Monday, July 15, 2013

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK - The Eyes Have It: Umberto Lenzi vs. Lucio Fulci for the Non-Elective Eye Removal Championship

Contributor Nathan Hamilton sees Italian Horror in a very unique light: Through the removed eyes of the victims ala Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. The battle ensues...

One of the most beloved yet quizzical aspects of Italian horror is the ubiquitous fixation on the eye. Crash zooms in on panic-stricken baby blues during shocking moments. Extreme close ups of furtive glances and intent stares. Frequent gouging, stabbing, impaling, and general slamming shut of the doorway to the soul. Voyeurism, blindness, and “seeing” as a concept creeping up over and over as plot elements. Maybe it’s a way to engage the audience in the emotions of the characters. Maybe it has something to do with visual pleasure, the cinematic gaze, and all that psychological film school malarkey. Maybe it’s just cool looking.

While the thematic reasons for the Neapolitan eyeball fetish are better left to the academics to debate, I think the abundance of eye-violence in Italian horror boils down to something far more simple; it’s a sure fire cringe inducer because we can all relate to it on some level. We can all imagine what that must feel like. Most of us have never had our throat slit. Cannibals haven’t eaten us alive. Zombies haven’t torn our flesh. I hope none of us have been chain-whipped to death. I dare say none of us have vomited up our entire intestinal tract, although I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had an after-party morning or two where it seemed like a distinct possibility. We can’t identify with that stuff, but every last one of us has been poked in the eye at some point and knows one simple, universal truth… that shit hurts!

Any Italian horror director worth his marinara has given us a couple of scenes that give optometrists nightmares, but some have done it more frequently, and better, than others; which brings us to today’s match-up. I think it’s about time we crown a champion in the field of ocular horror. I’m going to take two titans of focal ferocity, examine their three best eye trauma scenes, and see who reigns supreme.

Allow me to introduce our competitors. First up we have a man that really needs no introduction, Lucio Fulci. Yeah, I know. That’s a surprise to no one. Many consider him to be the grand master of spaghetti splatter, and he’s probably the first person you thought of when I mentioned eyeball violence. It’s one of the things he’s best known for. Fulci lives, and let’s hope he lives for a fight because he’s up against a formidable competitor in Umberto Lenzi. Personally, I consider Lenzi to be one of the more underrated of the Italian horror maestros. He’s dabbled in all of the big three Italian gore sub-genres (zombie, cannibal, and giallo), and even kicked off the whole jungle mayhem wave with Man From Deep River. He’s definitely never been easy on the eyes. No, I’m not saying that he’s ugly. I’m saying that if anyone can rival Lucio’s corneal cruelty, it’s this guy. It looks like both men are ready to battle, so without further ado let’s see who is the overlord of the optical onslaught!

Round 1: New York Ripper (Fulci) vs. Nightmare City (Lenzi)

Lucio was never shy about giving his leading ladies a shot in the eye, and no one took it with more style and enthusiasm than the luscious Daniela Doria. Um, maybe I should rephrase that. Anyway, in New York Ripper she plays a bound and gagged hooker at the mercy of a quacking serial killer. Ripper is often considered to be the nastiest of Fulci’s Video Nasties, and it’s easy to see why when Donald Duck works her over with a razor blade. It’s gloriously brutal; especially what he does to her poor nipple. But when he gets to the eye, it’s downright quease inducing. Taking a cue from Un Chien Andalou, he bisects her eye with the razor. Nothing fancy, but undeniably effective.

On Lenzi’s side we have fast, weapon-wielding atomic zombies with week old guacamole caked on their faces in Nightmare City. Poor Cindy runs afoul of one wielding a fireplace poker. After he stabs her in the tit, he goes for the eye. Do I sense a running theme here? He doesn’t just poke that eye. Oh no. He gives her the old jab, twist, and pull. The eyeball itself seems to be pushed back into the skull, and the grinning ghoul seems to take great pleasure in ripping her eyelid free. It’s a great scene with a creative weapon, but I’m going to have to give round 1 to Fulci based on the raw malice and simple elegance of his razor attack. Dali would be proud.

Score: Fulci - 1 Lenzi – 0

Round 2: The Beyond (Fulci) vs. Black Demons (Lenzi)

That nail sticking out of the wall has been gleaming at us since halfway through The Beyond. This is a Fulci flick, so you know that doesn’t bode well for someone. When the housekeeper’s dead husband rises from the bathtub and forces her head onto the nail, it penetrates the back of her skull and not only impales her eye but rips it from the socket. We’re treated to a nice long view of it just hanging there, and that’s why I love you, Lucio. To be fair, there are two great eyeball scenes in The Beyond. This one was the obvious choice, however, because we don’t cut away from the bloodshed nearly as quickly as we do with the zombie thumb-gouge.

In Black Demons, we have weapon-wielding zombies again. One of them carries a large hook that turns out to be the perfect size for scooping an eyeball. Once again the camera lovingly lingers on the carnage, but unlike The Beyond, it’s nice and slow. It takes a few seconds to pull that sucker out, and the accompanying gooey sound effect is brilliant. If it stopped there, this round would be dead even. Lenzi takes it, though, by going the extra mile and having the victim scream for her life with the eye hanging there slapping her in the cheek. That sick bastard sure knows the way to my heart.

Score: Fulci - 1 Lenzi – 1

Round 3: Zombie Flesh Eaters vs. Make Them Die Slowly

These flicks are more commonly known as Zombie and Cannibal Ferox, but I think their alternate titles have a much nicer ring to them. Let’s start with Lenzi this time. Many consider Ferox the ultimate Video Nasty. The violence is downright gut wrenching, and the eyeball scene is no exception. Mike (played by the incomparable Giovanni Lombardo Radice) gets all coked up and decides to torture one of the natives. Before castrating him, he takes out his left eye with a knife. It’s a very well done effect. Adding to the potency of the scene is the look on Radice’s face as he holds up the knife bearing the skewered eyeball. It’s “Edward Norton after the American History X curb stomping” level chilling. That’s gonna be tough to beat. Let’s see what Lucio counters with…

Oh man, this almost isn’t fair. It’s the most iconic eye trauma scene in horror history. We’ve all seen this one. I actually had my VHS tape snap at that exact spot from all the rewinding and slow-moing. Hell, I’ve got a t-shirt of this scene. A zombie punches through a boarded up window, grabs this unfortunate chick, and pulls her into a huge splinter which impales her eyeball in an excruciatingly slow extreme close up. Then, adding insult to injury, it breaks off in the socket. Practical gore effects at their absolute finest. It’s this iconic scene that proves to be Fulci’s trump card.

Final Score: Fulci - 2 Lenzi – 1

So there you have it folks. As you may have predicted, Fulci comes out on top. Lenzi proved to be quite the challenger, providing us with some truly impressive over the top optic grue, but in the end Fulci left behind a legacy of pulverized and perforated peepers that will probably never be equaled. Way to go Lucio. Now before the official presentation of the championship belt, let’s address the elephant in the room. No, I didn’t include Lenzi’s flick Eyeball in the proceedings. Why? Because as far as I can see, it has a lot of empty sockets but not many graphic extractions. I sincerely hope that the version I have is severely cut, because the gore in my copy is quite underwhelming. With a name like Eyeball, it should have been the ultimate retinal rampage movie. Instead, that title goes to Argento’s Opera. But that, as they say, is another story. Back to the business at hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting your winner and reigning Master Of Ocular Horror, Lucio Fulci. Long live the king!


NATHAN HAMILTON is the Son of Celluloid. He writes the mad musings of an unapologetic horror freak. The ultimate goal of his writing is to bring his take on horror to the masses. Published in both HorrorHound and Fangoria, Nathan Hamilton is your one stop shop for horror on the freak side. Stop by the SON OF CELLULOID NOW!!! Make sure to hit "like" on his FaceBook page and Follow his blog. He will be guest judging theHALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE MARATHON MADNESS this October.


  1. didn't think anything could beat the beyond for eye gouges, I'll have to seek black demons out.

  2. I don't know if I'd give it to Lenzi over Fulci for Black Demons. Especially since Black Demons was a solid decade later. ZOmbi 2 is arguably the DEFINITIVE eyeball gag.

    It is what all eye scenes aspire to be.

    Really fun post, man.