Surgery often leaves us with a slight feeling of dread. The thought of a sterile room, sharp scalpels, and bloody incisions are enough to make one weak at the knees. But even still, we trust in the process, and even more so in the doctors. That trust in something that terrifies us so, creates a perfect breeding ground for horror movies and the thoughts of our worst nightmares coming to life.
Here are the top ten most insane surgeries in horror. But be warned these aren’t for the faint of heart.
10. Gender Reassignment – The Skin I Live In (2011)
Featured at the number ten spot, The Skin I Live In is probably the tamest of the bunch. The Spanish film by director Pedro Almodóvar (Julieta) features Antonio Banderas (Interview With The Vampire) as a plastic surgeon developing artificial skin that can survive harsh burns and insect bites. After disclosing to a colleague that he’s been experimenting on human patients, he is forbidden from continuing. The surgery that transpires later on features a young man that Banderas kidnaps for a vaginoplasty guinea pig. Over the following years, Banderas keeps the patient hostage while forming him into a version of his late wife, all while the young man tries to maintain his own identity.
9. Brain Surgery – Get Out (2017)
The smash hit from surprise horror director Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) seemingly came out of nowhere. The film revolves around Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther), as Chris Washington, and his girlfriend Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams (Girls). The two are on their way to meet Rose’s family and upon arriving, Chris quickly learns the danger he’s in. This moment comes to a climax showing the beginnings of a brain transplant at the hands of Rose’s father. The moment is surreal; the harsh, sterile light bouncing off the scalpel while the reflection of a brain is clearly on display in the surgeon’s glasses. Absolutely chilling.
8. More Brains Surgery! – Kyōfu (2010)
A Japanese horror film that wastes little time in showing its viewers the horrors that await them. The film, directed by Hiroshi Takahashi (Ringu) shows a family deeply entrenched in the mad scientist matriarch and her horrific experiments. We see multiple and nightmarish experiments two daughters experience at the hands of their neurosurgeon mother, starting from the beginning. The moment in question shows a number of patients being tested upon surgically, the camera lingering on poking and prodding brains. And it only gets more gruesome from there…
7. Gynecology Gone Wrong – Dead Ringers (1988)
You know we couldn’t have this list without a David Cronenburg (The Fly, Videodrome) movie. The movie starred Jeremy Irons (The Borgias) as twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle, two gynecologists preying on women. After an encounter with a woman named Claire, played by Geneviève Bujold (Still Mine) Beverly becomes transfixed with her and begins to obsess over “mutant women.” He even goes so far as to develop a set of nightmarish tools that would look more at home in a torture chamber. The film shows us, in glinting and intricate detail, each one and in the surgery room with everyone clad in red surgical cloaks is enough to make you hold your breath. The moment comes to a head showing the sharp claw of one covered in blood, dark enough to match the robe of the madman wielding it.
6. Experimental Transplant Surgery – Body Parts (1991)
Directed by Eric Red, Body Parts doesn’t hold back from splattering the viewers with every gory detail. The film follows Bill Chrushank played by Jeff Fahey (Planet Terror, The Lawnmower Man) after losing an arm in a car crash. He goes through an experimental transplant surgery and recovers to discover he has the arm of a serial killer. He tracks down others in similar situations, while trying to fight off his newly inherited killer urges stemming from the transplanted arm. The most gruesome scene is when he receives his new arm. The room is filled with doctors and armed police. The surgery commences, blood spattering the cool and composed doctor. The viewer and Chrushank are forced to watch the gory details on a different body before the anesthesia kicks in, leaving Chrushrank subject to a similar fate.
5. Plastic Surgery – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
Following in the veins of Rocky Horror Picture Show, Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! has gained a cult following that only a science-fiction-horror-musical can achieve. Set in 2056 after organ failures have devastated the planet, mega-corporation GeneCo steps in as a dangerous savior to the world, providing new organs for those who need it. However, the fine line is tricky, and if the payments aren’t met, you’re paid a visit by the Repo Man, played by Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Alexa Vega (Spy Kids), daughter of the Repo Man, and victim of a “blood disease” attempts to navigate the dangerous world she finds herself in, especially after the newfound interest in her by GeneCo CEO Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, Goodfellas, Perfume). One of the most horrific surgeries we see (because yes, there are many) shows Paris Hilton (House of Wax) as Rotti’s daughter Amber Sweet, the beautiful heiress addicted to surgery. As she finally gets her moment in the spot light, her new face literally slides off, showing a gruesome vision of blood.
4. Life After Death – Re-Animator (1985)
Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator tells the story of a medical student who is obsessed with reanimating dead bodies. Directed by Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), has gained cult status. Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners) is Herbert West, the student who manages to bring his dead professor back to life. In one particularly gruesome scene, West wields a shovel and decapitates Dr. Carl Hill, played by David Gale (The Brain). West then re-animates the head and body separately. The scene is almost overwhelming in the gore, filled with every crunching sound you could possibly want when it comes to shovel weapons.
3. Siamese Triplet – The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
Come on, you knew this was coming. The infamous Dutch film directed by Tom Six (Human Centipede 1, 2, 3) was never meant for obscurity, instead haunting anyone who has seen it with its’ brutal and stomach-churning scenes. Almost everyone I have spoken to about this movie had a visceral reaction, physically recoiling at the very thought of it. The movie features a German surgeon Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser) a man obsessed with surgically creating new creatures. After kidnapping two American tourists and one Japanese man, Heiter gets to work.
The film is unapologetic as it shows every stitch that goes into Heiter’s creation. The doctor sews the three of them together, mouth to anus as a single digestive system, effectively creating a “centipede.” After Heiter severs the ligaments in their legs, forcing them to crawl, they become something of a pet to him as he attempts to train them. The movie is filled with horrific moments, most of which will likely linger long after you watch. The film inspired two sequels, each as disturbing as the last.
2. Full-Body Dysmorphia – Tusk (2014)
Kevin Smith (Clerks, Red State) came out of nowhere with one of my newest favorites. A horror movie with classic Smith humor, and a moment that truly made me look away. The story follows Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), co-host of the irreverent “Not-See Party” podcast focusing on viral videos that turn into points of humiliation. Bryton flies to Canada to interview one viral video star, only to discover he killed himself. Not wanting to waste the trip, he finds a new subject to interview with the promise of a story-of-a-lifetime.
Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn) plays new interviewee Howard Howe, a retired seaman. Howe tells a story of a walrus named Mr. Tusk, who saved him after a ship wreck before drugging the unwitting Bryton, who awakens later to find his leg has been amputated under mysterious circumstances. Soon Bryton realizes what’s in store for him as Howe tells him the master-plan: He’s going to turn him into a walrus. Bryton painfully wobbles out, screaming and wailing in his new walrus body, stitched together from skin. While not as bloody as others, the mere sight of it was enough to have me pausing for a moment of “what the hell am I watching?”
1. Amputation – American Mary (2012)
My absolute favorite on the list and a bloody testament to the horrors of student loans. Another packed with visceral body horror, American Mary feels like a love letter to the genre. Mary, a medical student played by Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) is struggling with funding for school. She applies for work at a strip club, but instead gets wrangled into performing surgery in the basement. It pays a whopping $5000 for a single night’s work and gains the attention of a stripper with extreme plastic surgery who needs a favor for a friend. She introduces Mary to a world of extreme body modification, including amputation and grafting.
One of her professors, Dr. Alan Grant (David Lovgren) invites her to a party where she is drugged, choked, and assaulted all while he films. Mary turns to revenge, kidnapping Grant and performing involuntary surgery. The revenge comes to a head when it’s revealed that Grant has been left dangling from hooks, with no arms or legs. Mary circles him, snapping pictures and listing off every surgery she had performed. It’s a powerful moment filled with dread and desperation, insuring you can’t look away.
What’s your favourite botched surgery in Horror? Maybe you prefer David Cronenberg’s Rabid to Dead Ringers. Maybe The Autopsy of Jane Doe is more your speed. Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!