David Cronenberg is undeniably the master of body horror, so much that the sub-genre has become synonymous with his name, even if he hasn’t directed a movie of this type in years. He will always be the name associated with body horror because, simply put, he’s the best at it. He’s the godfather of it. It’s an integral part of every genre film he ever made. This sub-genre would not be anything like it is today without David Cronenberg. Even if he’s moved on now, he made a career of it for almost twenty years.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been truly great body horror movies from other directors. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best of all time. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is also certainly amongst the greatest body horror films of all time. Then there are the other features that tend to fall through the cracks. Ones that didn’t get the biggest releases, or were discovered via the video market. These are the titles that often go overlooked, but are worth shining a light on. Even if what we see in that light can very often be repulsive, it’s hard to look away. These features all chronicle the decay of the human body, as well as often the mind and spirit. No two of them take the same approach. Some are fittingly grim. Others, as you’ll see below, take the concept and have great fun with it.
One of the best films from the underrated Brian Yuzna, who also directed Bride of Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead 3, Society is about a young man who feels that he is different from the rest of his family and that he doesn’t fit in with them. They mix with the upper class, with high society, but he doesn’t and there’s clearly a lot going on that he does not know about. Things get very bizarre, very quickly. This is a really imaginative and surreal film that is not for viewers with a weak stomach. Despite its extremely low budget, there’s a wealth of impressive visual imagery and the sort of gooey FX work that body horror fans have come to expect.
The Stuff tends to not get lumped in with body horror so much, but given that its about processed food and the very notion of what we put in our bodies without questioning it, it definitely counts. This one’s about an alien substance that is packaged and mass-produced until it becomes the number one food in every household. It takes over the mind of the consumer, driving them to buy more and more until it becomes all they eat. Finally, it destroys the body from the inside out in a slimy, marshmallowy mess. The metaphor is thinly veiled, but it definitely packs a punch.
OK, so this one is directed by a Cronenberg, but not the one you’re thinking of. David’s son Brandon Cronenberg directed this extremely relevant and artfully done film about a future where people pay a lot of money for the venereal diseases of their favorite celebrities so that they can feel closer to them. They can even eat steak made from a celebrity’s processed skin cells. This has echoes of what David was capable of at his best while also being incredibly different from that director’s style in all the right ways. It’s a biting social satire and commentary on celebrity fan culture that people should definitely check out if they haven’t already.
Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond does nothing to hide the very clear influences it takes from Cronenberg as well as Carpenter’s The Thing. But it mixes these influences with the otherworldy, cosmic horror that H.P. Lovecraft was known for. The film is very sexual, and while Lovecraft didn’t incorporate sex into his work, he was certainly afraid of it and that horror does come across on the page. It’s not as over-the-top as one might think to bring that aspect into the film adaptation. There’s even a unique element to it, as From Beyond basically depicts intellectual stimulation and sexual stimulation as one and the same thing. While it hasn’t reached the cult classic status of its predecessor, Re-Animator, From Beyond is one of the best from director Stuart Gordon and a seminal underground classic of the 1980’s.