Top 5 “Body Horror” Films

In honor of Halloween coming up, I have decided to supply you with a list of the most unforgettable movies from a lesser known genre, Body Horror films. “What the hell is a ‘Body Horror’ film?”, you may ask. This exclusive genre in the horror pantheon is a group of films that deal with human bodily warping and mutation that tend to be particularly perverse. Normally featuring many practical special effects, movies in this genre frequently utilize the art of latex and animatronics to obtain their ghastly results. Often these films involve disease or parasites, be they natural, alien or supernatural. Other times the focus is on masochism or sadism, with a demented character trying to accomplish what is impossible in nature through surgery or chemicals. And of course, it can sometimes be a case of all of the above. An element of this type of film that stands out is the overall feeling of uneasiness that is projected on the audience. When dealing with mangled and misshaped human bodies on screen, it is not too difficult for the viewer to put themselves in the place of the victim (and/or protagonist). When watching a body part transform from its original shape to a new bastardized version, it is easy to imagine what that would feel like. Many times that is not a very comfortable thought. A great example of this type of film is last year’s Academy Award nominated film District 9. An upcoming list I am compiling on the best practical effect movies includes a few films that should be on this list, but are a little more well known. These are a 5 films that may have slipped past the average movie-goers radar. Please be warned, none of the following are for the squeamish or faint of heart.

5. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) – Tom Six

This little indie film has been getting a lot of buzz this year. Entertainment Weekly has called it “…the most disgusting horror film of all time.” Roger Ebert refused to give it a star rating saying “The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” You may have heard of the epic scenario that the unfortunate out-of-towners end up in this Danish produced surgical nightmare of a film. A famous, but demented surgeon decides that he needs to play god and create the creature in the film’s title, a human centipede. He decides that the best way to do this is connect three “compatible” young adults anus-to-mouth to make one unholy digestive system. Understanding that no one is going to volunteer for this, he uses roofies and dart guns to collect his patients. Two club hopping female American tourists and a male Japanese adulterer later, the sadistically German surgeon has his “huminsect”. So with a plot this original and creative involving new and exciting ways of bodily mutilation, why isn’t it higher up on this list? Truth be told, I wasn’t all that shocked or disgusted by it. It gets a huge A for effort, but aside from a little bit of surgery and a lot of gross sound effects, this film is not really that disturbing. I am not saying that I require a lot more gore to be disturbed, but I never really was able to fully put myself in the place of these three people. I was looking forward to getting lost in the hopeless and undeniable horror of the situation, and unfortunately the film did not deliver on that level. The filmmakers claim that they had a very hard time casting the two female leads. Apparently the majority of women who auditioned for the roles walked out mid-read. The actresses that ended up in the “parts” are laughably bad. I recently saw a trailer for a porno parody of the film called The Human Sexipede, and it seems that actresses in that film would have been interchangeable with the originals. That said, the actors that play the doctor and the head of the centipede are very good and the camera work is surprisingly well done. The director is working on a follow up which he claims will make the original “look like My Little Pony.” Apparently the first film was just to get the audiences used to the idea of “a human centipede”. The new one is going to include a centipede that is 12 persons long. Until then, enjoy the video game: Human Centipede: The Game

4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) – Shinya Tsukamoto

Far away from the Marvel Universe, there is another Iron Man that would make Tony Stark blush. Considered by some to be the quintessential Japanese Cyberpunk movie (I’m sure you all at home have your own favorite), calling its imagery striking would be somewhat of an understatement. Imagine if David Lynch, HR Giger and Takeshi Miike got together, drank a couple bottle of absinthe and decided to remake Robocop. Yeah, its kind of like that. Tsukamoto, as well as directing, portrays a metal fetishist who enjoys trying to fuse scrap metal into his body. Unfortunately for him nature takes it course and one of his wounds becomes infected. Scared and bewildered by the inevitable, he runs out into the street and is run over by a business man. In a panic the business man and his girlfriend quickly dispose of the body in a nearby ravine, but that is only where the fun begins. The metal fetishist will have his revenge, and soon the business man starts a metamorphosis into a walking pile of scrap metal that will be known as the Iron Man. Heart-stopping scenes, fantastical dream sequences, apocalyptic visions of the future and grotesque metal felines are not too far behind. Plus there is a sex/death scene that puts a new twist on the phrase “Drill, baby, drill!” Heavily influenced by Lynch, Cronenberg and Fritz Lang, this movie at times feels more like a performance piece than a narrative. At only 67 minutes long, you don’t need much stamina to keep up with it, but it has enough ineradicable imagery to leave a lasting imprint. Warning: you may have the urge to get a tetanus shot after viewing. Tsukamoto made a sequel in 1992 that is worth seeing if you like the first one and supposedly has a third one in the works.

3. From Beyond (1986) – Stuart Gordon

Many fans consider David Cronenberg to be the king of the Body Horror genre. If this is the case then surely Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna are his princes. While not being anywhere near as prolific of filmmakers, these two guardians of gore hold their own when it comes to queasy images on screen. Coming off the success of another body horror classic, 1985’s R-Animator, Gordon and Yuzna decided to take the dismemberment to the next level with From Beyond. Right off the bat you should be warned that this film makes absolutely no sense and it doesn’t really have to. Cult movie hero Jeffery Combs stars Dr. Crawford Tillinghast who is working as an assistant to a sadomasochistic genius scientist. Together they are constructing a contraption called the Resonator that taps into a sixth sense by enlarging the pineal gland in the brain. By doing this one can see bizarre creatures that float in the air and visa versa. So normally these creatures don’t see us, but when it is on they can, so they can also attack us. While on, one of these creatures eats the head scientist’s head before Crawford can turn it off. Naturally he is blamed for the murder and with the help of a sexy phycologist and a super yolked policeman (played by Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead) he must recreate the experiment to prove his innocence. Once the the Resonator is turned back on the trio learn that the sadistic scientist has now become an ever evolving creature that keeps mutating into new strange and gooey forms. The movie kind of just keeps going and going after that to all new levels of disgustingness. At one point Crawford ends up back in a mental hospital, his pineal gland now protruding from his forehead and forcing him to suck people’s brains out through their eye-sockets. Here is a fun fact kids, Gordon and Yuzna are also responsible for creating the family classic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

2. Videodrome (1983) – David Cronenberg

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Videodrome was the singular reason that VHS won out over Betamax in the home-video-cassette-war. In it James Woods plays the president of a small TV station in Canada that mainly features softcore porn. A fellow broadcaster tips him off to a new pirated show from Asia that appears to features the torture and eventual death of anonymous victims. He sees this as the future of television and begin to air the show, called Videodrome. He befriends a psychiatrist (played by Deborah Harry of Blondie) on a talk show and the two begin dating. She becomes excited when he shows her the show and insists that they have relations while watching. Upon finding out that the show is not only in fact real and not staged, but is filmed in Pittsburgh, the psychiatrist decides to audition for the show. When she doesn’t return he goes on a quest to find her and the creators of Videodrome. Oh yeah, he also has fantasies of his stomach turning into a VCR and making love to a pulsating, veiny, fleshy TV. Cronenberg pretty much created the genre of Body Horror with his films Shivers, Rapid, the Brood and Scanners, but with Videodrome and his films after the Fly, Crash and eXistenZ he turned it into an art form. In Videodrome, as well as in eXistenZ, he combines organic human bodies with artificial technologies in ways that are truly unforgettable. There is also the not too subtle metaphor of the dangers of our culture’s obsession with electronics. Cronenberg claims that he got the idea for the film from memories as a child of retrieving pirated channels on his TV and being afraid he would see something that wasn’t meant for broadcast. Long live the New Flesh!

1. Society (1989) – Brian Yuzna

Society is one great big gooey, fleshy, greasy and disgusting mess. And boy is it fun. Empire Magazine voted one of the scenes towards the end of the movie as the grossest moment in movie history. Directed by Brian Yuzna, this takes the gore and goo that we saw in From Beyond and takes it to the Nth degree. Bill Whitney (played by Billy Warlock of “Baywatch” fame) appears to be a teenager that has it all. He is popular at his Beverly Hills high school and is totally dating the head cheerleader, but can’t shake the feeling that he just doesn’t fit in. One day his sister’s ex-boyfriend gives him an audio tape that appears to have the voices of his sister and parents participating in a orgy/murder. He gives it to his therapist to listen to, but the next time they meet up the tape is played back for Bill and all that is heard is his family participating in a casual dinner conversation. Convinced that what he heard is real, Bill rushes over to his sister’s ex’s place only to find that he has been killed in an accident. As his world begins to fall apart around him he soon finds out that the upper class society in Beverly Hills are another form of life that is literally feeding off the poor. Oh, and he is adopted. Parties are held where a member of the lower class is invited, and then the guests shed their clothes and meld into one giant writhing, sweaty mass of flesh. In the movie this is called “Shunting”. It is sort of a cross between Caligula and Hellraiser. Though it should be added that the creators of the movie decided to use minimal blood in order to get away with more when it came to the MPAA. In doing this it actually makes the scene even grosser because they appear to have replaced the blood with sweat and other bodily fluids. Much like From Beyond, it is never really properly explained why all this gross morphing needs to take place, nor does it really matter. The fact is that I would be hard-pressed to find another movie that takes such a heathenistic approach to horror. There are times in this movie where you may need to pause or replay a scene because you really aren’t sure what exactly you are looking at.

Special Features!

Keep in mind, there are 3 seminal Body Horror films that are not on this list that will be featured on an upcoming list of the top 5 Practical Effect Movies.

Until then, here is the trailer for a movie that just missed both lists. While being extremely impressive in its make up, there is no real morphing or warping of the body. Never the less, it is well worth the watch for any horror fan. Enjoy!

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One Response to “Top 5 “Body Horror” Films”

  1. […] visitors to my site have been through searches for the Human Centipede. I covered it briefly in my Body Horror list in October, and since then my “viewership” has grown by leaps and bounds. I […]

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