In the same year Cronenberg directed Videodrome, he also turned out The Dead Zone, based on a Stephen King novel. After releasing two very different horror movies, he returned three years later with a spellbinding remake of a 1950’s monster movie classic.
The Fly is for some the most visually upsetting body horror movie of all time. Barring that, others will claim this is Cronenberg’s finest. I wouldn’t personally agree with either of those sentiments. I still get where they come from.
The Fly is slow-burn creepiness, which gives way to absolute disgust. That shifts to slack-jawed fascination. It doesn’t hurt that Jeff Goldblum is bug-eyed, passionate, and absolutely insane as a scientist who suffers the consequences of a workplace mishap. His transformation, which also includes a riveting performance by Geena Davis, is pretty horrible to watch. What makes it even worse is what it does to his mind.
Watch if: Your empathy is nearly as strong as your stomach. Avoid if: You’re expecting.
No other movie is like Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man. This includes other movies made by Tsukamoto, who is one of the most inventive filmmakers alive. Every movie on this list is a masterpiece. All of them share one quality or another with one another. Not Tetsuo. This doesn’t necessarily make it the best, although I know some who consider it their favorite movie of all time.
If you haven’t seen Tetsuo before reading this, everything I wrote so far should be kept in mind. It’s about a guy who really, really likes to explore the relationship between metal and what it can do to his body. It gets a lot stranger and horrifying from there.
Watch if: You want to see one of the most disturbing movies ever made. Avoid if: You’re easily startled.
While it leans a little more on psychological over the body, Jacob’s Ladder approaches body horror in ways both subtle and intensely visceral.
Jacob Singer’s (Tim Robbins) descent into hell or madness, the movie doesn’t tell you for a while, also offers some stunning, grotesque transformations. This is balanced against the film repeatedly putting the brunt of Jacob’s psychological traumas into a form on his body, clear to the naked eye.
Even if you figure out the ending early on, that won’t make you complacent.
Watch if: You like movies that do not screw around, when it comes to unpredictability. Avoid if: Your own waking nightmare makes it hard to enjoy someone else’s.
9. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Without giving too much away, Brigitte Fitzgerald gets a really crappy run of life.
That has always been my personal takeaway from Ginger Snaps, as well as its sequel. While that is not the central theme of this movie, which viciously marries werewolf mythology to the assorted hells of growing up biologically female, it is one of the many takeaways I suspect you will have.
Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle (as the titular Ginger, who snaps in several ways) are perfectly cast as two sisters who are attacked one night, right in the middle of their artistic goth period, by a werewolf. The movie can be enjoyed solely through their relationship, which really takes off once Ginger, who was bitten in the attack, begins to change.
However, Ginger Snaps, directed by John Fawcett (who cowrote the screenplay with Karen Walton), should also be appreciated for its varied comments on the human body. It just happens to be that many of these comments are connected to a murderous werewolf.
Watch if: You just want to see one of the best werewolf movies of all time. Avoid if: You’re scared enough of teenage girls as it is.
Twelve years after the first Ginger Snaps, Katherine Isabelle once again appeared in a movie that wanted to take the human body to some gruesome extremes and alterations. For body horror fans who feel a little jaded about an obvious setup, the story of a medical student who becomes a cornerstone of an underground extreme body modification might bug you, just a little.
If you haven’t seen American Mary, and the thought above matches yours, don’t worry about it. Written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary is a proud continuation of the ideas established by their hero David Cronenberg. It isn’t surprising that they are currently working on a remake of Cronenberg’s 1977 Rabid. This is a remake with its own potential.
If the ability to combine observation with unique ideas about savagery and insanity, which is displayed vibrantly throughout American Mary, counts for anything, they should be just fine.
Watch if: You need something to relate to your anger about/towards college. Avoid if: You’re too exhausted with Katherine Isabelle to go on.
If you aren’t actively planning to leave your own skin at this point, here are three runners-up to keep the body moving, presented in no particular order:
– Society (1989) – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Raw (2016)