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The 20 Best Body Horror Films In Cinema History

08 April 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Liam Hathaway

body horror films

‘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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.



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  • Matthew
  • I Am Tyler Durden

    Swap “Reanimator” for “From Beyond”, same team and much more of a body-horror film.

    • The Great King Beleth

      Re-animator is technically a zombie flick and really shouldn’t be included.. But From Beyond is body horror 101. BTW Jeffery Combs is the only person from both films.

      • omnibot

        Barbara Crampton also stars in both films (though her role is much more substantial in From Beyond), and both were directed by Stuart Gordon.

  • bopeep

    I was really disappointed not to see “The Skin I Live In” with Antonio Banderas. A strikingly horrifying and mystifying invasion of the body.

  • SyL Ch

    why is Lunacy not counted ??

  • Cool list. Society really is a brilliant flick!

  • Ana

    District 9, anyone…?

    • The Great King Beleth

      That is sci-fi not horror

      • Ana

        Actually, District 9 is a hybrid when it comes to film genre, with SF, mockumentary and action being probably the three main genres it draws on. And the protagonist’s metamorphosis draws strongly on all the tropes of body horror – and is central to the narrative. In fact, the body horror element in D9 is more developed, narratively speaking, than in Alien, where it is evident in only one dramatic scene. This is after all a Body Horror list, not a Horror movie list per se.

        • The Great King Beleth

          “is a hybrid when it comes to film genre, with SF, mockumentary and action being probably the three main genres it draws on” The quoted portion here is pointless to include. Because that info is apparent. Body horror movies actually have to have horror aspects that are beyond shocking and gross to make those watching extremely uncomfortable throughout the movies and to be called body horror. D9 is a straight up documentary style action science fiction film with a mutation of the main character. There are no real horror elements involved. Even still, his mutation isn’t the entire focus, whereas body horror films focus solely on sickening grotesqueness.. You have no idea what you are talking about. The title plainly says

          “The 20 Best (Body Horror) Films In Cinema History” Some of the movies are dead on body horror but others don’t even come close. Body horror is a specific sub-genre of horror films.

          • Dani Rooney

            give it a rest, no one likes a smartarse. It’s just one list, not the be all, end all guide to body horror lol

  • The Thing and Alien are the best one

  • moe abdelkader

    I would probably say “the elephant man” as well !!

    • Dani Rooney


  • Benas Bačanskas

    Worst list I ever seen…

    • FlyteBro

      You don’t understand the concept of body horror.

      • Benas Bačanskas

        Oh, sorry, didn’t see the word “body”.

        • Dani Rooney


  • Jorge Peredo

    No Hellaraiser? What about Street Trash? Frankenhooker? Basket Case?

    Good list, but incomplete…

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  • Mike Burke

    Surely the grand daddy of all is Franju’s Eyes Without a Face which demands repeated viewing. We ARE talking cinema HISTORY, aren’t we?

  • Josh Jisco Schasny

    You don’t know what body horror is, dude.

  • omnibot

    I’m not sure many of these really qualify as body horror. There needs to be, I think, a particular level of focus on the body itself. The Fly is a prime example of this (though, for my money, Cronenberg’s version more fully realizes the tenets of the sub-genre). Others, like The Beyond, are simply movies where violent things happen to bodies. And that really could be said about most horror movies, in general. Also the fact that Frank Henenlotter is no where on this list is criminal!

  • Ivan M

    Man, The Thing and Videodrome feature on a lot of lists these days.

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Under the Skin is great movie, but it’s hardly horror. This kind of list isn’t very hard to make, becouse Cronenberg’s films should take half of the list. Father’s films, not son’s, off course.

  • Tristan Reed

    I would recommend removing Under The Skin and replacing it with In My Skin (Dan Ma Peau) which is the epitome of body horror and totally missing from this list!!

  • Susan F

    Once again, this silly site had a rank amature writing about film with no knowledge of film history. Nosferatu, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (I like the Fredric March version, but many prefer the Spencer Tracy Version), Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein (some consider it superior to Frankenstein), and many more better films than those listed above. This child seems to have not seen many films made before 1989. The Fly is a good choice. Help me! Help me.

    • bbmcrae

      How very tedious you are.

    • Dani Rooney

      give it a rest susan, it’s just one person’s list. make a better list if you feel you have more extensive knowledge, but there’s no point whining.

  • Mariana Tineo Blanco


  • Jimi LaMort


  • Erica Kensho

    Eraserhead, The Incredible Melting Man, Slither, Tusk

  • Craig Thom

    The Fly was is a color wide-screen film. The black and white picture makes it look like cheaper movies from the same period.

  • Ozz Wald

    -The Fly (1986)
    -Frankenstein (pick your favorite one)
    -The Exorcist

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  • Anthony Lancaster


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