Personally, I believe it’s a milestone in the loss of one’s innocence: learning that you can die with your eyes open.
Up to a certain point in childhood, any death you see on-screen ends with a dramatic last gasp and closing of the eyes, like the person died by some form of lethal exhaustion. But eventually, you watch that “grown-up” movie or show where it doesn’t happen that way: somebody dies with their eyes open, and it traumatizes you in a landmark sort of way.
For me, this revelation came as a one-two punch in the form of two lesser-known films from the ’70s — neither one a horror film and both, strangely enough, starring BURT REYNOLDS.
One is 1976’s GATOR, where JERRY REED (in an underrated bad-guy performance) blows a hole in JACK WESTON with his sawed-off shotgun. We catch a fleeting glimpse of WESTON‘s lifeless body, eyes and mouth open, as REED douses the room with gasoline and sets it on fire.
The other is 1975’s LUCKY LADY about rum-runners during the Prohibition era. In a scene where are heroes (REYNOLDS and JAMES CAAN) are ambushed on a cargo boat, bad guy JOHN HILLERMAN (no, not MAGNUM PI‘s beloved Higgins!) machine-guns down REYNOLDS and CAAN‘s protege, a very young ROBBY BENSON. As REYNOLDS and CAAN lay wounded as well, they roll over to see BENSON slumped on his side, his pretty-boy eyes wide open and glazed over in death.
Lancifer and John, I put the question to your readers:
What was the first movie or T.V. show that showed you that you can die with your eyes open?
AUNT JOHN SEZ: That’s a really good question FilmFather. As a kid, I was of the school of thought that when you died, you ended up with your legs in the air, like a recently deceased horse in a cartoon. In hindsight, it makes no sense, but I really thought a pair of legs at a ninety degree angle was a sure sign of death. As for the eyes wide open approach, I am drawing a complete blank. Readers, please sound off in the comments or shoot us an email.