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The Dead Have Eyes
What beautiful blue eyes! And just look at those pearly white teeth!... not too closely, though.

Guybrush: How can you see without eyeballs?
Murray: How can you walk around without a brain? Some things no-one can answer.

The Undead are already frightening enough, but they manage to go the extra mile by always, always being able to find their victims... because the dead have eyes. Even when they don't have eyes. Even when they shouldn't have eyes.

This manifests in different ways in different media. Decades old zombies fresh out of their graves will have gorgeous (or more likely horrifying) functional eyes despite the rest of their body being a decayed mess, as demonstrated by the gentle-person in the picture. On the other extreme, lacking sensory organs is no impediment for animated skeletons, who will be able to see and hear humans as if they still had those fleshy bits. At times, they will have Glowing Eyelights of Undeath in their eyesockets.

Think about it. A newly risen zombie, magically animated skeleton or mummy should be no more able to see victims than a bat... okay, bad example. There is a good reason behind this though: who would be afraid of a blind and deaf zombie? And, to be perfectly fair, there are plenty of other problems with the undead bio... UnBiology, anyone?

Interestingly, the undead may even develop Super Senses in the form of superior smell, hearing, or even "living radar". The page image, specifically, of skeleton/zombies with still-intact eyes, is probably a modern trope. As modern horror movies and CGI have blurred the line between rotting zombie and skeleton with bits of flesh and organs still hanging on, for increased "yuck" factor. So while it makes sense for recently deceased zombies to have functioning eyes, and older stop motion polished skeletons not to, there are now those that toe the line. Historically, this may have to do with the Special Effects and makeup needed for eyeless sockets being difficult or impractical to use, since it would potentially blind the actor and remove some of their ability to emotenote .

See also Eyes Are Unbreakable. Compare Perpetual-Motion Monster, where the undead don't need food to "live."

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, Barragan Luisenbarn's Resurrecci˛n is a plain skeleton- no eyes (glowing or real) what so ever (although "plain" isn't exactly the right word, taking into account the cool clothes he gets by transforming). Despite this, he's perfectly able to see, not to mention talk, hear, etc.. Then again, he's not an undead- it's simply his natural Hollow form, so he probably doesn't count.
  • The High School Of The Dead zombies are completely blind and in fact won't know you're right next to them as long as you stay completely silent. They hunt via sound only.
  • Brook from One Piece is a living skeleton: he has/had the power to come back to life once, but only managed it after having decayed into a skeleton; thus he is physically (shape, mass) "just bones" but at the same time biologically fully human; long story short, he can see without eyes (and eat/poop without a GI tract, etc.), a fact he constantly jokes about.
    • The zombies from Thriller Bark are very much undead, but have eyes nonetheless.
  • Averted in Soul Eater with Sid. He has no eyes (or lips), but his eye sockets move to help show his expressions.

    Film 
  • Subversion: The movie Tombs of the Blind Dead, they hunt you by sound alone.
    • Also played straight, in that it doesn't bother to explain how their eyes managed to rot away while leaving their eardrums perfectly intact.
      • The zombies in that movie are the Knights Templar. Their eyes were pecked out by crows after they were accused of heresy by the church.
  • The pic is from Return of the Living Dead, by the way. It's time to paaaaaaaaaaaarty!
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the undead pirates are decaying skeletons except for their eyes.
    • Though since Jack turns into a similarly decayed skeleton within minutes of picking up a cursed coin, this is probably just a reflection of the curse. One could even theorize that since the undead pirates still possess their souls trapped within their rotting shells, of course they still have eyes.
  • The movie poster for Evil Dead 2, as shown here.
    • Also, the poster for Dead Alive.
    • But subverted in Army of Darkness where the Deadite Army (who are mostly just skeletons in armor) have empty sockets.
      • Then played straight with Bad Ash, who gets his head set on fire and loses pretty much all the flesh off of it, but keeps his eyes thoroughly intact.
  • Even the most thoroughly decayed zombies from Romero's later zombie films (Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead) have totally intact eyes.
  • Interestingly, it was the Italians who tended to be the only ones averting this trope in the 70s and early 80s, because they tended to go for maximum Gorn. As a result, Eye Scream dictated the nastiest eyes possible.
    • In Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (also known as Zombie, or Zombie Flesh Eaters), the recently undead walk around in a sleepy haze with their eyes closed at all times. Whether or not they have eyes is unclear. The oldest zombies seen, however, seem to be totally without eyes; the ancient conquistador zombie has writhing worms coming from a mostly-decayed eye-hole.
  • Subversion: In Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror, the zombies are uniformly eyeless.
  • Averted in The Mummy 1999, the eponymous mummy has to borrow eyes. Though for some reason, he borrows them from someone who can barely see. Their myopia somehow doesn't affect him.
    • In early drafts of the script, he was affected by the borrowed eyes's myopia. This was rejected as a Level Breaker.
    • On the other hand, the various minions he summons don't seem to be bothered by their lack of eyes.
  • Having rotted practically to a skeleton, Jack in An American Werewolf in London still retains his eyes.
  • Averted in the 1972 Amicus Productions film version of Tales From The Crypt; the two times we see characters who have been dead for a while, their eyes are completely gone (Peter Cushing's character is the most memorable example).
  • Despite spending time rotting in a grave, Jason in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives has one functional eye ready for an Eye Awaken scene when revived.

    Literature 
  • In Day By Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne, zombies mostly track humans down by loud noises.
  • Zombies in Diario de un Zombi.
  • Death from Discworld is another example of a skeleton without eyes, merely with two blue points of light in his eyesockets. Probably because Death is not supposed to be a horrible monster, but a main character. Much of the cover art by Josh Kirby (falsely) depicts him with normal eyeballs, though.
    • Played with in "Pyramids". When the King first returns to life, as a mummy, he is quite blind until he stumbles around and finds the one jar with his eyes. Then, he gently picks them up. Since he died very recently, this is reasonable. But, when ALL of the many past Pharohs come to life, this trope is played straight. After all, the Kingdom has been around for 7,000 years.
  • Lampshaded in Skulduggery Pleasant. The titular character is a skeleton who can not only see without having eyes, but can also hear, speak, think, etc. without the necessary organs. When questioned about this, his answer is essentially A Wizard Did It.
  • In Zak's Bad Dreams about his dead parents in Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead, this is averted; his parents have empty eye sockets, though they are otherwise relatively intact. Played straight in the holographic cover for the Limited Collector's Edition; one view shows a skeleton lying back on grass with the tatters of some kind of jacket over its bones, while the other view has it starting to sit up, jaws open, worm things twining among its bones and coming out one eye socket, while the other socket bears a glaring eye. There are no skeleton zombies within the pages.

    Live Action TV 
  • Anyone who has seen Tales from the Crypt can never forget the Crypt Keeper's beautiful blue eyes... and spleen, and liver, and collection of hearts.

     Tabletop RPG 
  • The 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons supplement Libris Mortis stated that skeletons and other undead without normal visual sensory organs have "Lifesense". That is they can see as if living creatures gave off light in a 20 foot radius that illuminates the environment for them and everything else is total darkness.
    • Also from Dungeons & Dragons, the Demiliches don't have eyes per se but instead, two large red jewels that work just as well.
    • Another Dungeons & Dragons example: the 1st edition adventure L1 The Secret of Bone Hill had two undead skeletons with eyes: the skelter and the remains of a high level magic user.

    Video Games 
  • Despite lack of functional organs, undead in World of Warcraft tend to have either this kind of vision or Glowing Eyelights of Undeath. Even the skeletons are somehow able to see you despite that they have no eyes. Presumably it's magic.
    • Although the last part is true for skeleton mobs. Almost all skeleton mobs are specifically mentioned to be basically the puppets of necromancers that have no real thoughts of their own. However, there are some exceptions.
    • One of the options for playable undead of both genders (And NPCs sharing the same models), is an X-shaped leather strap bound to their face covering the eyes. They can still apparently see.
      • It only covers they eyes on the female model. The male undead with that option still have their eye sockets visible, altho they have no eyes.
    • Death Knights keep their eyes. Then again, they are very well preserved, skin discoloration being the only sign of rot. Their eye color changes from whatever it was in life to pale blue, or for a handful of NPC death knights, purple. Of course, their eyes also start glowing, a traditional Warcraft trait for anyone magically empowered.
  • The skeletons in Dungeon Keeper 2 have one eye. They can take it out and use it to see round corners in one cutscene.
  • Sir Daniel Fortesque, the player character of Medievil, is a literal half-example: Despite being dead for a century and having lost all the skin and muscle on his head (plus his jaw), he still has one good eye left in his socket. His other eye, however, is missing because he was killed by getting an arrow through it.
    • If you look in the opening cutscene, before the magic resurrection spell was cast his eyesockets are empty. The spell restored his eye.
  • Lampshade Hanging in The Curse of Monkey Island. Guybrush asks Murray, a talking skull, how he can see without eyeballs. Murray snaps back "How can YOU walk around without a brain?" but then admits that there's some things no one can answer.
  • In Planescape: Torment, Morte is physically no more than a speaking, floating skull, but his eyes appear still perfectly functional. He can even roll them despite not having any musculature. Morte explains that this is because he's not really a skull, but a Mimir: A man-made construct (like a golem, but sentient) designed to look like a skull, but with eyes included.
    • This turns out to be a lie, however, and none of his fellow skulls in the pillar have eyes.
  • Oshare Bones of the Puyo Puyo series has one intact eye. His other eye seems to have rotted away and instead is a glowing eyelight of undeath.
  • Gruntilda in Banjo-Tooie spent two years under a giant boulder, arising as a skeleton, and aside from popping out now and again, her eyes are fine. Played with again in Nuts & Bolts, her skull is cracked and bleached after 8 years of hopping back to Spiral Mountain, but her one good eye is perfectly fine and dandy.

    Webcomics 
  • The lich and necromancer Xykon from The Order of the Stick has Glowing Eyelights of Undeath and Expressive Eyesockets, which taken together tend to resemble photo-negative eyeballs.
  • The zombies in Sluggy Freelance have human intelligence and who can pass for humans... under medium/heavy zombie makeup. One even mentions they need to eat the tissue they want to repair/maintain for it to stay "healthy". So most zombies who only eat muscle go blind and deaf (and very dumb) after the first few years.
  • Justified in Unsounded with undead Duane's eyes actually being pyramic replacements. The eyes he was born with were actually stabbed out before he died.

     Western Animation 
  • Not a zombie, but He-Man arch foe Skeletor can see without eyes and talk without lips or tongue.
    • He's a lich, which is a type of undead.
    • As part of his general character redesign for The New Adventures of He-Man, Skeletor received actual eyeballs; in the pilot they were solid black with red highlights, but changed to green with black pupils thereafter.
  • Jack Skellington can see and hear just fine without eyes and ears. In the commentary, Tim Burton mentions that Disney wanted him to add eyes for more expression, but luckily, Jack's eyesockets were expressive enough to not need them.

    Other 
  • One of Jeff Dunham's characters, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, has red eyes (and eyebrows, and a goatee), even after being reduced to a skeleton.


The Darkness Gazes BackEye TropesDeadly Gaze
Army of the DeadTropes of The Living DeadDeadly Lunge
Return of the Living DeadImageSource/Live-Action FilmsRevenge of the Nerds

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