The Darkness Gazes Back

A common Horror Trope. A character is surrounded in darkness, aware that there's something lurking just in the shadows. They stare inquisitively into the abyss... and then a pair of eyes appears and returns the favor.

Usually, this is used for Rule of Scary, but there's many other uses. For example, a comedic effect could be that the entity shrouded in shadow could be invisible except for their eyes.

By the Lights of Their Eyes is a Sister Trope. A typical trait of Things That Go Bump in the Night. Compare Glowing Eyes of Doom.

The trope title refers to one of the many philosophies of the eternally quotable Friedrich Nietzsche, as seen on He Who Fights Monsters.


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  • In Iron Man, Pepper Potts and agents of SHIELD are looking for Big Bad Obidiah Stane in his darkly-lit workshop. Pepper notices a suspiciously-large shadow and cautiously stares into it, only for the Iron Monger to power up and two glowing mechanical eyes to stare back at her.
  • In the first Neverending Story, Atreyu stares into a dark corner to find his nemesis, the large wolf beast that had been stalking him the entire story, eyeing him back.
  • Played with in the Doom movie, when one of the soldiers sees a pair of eyes in the darkness. He calls out, thinking it's one of the scientists he's looking for... only to see all the other eyes of the mutated monster opening just before it springs.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: One of the characters in the opening song "This Is Halloween" is the monster devoted to this "job".
    I am the one hiding under your bed
    Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red
  • Monsters INC features this in the opening.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: During the Snow White's run in the forest, the animal's eyes appear from the darkness. 'Cause Snow White's fear and confusion they look like inhuman and demonic.
  • In Frozen, Anna and Kristoff are attacked by a pack of wolves while riding in Kristoff's sled. In the light of the sled's lantern, the first things to become visible are their silhouettes and their reddish, glowing eyes.

  • Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone short story "The Riddle of the Crypt". This happens twice to Irene Morrow. The first time she sees yellow eyes in the darkness it turns out to be a large owl, which attacks her. The second time it's a vampire that wants to drain her blood.
  • In Life The Universe And Everything, Arthur Dent finds himself in a completely dark cave. He turns around several times, convinced that something may be behind him, and the third or so time he sees the compound eyes of a giant fly staring back at him.
  • Frodo keeps seeing Gollum's eyes when he's following the heroes in The Lord of the Rings.
  • In Words of Radiance, second book of The Stormlight Archive, the human army can at first only see the Voidbringers by their glowing red eyes.
  • The Alchemist by Ken Goddard. Two federal agents are thrown into a dark room and see two eyes looking at them. The eyes then rise up to facial level. Then the Big Bad turns on the lights and they find themselves facing a large deadly snake.
  • In The Hobbit, the impenetrable darkness that is Mirkwood at night is broken only by the countless eyes that can be seen watching from the shadows. In Bilbo's opinion, the worst are the ones that look more like insect eyes than animal eyes - and he's proven right, though it might be better to call those eyes arachnid...

     Live Action TV  

  • The X-Files: The ending of "Detour". Mothman's red eyes stare at the motel. Luckily, Scully left the room just in time.

     Video Game 

     Western Animation  

  • In a Looney Tunes Sylvester and son cartoon, Sylvester corners the mouse he's chasing into a dark room and sees a pair eyes staring back. Thinking it's the meek rodent, he charges inside to attack—only to get his ass kicked by the boxing kangaroo.
  • This scene pictured above is from "The Swamp" episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, when the gang realizes they're NOT alone.
    • Done earlier in the series when Avatar Roku acts through Aang to drive off a large firebending force.
  • Every season of Jackie Chan Adventures had Shendu do this to end the first part of the two-part finale.
  • Subverted in the opening title of the original (1973-74) Superfriends. When Wonder Dog looks into the darkness he sees a pair of eyes. However, they're quickly revealed to be a reflection of Wonder Dog's eyes in a mirror. Watch it here.
  • Overlaps with By the Lights of Their Eyes in The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure Ozzy is trapped under a large pile of rocks, Strut looks down to see a pair of glowing angry eyes staring back at him.


     Real Life  

  • Animals with a tapetum lucidum can produce this effect in Real Life: if there's a dim light source (like a campfire) behind the person peering into the darkness, it may be bright enough to reflect off the tapetum and reveal the animal's eyes but not bright enough to make the whole animal visible. Nearly all nocturnal predators have a tapetum lucidum, because it improves their night vision, including all the ones that you really don't want to have lurking around your campfire...