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The Eyes Have It

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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 (1998) episode of the same name, which makes 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.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Non-horror example: in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney), after taking the life of Quasimodo's mother and taking 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Black Swan uses a lot of this thanks to mirrors being used in virtually every shot, 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.
  • Brahms: The Boy II: In one scene, when Liza walks by Brahms, his eyes are visibly seen following her.
  • A great deal of the fear dealt out by Chucky in Child's Play (1988) derives from the power of this trope, at least before the doll starts running around openly trying to kill everyone.
  • Clash of the Titans (1981): 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.
  • Henry's baby in Eraserhead. While it isn't completely still, most of its 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.
  • Ghostbusters II:
    "You know, sometimes I get the feeling that painting is watching me? Even smiling at me?"
  • In The Haunting (1999), not only does the ghost of Hugh Crain cause his house to come alive in various ways, but in one scene, a pair of stained-glass windows in Eleanor's bedroom are seen to turn into colossal, glaring red eyes.
  • The animatronics in The House With a Clock in Its Walls are so creepy and unnerving that they scream to be this trope, to the point that when they finally do come to life just before the Hostage Situation that leads up to the climax, it's almost a relief. Almost, because even once the long-held shoe is dropped, they are still disturbingly nightmarish.
  • In 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.
  • 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.

  • In the Age of Steam novel Dead Iron, a room of Strangework mantics is absolutely still, except for eyes following LeFel and Mr. Shunt.
  • Harry Potter: When Slytherin's locket is opened, it contains a pair of living (and red) eyes. Unlike the previously encountered horcrux, it doesn't manifest itself fully, only able to project images of Harry and Hermione mocking Ron.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Rose Red features a scene where a statue of Ellen Rimbauer in the mansion garden rips off her own face, the eyes of which then open. The poor witness dies of a heart attack soon after.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Auction", when the Brazen Head is activated, its metal eyelids open, revealing living eyes inside the sockets.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied in a Homestar Runner Halloween cartoon when the eyes of a painting literally follow Homestar 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".

    Western Animation 
  • Another non-horror example: in the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Skeletons in the Closet", the figure in a painting of one of Lady Jaye's and Destro's ancestors follows her as she passes by, indicating that it's just Destro Hiding in Plain Sight.