Warning: this feature contains some pictures of eyes that might put you off your lunch.
Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have sought to find new ways to make audiences wince. And few things are more wince-inducing than an abrupt bit of eyeball damage. Eyes are the windows to the soul, the saying goes, and also, when you think about it, extremely vulnerable when exposed to the attentions of zombies, Deadites, assorted monsters, and Bruce Willis.
With these dreadful notions in mind, here’s our selection of cinema’s most grotesque (yet great) eyeball gross out gags. Inevitably, the illustrations below are occasionally quite grim, so proceed with caution if you’re of a nervous disposition, or happen to be eating pickled onions for lunch…
The Crawling Eye
Also known as The Trollenberg Terror, this 1956 flick penned by Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster features giant mobile alien eyeballs that decapitate people up in the Alps. Admittedly not as gruesome as other entries on this list, it’s worth including just for the sheer fun of the poster art.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
One can argue there’s a certain xenophobia running through all of the Indiana Jones movies, ranging from the depiction of spear-carrying Peruvian aboriginals in both Raiders and Crystal Skull down to the stomach-churning Pankot Palace menu in Temple Of Doom (which I’ve never encountered in any Indian restaurant). Still, as a kid, I delighted in the grotesque meal that included “Snake Surprise” (a large python contained live wriggling babies which the locals slurp with relish) and chilled monkey brains (served in severed baboon heads). The appetiser, a disarmingly fragrant broth, is the most shocking. As Willie (Kate Capshaw) gears up for a tasty soup, she stirs the bottom to uncover a quartet of floating eyeballs, causing her meal to stare back at her.
There’s a ton of eyeball imagery in Blade Runner, from the exaggerated ocular close-up that opens the film to the reflective tapetum lucidum of the owl in Tyrell’s offices. So it’s fitting that when replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) decides to exact fatal vengeance on his father Tyrell (outfitted with a pair of spectacles that would do Harry Potter proud), it’s with a very graphic thumbs-through-the-eyeballs gouge.
Die Hard 2
One can’t accuse Renny Harlin of tainting his films with symbolism or cinematic poetry, as evidenced in Die Hard 2. But he does go for the gusto with an action sequence in which a resourceful Bruce Willis saves himself from almost certain death by using a well-placed icicle through his adversary’s eyeball. This sequence was cut from the 15-rated cut of the film in the UK.
This is the second entry for both Philip K Dick and Steven Spielberg, and at least one of these guys will get a third nod in a moment. Minority Report presents us with a Big Brother future, in which eyes are the key to identity, allowing access into buildings, right down to the advertisements seen on billboards. When Tom Cruise’s John Anderton is forced to go on the run, it necessitates Cruise getting an eye replacement.
After a wild sequence involving spider-like robots on the eye-scanning prowl for Cruise, our hero is left with his own slippery eyeballs in a bag, one of which slips and rolls through a sewer grate at the Precrime lab. The slapstick sequence feels like it rolled in from another movie altogether, with a macabre hilarity more befitting the early works of Peter Jackson.
This flick is a Hammer film in all but name, featuring both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a tale that could have easily been retitled Monster On A Train. Lee is transporting a frozen and crated ‘missing link’ specimen with him across the continent. As the locomotive barrels down the trans-Siberian express, the Manchurian creature-in-a-crate breaks loose and, quite naturally, goes on a murderous rampage. The neat trick is that it causes its victims’ eyes to boil in their sockets, turning the orbs opaque white and gush red blood from their tear ducts. Delicious!
Evil Dead 2
Winner of this list’s most hilarious use of a disgusting eyeball goes to Sam Raimi and his conspirators. The genius gag involves sending an eyeball (with visible wires and all) hurtling out of a zombie’s cranium, full across a room in glorious close-up, right into Kassie Wesley’s screaming and unfortunately very open mouth.
Zombie Flesh Eaters
For some reason, Italian horror maestro really had a thing for explicit eyeball damage, with his 1981 movie The Beyond containing no fewer than two scenes of oozing ocular damage. For sheer wince-inducing hideousness, though, the infamous scene in 1979’s Zombie Flesh Eaters is surely the one to beat – a woman’s head is dragged, very, very slowly, towards a piece of sharp wood by a zombie’s rotting hand. The scene is so graphic that, even long after it was removed from the BBFC’s video nasty list in the UK, an uncut version of Zombie Flesh Eaters was only made available in 2005. Now the sequence is regularly featured in YouTube videos, often with heavy metal music placed over the top. Now that’s progress.
While Cronenberg’s sci-fi chiller is primarily known for the exploding head effect early in the film, the climax still gets good and grisly with the mind battle between Stephen Lack and Michael Ironside, who attempts to suck Lack’s brain dry. Purple gushing veins protrude through flesh, Ironside’s eyes boil like a pair of white eggs, and it all ends with Lack’s eyeballs blowing out of their sockets. Good clean family fun.
Since no human has set foot on Mars, Paul Verhoeven (and effects genius Rob Bottin) had to speculate what would happen to a body when left exposed to pressures of the Martian atmosphere. The result, as we’ve all seen, are grotesquely protruding tongues and eyeballs. Thankfully, this process is reversible, or else poor Arnie would be left literally wide-eyed by the film’s conclusion. For further reading (you know you want to), there’s a great article on this phenomenon over on Straight Dope.
Un Chien Andalou
Salvador Dali’s surrealist masterpiece takes the grand prize here, mainly because it’s an actual eyeball being sliced for our viewing pleasure. The editing tells us it’s a human eye being bisected with a straight razor, but don’t fret: it’s just a calf’s eye (on second thought, vegans and animal rights activists can still fret).
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