‘Body-Horror’ is a sub-genre which primarily focuses on the destruction, deformation or infiltration of the human body in various forms. Whether it be by spreading diseases, scientific or medical experimentations, technological impulses or anything else the imagination of the filmmakers can muster – the various methods of decay of the human body can serve as an abundance of metaphors given the subtext of the horror film – which is what this list will be exploring. The ranking of the films will be determined by how good they are an example of ‘body-horror’, oppose to the overall quality of the film.
Note: genres such as the ‘Zombie’ or ‘Werewolf’ movies could justifiably be encompassed by ‘body-horror’, but in order to keep this list exclusive to the genre, they will only be briefly mentioned.
20. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
A recent entry to kick us off! Just when audiences thought that the capabilities of the horror genre could not become more repulsive, out came crawling the concept of ‘The Human Centipede’ from the mind of Tom Six.
Three tourists are captured by a psychotic surgeon (Dieter Laser – a hybrid of both Christopher Walken and Udo Kier) who literally conjoins them from mouth to anus to actualize the titular composite creation.
Despite the fact that the film is actually low on gore, it remains a simple an unashamedly crass affair due to a lack of implication beyond its grim subject matter – it is merely a shock fest built on one sick idea. Having said that, The Human Centipede has definitely earned its place in the legacy of ‘body-horror’ and if one is ever yearning to satisfy their morbid curiosities concerning the darker side of cinema – this film is surely one to tick off the list.
19. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
This 64 minute experimental sci-fi horror focuses on a man who, after being involved with a road accident, finds himself literally turning into an formless iron mutant – splayed metal wiring and piping sprouting out of every orifice, his body is coated with rust,and complete with an enlarged drill-bit for a penis. ‘Tetsuo’ is a graphic, but stylish and original film that will surely interest anyone who is a fan of extreme cinema.
18. The Beast Within (1982)
A slightly forgotten and schlocky piece of horror cinema from 1982 which was perhaps capitalising on the Werewolf-transformation films that had re-emerged in the form of ‘An American Werewolf In London’ and ‘The Howling’, but also the then-prominent themes of venereal diseases too.
The Beast Within essentially throws these two defined concepts together to form a wild and shocking horror movie – and instead of a Werewolf, the protagonist gruesomely metamorphoses into a Cicada-like insect instead! This one has quite a cast too, including: Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones and Logan Ramsey.
17. The Beyond (1981)
Lucio Fulci’s cult classic is a ‘body-horror’ film disguised as a zombie splatter-fest – during which, chaos has erupted due to the reopening of a Louisiana hotel which is situated on a gateway to hell.
In addition to racking up the body count in often spectacularly gory fashion, the camera will often dwell longingly to capture the carnage inflicted upon the victim’s body; whether it be by acid, .44 Magnum rounds, or spiders gnawing on paralyzed bodies – the corporeal destruction is displayed in hideous detail.
16. Cabin Fever (2002)
Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever is essentially a throwback to the cabin-in-the-woods sub-genre of the 80s – but it also has a distinctively gruesome ‘body-horror’ twist as a group of students become infected by a flesh-eating and rapidly spreading virus, which literally causes their skin to corrode.
The concept itself was in fact inspired by Eli Roth himself after becoming stricken with a facial infection when he was 19 which too caused some of his flesh to come off! Beware of some absolutely foul moments, in particular the leg-shaving sequence!
15. Teeth (2007)
The notorious Teeth! Dawn is a young girl who speaks as an advocator for sexual abstinence in her high school, but when her erotic desires begin to take over and guys begin to take notice (including her stepbrother in a morally corrupted subplot!) she realises that, to be blunt, she has teeth inside her vagina that bite off anything that enters without her consent!
Teeth is one of the few films to explore the ‘vagina dentata’ myth, so it rightfully belongs here on this list – and even though it is never officially stated as to why Dawn has ‘teeth’, it hints that radiation or pollution may be the cause of her abnormality/blessing.
Despite its flaws and to some extent, its reputation – this is an entertaining and humorous film where women are empowered and men do not fare too well at all – especially downstairs. Teeth is destined to be a cult ‘body-horror’ hit in years to come.
14. Re-Animator (1985)
Stuart Gordon’s updated version of Frankenstein (based on H.P. Lovecraft’s novel) is a gloriously violent splatter-comedy set in the realm of sci-fi horror. Essentially, Re-Animator is an exploration of ‘man taking science too far’ as Dr. Herbert West (think Ash Williams’ mad scientist brother) has developed a serum that can ‘reanimate’ the bodies of the dead!
This ‘body-horror’ cult classic features talking severed heads, cats which have died…twice, and one of the craziest sex scenes in horror cinema – it really is a deliriously enjoyable movie. The two sequels –‘Bride Of Re-Animator’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Beyond Re-Animator’ are also worth checking out.
13. The Blob (1988)
Along with Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ and Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, this is another fantastic remake of a classic 50s monster movie by Chuck Russell (director of one of the better Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, ‘Dream Warriors’) – though this is one remake that surely does not get the attention it sorely deserves.
Somewhat unexpectedly but unashamedly more gruesome than the original and where the fates of all the central characters are seemingly up in the air – this version predominantly stands to represent the fear of AIDs, or contamination in general (endemic of 80s ‘body-horror’ concepts) with the notion of anyone’s body being invaded and subsequently destroyed by this massive, slimy amoeba.
On a different note – look out for a particularly macabre scene involving a victim being yanked headfirst through a plughole, connoting other ‘body-horror’ motifs concerning the deconstruction of the human body – here, in spectacular fashion.
12. The Stuff (1985)
Leading on from the last entry – film critic Alan Jones once attentively described this film as the concept of ‘The Blob’ in reverse! With a tagline reading “Are you eating it, or is it eating you?”, The Stuff is a brazen, anti-capitalistic critique on the junk food market.
After a yoghurt-like substance is discovered and sold as a low-calorie creamy dessert, it becomes a national phenomenon across America. Soon enough, people become aware that the ‘Stuff’ is actually consuming the consumers themselves… from the inside! The Stuff is an original, albeit slightly goofy example of ‘body-horror’.
11. American Mary (2012)
Here is a more recent entry which broke out of the horror festivals and went on to find a larger audience on DVD. The film focuses on the titular surgeon trainee, Mary, who in order to keep on top of her finances – takes up using her extensive medical knowledge to perform extreme body-modifications for those who seek it.
Though not a perfect movie, American Mary is still a great entry into the annals of ‘body-horror’ by representing a relatively new angle on the sub-genre – one that tackles the concept of body image and conforming, or not conforming to certain fashion trends. It is when characters who have paid to have their bodies to be transformed into looking like Betty Boop and Barbie dolls where one may begin to see a rather esoteric side of the culture this film explores.