Charles Manson died in prison on Sunday. The cult leader was serving a life sentence for the murder of nine people in 1969. He was eighty-three years old.
Manson's appearance has come to symbolize, in many peoples' minds, the face of a crazed killer. A psychopath. The detail which most people remember are Charles Manson's eyes. They are opened very widely. But more specifically, what is it exactly about this expression that gives people "the chills"?
In this (anti)iconic photo of Manson - note how widely his upper eyelids are opened - his right eye more so than his left. His eyebrows are also elevated - which is also greater on his right side.
An astute observer may notice that Manson's nostrils are flared (again, with a bias on his right).
Now, look at the rest of his face. Although this image is of lower resolution, we can see his forehead is fairly relaxed, with minimal dynamic furrows present.
Next, try covering the upper two-thirds of his face - and look only at his mouth - it's relaxed, neutral.
The three primary emotions which involve widely-opened eyelids are:
• Intense Anger (Rage)
With mild-to-moderate levels of anger, the eyelids will partially close and the mouth opening will tighten. With high levels of anger, however, this eyelid dynamic will reverse direction and the eyes will open very widely. The same wider-open configuration of intense anger/rage will also be true of the lips (and often of the mouth too - although sometimes while the lips will pull back - baring clenched teeth).
The mouth of fear is highly characteristic - with the corners of the mouth vectored backward (laterally) and down.
A mouth of surprise displays a classic vertically-oriented oval opening - with no teeth visible.
What makes Manson's face so "freaky" is that while his eyes are opened so very widely - the rest of his face (except for his nostrils) are relaxed. It's difficult to make such an expression without practicing - yet Manson did it all the time. It doesn't make sense. It confuses us. It feels odd. Normally the mouth is also "participating" with such an extreme eye expression - but not here. Thus, taken on their own, his extremely widely-opened eyes are considerably alarming - but the dramatic incongruity with the rest of his face is what really horrifies us.
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