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Eye’ll Make You Scream

In 1929, Spanish-Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel and surrealist artist Salvador Dali collaborated on a short silent movie, released under the title Un Chien Andalou. A strange collection of moments, the film doesn’t have a plot so much as a series of terrifying and surreal images. Famously, it opens with a close-up on a woman's face as she is held in place with a razor blade next to her eye. The next shot we see is the blade slashing across an eye and the vitreous humor spilling out.

The film developed a cult following and, as horror cinema progressed, filmmakers often returned to scenes of violence and terror involving victims’ eyes. Ophthalmologists know well that eyes are both intricate and vulnerable – so it’s really no surprise that, for many people, having someone approach or even touch their eyes can produce an involuntary shudder.

So, in time for Halloween, I offer seven infamous and horrifying moments on film that involve ocular terror. Read on… if you dare!

7.  A Clockwork Orange

(1971) dir. Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of the famous Anthony Burgess novel was deeply controversial for a host of reasons, not least of which is the violence Malcolm McDowell’s character, Alex, takes such glee in enacting. Sent to a prison and subjected to a kind of aversion therapy called the Ludovico technique, Alex has his eyes clamped open as he watches horrifying films designed to put him off violent acts. Not only is the scene gut-wrenchingly intense to watch even now, but McDowell confirmed later that the huge clamps would slide off his face, scratching his cornea and causing him serious pain (1).

6. The Birds

(1963) dir. Alfred Hitchcock

This late-career film is one of Hitchcock’s many iconic contributions to contemporary horror cinema. In The Birds, Lydia, played by Jessica Tandy, goes over to her neighbor’s house only to find it trashed in an incredibly tense scene. In a chilling series of jump cuts, we see the neighbor’s corpse in full close-up – including a good look at his bloody eye sockets, with his eyes recently pecked out by the ravenous animals.

5. Pan’s Labyrinth

(2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro

This magical-realist film set during the Spanish civil war introduced the viewer to a host of charming and terrifying monsters. Perhaps the most notable among them is the Pale Man – a grotesque creature who feeds on children. Bad enough, I’d say, but he also has eyes in the palms of his hands, which – when combined with Doug Jones’s eerie physical performance – make the Pale Man an unforgettable movie monster.

4. Saw II

(2005) dir. Darren Lynn Bousman

The Saw movie franchise is notorious for its graphic scenes of violence. The opening to the second film features a police informant locked in a timed trap (a collar attached to a mask with inward-facing spikes). And, in classic Saw style, the key to free himself is hidden behind his own eye. Unable and unwilling to self-enucleate before the time runs out (and who can blame him?), he comes to a gory end.

3. Zombi 2

(1979) dir. Luciano Fulci

Italian horror cinema had something of a heyday in the 1970s, with its combination of low production costs and practical effects that yielded some truly eye-popping moments. Luciano Fulci’s zombie film features a victim who tries to keep themselves on the safe side of a wooden door, but she fails and is slowly – agonizingly – dragged face-first toward a large and very pointy splinter.

2. Final Destination 5

(2011) dir. Steven Quale

Leave it to horror films to ruin refractive surgery! Olivia, one of this franchise’s many unlucky teens, books herself in for a procedure to correct her myopia. Left alone by the doctor and strapped into a vice that looks eerily similar to the clamps in A Clockwork Orange, the laser goes rogue and the scene ends with a neatly severed eye rolling away from her body. This scene has become so well known that some providers feel the need to reassure their clients that laser eye surgery is nothing like it appears on the big screen (2). Though, let’s be honest, the words laser, eye, and surgery are not the most comforting combination.

1. Hostel

(2005) dir. Eli Roth

Enucleation, gouging, orbital-cranial trauma – all are extremely common in horror films, but there are few more wince-inducing than the gross blowtorch-and-scissors combo featured in Eli Roth’s 2005 film. Here, the poor victim loses their eye as half their face is burned before their sadistic torturer removes the dangling eye, simply snipping through the optic nerve. Truly horrific. But if you watch a film featuring a group of sadists that pays big bucks for the thrill of murdering people however they choose, what else do you expect?

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About the Author
Jon Greenaway

After almost a decade working in academic writing, I wanted to find a new challenge that would let me keep telling stories, learning new things and experiencing the excitement of scientific innovation. That’s what makes The Ophthalmologist a perfect fit for me.

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