In recent years, it’s hard not to notice something of an 80s revival in movies. Everywhere you look nowadays, from Only God Forgives to The Guest to It Follows to Cold in July to Cop Car, garish 80s neon lighting and pounding synthesizer scores are all the rage.
Accordingly, this means the enfant terrible genre of that decade is also making something of a comeback: Body horror. Body horror is a subgenre of horror that focuses on, as you’d expect, bodily mutations, transformations, decompositions and other dinner-friendly viewing, rather than jump scares and supernatural entities.
It’s quite a diverse sub-genre, but a lot of these movies are linked by having a lot of satirical bite, symbolic meaning and by being, well, pretty nauseating.
While a lot of the body horror movies of the 80s were born from fear of venereal diseases such as AIDS, the ones on this list project more modern fears onto the big screen. So without much further ado, here are ten of the best of these movies from 2011 onwards. Oh, and you might want to put your sandwich down for this particular list.
10. Spring (2014)
Spring is a pretty remarkable genre fusion between body horror and romance(!), but bear with me because, surprisingly, the two complement each other like peanut butter and chocolate. On the run from the police after effectively having the worst weekend in the world, protagonist Evan decides to escape what remains of his shambolic life by purchasing a last minute one-way ticket to Italy to start anew.
While there, he meets a sassy and mysterious girl called Louise, who may not be exactly what meets the eye. What follows can only be described as the logical meeting point between Linklater and Cronenberg, as the film focuses equally on a male and a female walking and talking about philosophy, love, and their pasts, surrounded by scenic European towns and horrific body mutations.
If this unusual blend of styles doesn’t take your fancy, the witty dialogue, believable characters, and jawdropping cinematography certainly should.
9. Honeymoon (2014)
If Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 movie Possession was an allegory for divorce with ugly body horror undertones coursing through its filthy veins, and Spring is the blossoming romance between a young couple with similarly visceral undertones, Honeymoon would be the meeting point between the two.
What would you do if your new wife started to act very strange on your honeymoon? That’s what our protagonist Paul has to deal with in this impressively low-budget debut from Leigh Janiak. What makes this “cabin-in-the-woods” movie effective is that the fear of a loved one losing interest in you is a very real fear, rather than it be another movie about supernatural spellbooks or blood-hungry slashers.
Paul doesn’t know if she’s having second thoughts, or if she’s beginning to feel guilty about an affair that she might have had, or if it’s something much, much more sinister and gruesome.
Either way, it’s up to him to find out. Honeymoon is a glacially-paced movie that’s part Hitchcockian thriller, part sci-fi, and part body horror, but it’s always fascinating, especially when coupled with its gloriously clean look and bright colour palette.
8. Starry Eyes (2014)
Sarah is an aspiring actress who works a menial day job in fast food. Her auditions always end in failure, including her most recent one for a horror movie called The Silver Scream. That is, however, until she is observed having a subsequent nervous breakdown in the toilets by one of the producers, who now suddenly wants to see more of her.
Sarah, and the viewers of the movie, begin to notice the following auditions get stranger and more occult as they go on, and that they begin to take their toll on her (both mentally and physically) in some horrific ways.
The movie is often compared to Kill List, Black Swan and Mulholland Drive, and while it may not exactly reach the heights of those movies, you could argue Starry Eyes has everything a horror should have: A remarkably effective combination of satanic, body and psychological horrors, absolutely masterful acting in the form of the lead character Sarah, and a brutal thing or two to say about the dark side of Hollywood.
It also boasts some really surreal imagery and symbolism, for example, the almost poetic Hollywood rebirth scene. When it comes to satire, the glitz and the glamour of the red carpet might be something of an easy target (and hardly a new one), but it’s never been done as visceral and scathing as it has been on here. This movie will leave bile in your mouth and stars in your eyes.
7. Eat (2014)
Remember Dans ma Peau, the 2002 French movie about the girl who accidentally cuts her leg at a party, and begins a downward spiral into an obsession of what lies within her own skin? This follows in a very similar vein, and is something of a spiritual successor. Novella McClure is another struggling actress in her early 30s who hasn’t landed an acting role or paid her rent in a very long time.
Combine that financial stress with a terrifying night out on the town with her psychotic best friend, and Novella, in a fit of suicidal hopelessness, begins to furiously gnaw at her wrist, paving the way for an addictive compulsion to eat her own flesh. Eat is another movie that has to really be commended on its visual aesthetics: With its nauseating practical effects and beautifully clean images, it will definitely make your jaw drop in two entirely different ways.
As for the pacing and the script, it can feel a little bit disjointed at times as it juggles a lot of different tones and thematic ideas, but if watched as an allegory for an eating disorder and a satire on how far you have to go to truly make it in Hollywood, just like Starry Eyes, this really becomes something worth sinking your teeth into.
6. Valibation (2013)
Valibation is, at 23 minutes, the shortest movie on this list by a considerable margin, but it is on this list not only because it is an excellent sendup of the way society might as well literally be attached to their smart phones, but because this is probably the closest to genuine Cronenberg worship that a modern body horror movie can be. I mean, to the point where there’s a scene of the protagonist watching the 1986 version of The Fly on his TV as a shout-out to the original Canadian father of gross-out horror.
Yale, like many of us, is addicted to his iPhone, and his life revolves around it. He’s constantly texting women, worrying how many “likes” he gets on his Facebook posts, and having near-panic attacks when he misplaces it. When he wakes up one morning, he finds his phone is literally “in” his hand, with a screen protruding from his palm and a camera protruding from his ring finger.
On his journey to find out just what is going on, he must weight out the pros and cons of his new situation, and on the way, learn a lot about his need for internet validation.
This is a hilarious and a frighteningly accurate comedy, but it remains gruesome as any good movie of the body horror genre should be. This does to mobile technology what Videodrome did for TV, and what eXistenZ did for video games.