The Eyes Have It
One of the scariest things you can see on film is something you know is not alive acting as if it is; statues move, eyes of dolls pop open, parts of the architecture animating of their own accord. This can happen as someone is watching it, or out of the corner of the eye, ceasing as soon as the character looks right at it. It doesn't matter, it is more than enough to send some unstable souls over the edge into madness (followed quite often by death). Note that this trope is particularly effective and chilling when the audience never knows if what they're seeing is real, or all in the character's head. And while such occurrences usually result in the demise of the witness, it's not required that they literally keel over due to fear. Quite often, the imagery of the moving/living inanimate implies a guilty conscience, if not outright stated. Subtrope of Malevolent Architecture. Almost always produces Nightmare/Paranoia Fuel. (Although if done badly, this leads to Narm.) Often related to Your Mind Makes It Real and Clap Your Hands If You Believe. Despite the trope name, it doesn't always have to be eyes. And while a particularly visceral, textual description is possible, this trope almost always appears in visual media. Compare Uncanny Valley. Related to Demonic Dummy, Perverse Puppet, Portrait Painting Peephole and Living Toys. Sometimes overlaps with Eye Awaken, though that trope usually only applies to living (or at least sentient) creatures. Not to be confused with the Charmed episode of the same name, which made use of Eye Scream rather than this trope. Or the Criminal Minds episode, also with the same name, which also makes use of Eye Scream.
open/close all folders
- In The Haunting (1999), not only does the ghost of Hugh Crain cause his house to come alive in various ways, but in one particularly Anvilicious scene, a pair of stained glass windows in Eleanor's bedroom are seen to turn into colossal, glaring red eyes.
- A great deal of the fear dealt out by Chucky of Child's Play derives from the power of this trope, at least before the doll starts running around openly trying to kill everyone.
- An example where much more than eyes is used: Young Sherlock Holmes, the scene where the knight in the stained-glass window leaps down to do combat with the poor priest. Notable because it is specifically later revealed, like other deaths in the film, to be caused by a hallucinogenic drug. What the priest saw was in fact all in his mind, but since it made him flee the church and run under the wheels of a moving carriage, he still ended up just as dead.
- Clash of the Titans. The head of the statue of the goddess Thetis falls to the floor. The eyes of the head open, indicating that Thetis herself is controlling it.
- Another non-horror example: the protagonist's degeneration in Bamboozled.
- In the movie Shanghai Knights, there's a scene where the dynamic duo are searching through a library, and someone is in the walls, using the old gag where they look out the pictures through the eyeballs to watch what's going on. In a couple shots, the eyes look like they could really be the eyes in the painting moving.
- Henry's baby in Eraserhead. While it isn't completely still, most of it's other movements are stiff and artificial enough to make it look like it wasn't alive anyway. The eyes mainly move to remind you this thing is alive and is apparently some kind of human in order to add to the wrongness. Also the small cabinet and the tree cart.
"You know, sometimes I get the feeling that painting is watching me? Even smiling at me?"
- Black Swan (thanks to mirrors being used in virtually every shot) uses a lot of this, where the reflections sometimes don't perfectly match the real people, increasingly so as the film progresses and the protagonist's sanity collapses. One non-mirror example happens near the start when one of the images on a wall of pictures blinks, and towards the end, when the protagonist has suffered a complete mental breakdown, we see the entire wall of pictures moving and talking.
- Similarly, Stephen King's Rose Red featured a scene where a statue of Ellen Rimbauer in the mansion garden ripped off her own face, the eyes of which then opened. The poor witness died of a heart attack soon after.
- Doctor Who example: "The Awakening". A stone carving in a church starts blinking and later belching smoke due to the alien imprisoned behind it.
- Another Doctor Who example: The statues in Blink. The way they move between the strobes of light, caught in new and more hideous poses as the sequence progresses so you can see they're alive but you can't see they're alive, well... It's not nice.
- In fact, the Trope Name comes from the Doctor commenting on the eyes in the walls of a hallway in The Almost People.
- Sister of Mine, from the Family of Blood, is now trapped in every mirror in existence (possibly throughout time as well), appearing, as Brother of Mine puts it, as "that thing in the corner of your eye, that goes away as soon as you look"
- Call of Cthulhu adventure "The Auction". When the Brazen Head is activated, its metal eyelids open, revealing living eyes inside the sockets.
- The stalking menace in Barrow Hill turns out to be a mobile stone from an ancient ring of Celtic monoliths.
- When you grab the Morph Ball at the start of Super Metroid, the scowling eyes and mouths of the nearby statues glow... and then as you leave they turn to look at you.
- In Condemned: Criminal Origins, there is a level that takes place in an abandoned department store, with lots of plaster mannequins standing about, modeling old cloths. Wait, what was that motion in the darkness over there... ?
- Parodied in a Homestar Runner Halloween cartoon, where the eyes of a painting literally follow the Homestar Runner across the room. He notices, and takes down the painting, revealing that it has holes in the eyes, behind which are "a pair of weird, one-eyed crows."
- Non-horror example: in the Disney adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, after taking the life of Quasimodo's mother and taken on the mother of all guilt trips by the Archdeacon, Judge Claude Frollo sees the eyes of every statue on the cathedral facade, most especially those of the Virgin Mary, glaring at him in righteous condemnation. Amazingly, however, he's able to shrug this off and dump the foundling on the churchman instead. At the end of the film, one of the gargoyles comes alive to roar a fiery wrath right in his face. This time he's not so lucky.