Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Contact Lenses in Horror Films

When you change a person's eyes, it really has a startling effect on us. After all, there is a reason why we have the expression, "The eyes are the window to the soul." Take away the eyes or make them grotesque, and you're that much closer to creating a terrifying monster. Almost every zombie film does it. Ok, not Romero's original trilogy (likely because contact lenses were in their infancy at the time and painful to wear especially full scleral lenses) but Land of the Dead certainly does. Then there is, of course, The Walking Dead, which shows what great makeup and contact lenses can do. Clearly, Danny Boyle is a fan with his undead opus 28 Days Later. In fact, it's quite common now.

But contact lenses have been used in horror movies for a long time. The earliest and most striking example I can think of would have to be 1973's The Exorcist where they really helped transform the sweet little girl Regan into the unnerving, possessed puppet of a sinister demon. Naturally, Dick Smith's phenomenal makeup can't be underestimated either. 6 years later, Tobe Hooper employed full scleral lenses to great effect in the TV movie Salem's Lot, which I think still holds up well today. Plenty more horror films used them in the 1980s: DemonsThe Evil DeadAn American Werewolf in London, The Lost Boys, Cat People, etc.

I even used them in my low-budget horror movie. They cost $300 a pair for full scleral lenses, but they were definitely worth it. Of course, you can get contact lenses a lot cheaper these days. If you're making a horror film or just want to scare the crap out of somebody, it's a time-honored tradition. A lot of places will let you order custom ones too. If you just want to see what's out there, Spooky Eyes has a pretty big selection and cheap prices. For full scleral lenses, check out FX Eyes but be warned. They're a lot more expensive.

I guess you could argue too many horror films use them now, but I disagree especially when you can get so many different kinds. They're a great tool at our disposal that often isn't discussed, which is a shame since they really do add a lot.


  1. When they are used correctly, the effect can be great. I'm wearing a bit thin with them in zombie films at this point. Some of my favorite uses are in The Evil Dead and The Beyond. Very eerie...

    1. Those are definitely some good ones. I haven't ever really seen a horror film with contact lenses in it where I thought, "This would be better without those." The problem is just movies with bad writing, bad characters, bad acting, bad music, etc. They are used in pretty much every zombie film now though.

    2. I think when they are used with overly stylised make-up, and the lenses themselves look too stylised. I like it when they use the 'milky' eye type ones that you see in The Walking Dead, for example. They have the best looking zombies in terms of rotting make up. A bad example is WWZ, which I watched last night... the make up was fairly dreadful, I thought.

    3. I didn't mind WWZ, but I understand what you mean. You can definitely have some that look too hokey especially in combination with bad makeup. I also really like the ones on The Walking Dead. If only they didn't use CG blood but oh well.

  2. I didn't mind the film itself, it was mainly the make up I was griping about. FULLY agreed on the CG blood. It kills me every time. I understand time/money is limited on making an ambitious show, but heck, they could do headshots back in the old days on every cheapo film that came out, so why not now? Same goes for the likes of The Expendables, etc. CG blood is too distracting.

  3. I love this post. Sometimes we, as horror fans, don't always think about the little things that can make a film great. Something as simple as contact lenses can turn a mediocre scene into something more terrifying. I really appreciate when people post things like this and remind me of these little things.