jack inadvertently threw the switch while his teammate Abdullah was in the chair, thinking that opponent Rick Steiner was seated there instead. The real winners were Kevin "Oz" Nash, The One Man Gang, and Barry Windham, all of whom were scheduled to participate in the match but, for various reasons, didn't do so, and were replaced by Vader, Foley, and Abdullah.

Theater

  • Spoofed in a theatre production of Sweeney Todd. Todd has just murdered a customer and is now going to send his body through the trapdoor into the basement.

 Todd: And now, the lever!

(entire theatre gets plunged into darkness)

Todd: Wrong lever!

Video Games

  • Shows up in quite a number of video games in every genre to signal to the player that it's something they can interact with.
    • Used for activating various simple things such as the lighting and vehicles in various places in Myst and Myst 2: Riven
    • Subverted at one point in Riven, where the switch to turn on the most gigantic, powerful, noisy machine in the game is absolutely tiny, and makes the daintiest of clicking noises.
  • One can be made in Minecraft. Where as buttons create a quick burst of electricity to a nearby object, and a pressure plate can be activated with any weight, a lever can be used to keep the electricity at a constant flow.
  • In Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Kurtis Trent's ultimate objective is to throw a big electric switch to restore power to the building.
  • Used in the breaker room that's used to restore power after the blackout in Luigi's Mansion. Possibly a Chekhov's Gun considering that you can reach it as soon as the second area and the room otherwise seems to have no use.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Parodied in Futurama: Professor Farnsworth hits a huge, antiquated switch to activate a device, and it just electrocutes him. Then he flips a tiny lightswitch to actually use it.
  • Re Boot. As Herr Doktor says at 3:30, throw ze svitch!
  • Jonny Quest TOS:
    • "The Invisible Monster. Race Bannon throws one of these to activate the machine to destroy the title creature.
    • "The Sea Haunt". One is used to turn on a floodlight.
  • In The Iron Giant, a large knife switch - conveniently labeled "ON" and "OFF" - is used by the main character to turn off an entire power substation.
  • In one of the Looney Tunes 'Wolf and Sheepdog' cartoons, Ralph Wolf has set up an armory's worth of missiles and cannons behind Sam Sheepdog, all focused on him at point-blank range, and the bluff Sam's sitting on has been rigged to break away, and far below is a big tank of hungry crocodiles. In his burrow, Ralph starts to throw the big master switch - and the five o'clock whistle blows. He lets go, rolls his eyes and mutters "Pshaw!" The two clock out together and walk home, chatting amicably.
  • Superman Theatrical Cartoons episode "The Arctic Giant". After the generator malfunctions, two knife switches are pulled out to turn it off.
  • 1973/74 Superfriends episode "Dr. Pelagian's War". When Dr. Pelagian sends a tidal wave against Carraway's freon gas plant, Superman throws a switch to send electricity through coils filled with freon to freeze the tidal wave as it passes over them.

Real Life

  • Many early electrical switches really did look like this. It's a simple, easy-to-build design.
  • Likewise, you still see knife switches in some low-power learning kits, because you can actually see the switch working.
  • Every "switch" flipped to light a community Christmas tree appears to be one of these. In truth, the tree lighting is controlled not by a huge switch, but an offscreen/offstage electrical crew.
  • When the KTLA TV station switched from analog to digital, it was done with a deliberately anachronistic Big Electric Switch.
  • Though obsolete today, knife switches are still in use in older installations.
    • Knife switches and other steampunkish looking large switches are very useful when it comes to really strong currents, from hundreds of amperes in starter circuits of trucks or locomotives to thousands of amperes in large industrial installations. Modern age switches can drop it because they use relays instead, which can be operated from electronic control panels.
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