As a child I always enjoyed staying up late to secretly watch black and white horror classics and 80s schlock on broadcast television. One fateful night, I was introduced to Canadian horror master David Cronenberg. The film was Videodrome (1983) and I was frightened to no end. My limit was crossed. This was not the horror I was use to. There was no actor in a wolfman mask or a green little critter with attitude, it was something else.
I didn’t know then what I was watching, but I understood that I didn’t understand at all. These are David Cronenberg’s Top 5 Body Horror Films:
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5. Crash (1996)
Perhaps not body horror in the purest sense as it lacks the striking images of the body in direct harm on screen. That said, Crash is overly concerned with trauma and the sexualized connection between human and machine. The horror lives in the lack of human connection, and hyper sexualization that challenges societal norms of intimacy. From being aroused by the scars etched into human skin to the the body as machine, Crash remains one of Cronenberg’s must unique examinations of human sexuality and desire with the human body in the forefront of the narrative.
Who could ever forget seeing James Woods’ body becomes a VHS machine? Videodrome is quintessential Cronenberg. It was the film that introduced me to Cronenberg and one that continued to puzzle me for years. Grounded in a culture of hyper media consumption, Videodrome remains a topical examination of a society obsessed with technology. Although made for the VHS generation of the 1980s, the film speaks to the streaming and Web 2.0 culture of now. As Max Renn (James Woods) loses himself to the television show “Videodrome”, we’re reminded that our dependence and reliance on technology and media disconnects us from reality, altering us completely.
3. Shivers (1975)
Shivers was Cronenberg’s debut feature and a classic of the sub-genre. This low budget film is both imaginative and socially aware. Also known as They Came from Within and The Parasite Murders, the story takes place in a high-rise apartment complex where an army of parasites begin to infiltrate the bodies of the residence. The film speaks to the the fantasies and anxieties of the sexual revolution. Whereas the mid-to-late 1970s is known for the introduction of the slasher film, Shivers remains a stark introduction into the realm of early body-horror.
2. Scanners (1981)
The legendary exploding head! That image is an iconic frame of body-horror cinema. In his fourth feature film, Cronenberg tells the story of a breed of men and women who are human scanners. These scanners can pick up on the thoughts of others, enter people’s minds and battle with them. These battles can have devastating results – such as a person’s head exploding. Grounded in the anxiety of corporate greed and distrust, the scanners are being appropriated by a large multinational corporation, with the purpose to use their abilities for ultra-capitalistic goals. Throughout all of this, two scanners fight for their independence from the corporate machine and the potential evil of science. Although the film lacks a deep emotional connection to the scanners, the ideas presented are pressing.
The pinnacle of Cronenberg’s body-horror exploration is his most successful film commercially and critically. The Fly still remains a haunting tale of science, acting as body-horror, love story and dark comedy. The Fly is a testament to Cronenberg’s ability to shape his personal sensibilities for a wide audience. Like many of Cronenberg’s films, The Fly is not merely a science noir tale but rather a story about transformation. To impress science reporter Veronica (Geena Davis), awkward science nerd Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to transport himself using his technology. Unknowingly, a fly enters his machine, infecting his DNA, slowly transforming him into a human fly. To this day, The Fly still remains a layered and haunting tale, examining deep and complex anxieties.