The human eye is one of the most sensitive areas on the map of the human body. Horror authors know this. Always eager to elicit visceral reactions from their readers, writers have often used the proverbial “window to the soul” as a vehicle for terror. Countless works of fiction have included the mutilation, disfigurement, and injury to the human eye as a source of horror. Though arguably overused in cinema with films like Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, Eli Roth’s Hostel, and Dario Argento’s Opera employing similar theatrics of eyeball peril, the notorious “eyeball scene” is a welcome staple in horror literature with countless authors inventing new and imaginative ways to make us fearful of permanently losing our sight.
Here are five works of literature that will have you questioning: “What have you done today to deserve your eyes?”
Survivor, J.F. Gonzalez
Celebrated by critics and fans alike as one of the most disturbing books of all time, J.F. Gonzalez’s Survivor is a masterpiece of transgressive fiction with its unflinchingly realistic depictions of cannibalism, necrophilia, and rape. Admirers of eyeball mutilation will find their proclivities satisfied in the book’s prologue when a character has their eyeball sucked from their socket during a sexual escapade gone awry. It’s a grueling, devastatingly bleak opening chapter and it expertly sets the grim tone for the remainder of the novel. Of course, with Gonzalez’s reputation as one of the finest writers of extreme horror, readers better acquainted with his work can expect far more grisly moments of torture and perversion throughout the course of the novel. Regardless, Survivor’s opening scene remains one of the most disturbing and upsetting moments in any novel I’ve come across.
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Although seasoned readers of the macabre might balk and claim that Coraline isn’t as unsettling or as psychologically distressing as Barker, Ligotti or Matheson simply due to the fact that Gaiman’s work was marketed as a young adult novella. Regardless, Coraline remains one of the most unnerving novellas I’ve ever read and features some highly disturbing eyeball-related content that will make even the most hardened reader squirm in their seat as they read. Probably the most cringe-worthy moments throughout the entirety of the novella revolve around the fact that Coraline’s “other mother” has shiny black buttons for eyes. Gaiman goes to great lengths to describe the unpleasantness of the alternate reality in which young Coraline remains a prisoner, specifically the threat of poor Coraline becoming a grotesque version of her former self – button eyes and all. Although the book was marketed for younger readers, fans of quality dark literature will undoubtedly find something worthwhile in Gaiman’s chilling novella.
Blasted, Sarah Kane
Although this particular selection is not a work of horror fiction, Sarah Kane’s iconic play Blasted is one of the most meaningful and harrowing works of literature I’ve ever encountered. Panned by critics as a “disgusting feast of filth” during its original London premiere in 1995, Kane’s play is a disturbing and expertly drawn portrait of the horrors of war and political and sexual power dynamics. Perhaps one of the most widely discussed and controversial moments of the play includes a scene where a character is sexually assaulted by a soldier before having his eyes gouged out. Despite the fact that Kane’s stage directions are precise and methodical, readers will find this play to be a reading experience unlike any other. Irreversible eye damage is only one of the many forms of bodily mutilation covered throughout the entirety of Kane’s masterpiece. Readers well acquainted with the gruesome writings of Wrath James White, Edward Lee, and Kathe Koja might find themselves out of their depth when perusing the masterful work of playwright Sarah Kane.
Audition, Ryu Murakami
Although director Takashi Miike’s 1999 film adaptation of Murakami’s novel is notorious among horror fans as one of the most depraved and disturbing works of international cinema, the film’s source material is just as unsettling as Miike’s effort. Perhaps even more so. Author Ryu Murakami’s lyrical descriptions of the over-the-top torture the psychotic Asami performs on the novel’s main character is profoundly upsetting to read. One of the novel’s most disturbing moments involves a needle and an eyeball. Need I say more? Although some readers might argue that the detailed account of Aoyama’s foot amputation to be the novel’s pinnacle moment of gruesomeness, I’ve always been especially terrified of the moment when he awakens to find his eye has been speared with one of Asami’s needles. Audition is unquestionably one of the strangest and most upsetting novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I loved every second of it.
Only the Stains Remain, Ross Jeffery
Although some readers might be shamefully unaware of the literary excellence of British horror writer Ross Jeffery, the Bristol-based author’s star continues to shine brightly in the independent lit community. Not only has Jeffery distinguished himself as one of the finest writers of dark and disturbing fiction in the indie scene, but he was nominated for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for his debut work, Tome. Only the Stains Remain is Jeffery’s most recent work and the novella explores delicate subject matters such as grief, childhood abuse, and trauma. Eyesight and the way in which we perceive certain things and people figure significantly throughout the course of the narrative. Consequently, eye trauma is inevitable, and Jeffery makes his readers suffer exquisitely during a particular scene when a character pushes the smoldering end of a cigarette into another character’s eye to effectively blind him. Though the short work is filled with Ketchum-esque descriptions of mutilation and carnage, the moments detailing eye trauma are perhaps the most stomach-churning scenes in the entirety of the narrative.
Eric LaRocca is the author of several works of dark fiction including The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales and Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. Eric is represented by Ryan Lewis/Spin a Black Yarn for Film and Television. For more information, follow @ejlarocca on Twitter or visit ericlarocca.com.