Wikipedia describes the term “Body Horror” as horror fiction in which the horror is principally derived from the unnatural graphic transformation, degeneration or destruction of the physical body. Such works may deal with decay, disease, deformity, parasitism, mutation or mutilation. Other types of body horror include unnatural movements or the anatomically incorrect placement of limbs to create “monsters” from human body parts. Some of the most notable directors in the body horror subgenre include David Cronenberg, Frank Henenlotter, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon, Lloyd Kaufman, and Clive Barker.
Today, as a special treat, I bring to you my Top 10 Body Horror films. I am going to avoid spoilers at all costs, so just trust me that there is a theme of Body Horror in each of these films. So sit back, avoid the popcorn, and just enjoy these gems if you can…
10. Hellraiser: Director Clive Barker 1982
Synopsis: A woman discovers the newly resurrected, partially formed, body of her brother-in-law. She starts killing for him to revitalize his body so he can escape the demonic beings that are pursuing him after he escaped their sadistic underworld.
Based on The Hellbound Heart, a novelia from Clive Barker, the original Hellraiser film is one of the best pieces of body horror to grace our screens. Unfortunately, the original film was followed by several sequels that were mostly terrible and uninspired. That said, Hellraiser is still one of my favorite franchises and the original movie holds a special place in my heart to this day.
9. The Thing: Director John Carpenter 1982
Synopsis: A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.
Another absolute classic, The Thing was absolutely torn apart by critics when first released. It has since gone on to become something of a cult classic, despite being directed by one of the best directors of the 1980’s. You are doing yourself an absolute disservice if you have never watched this masterpiece. Hell, the prequel film is even damn good, not on the originals level but still damn good.
8. Les yeux sans visage aka Eyes Without a Face: Director Georges Franju 1960
Synopsis: A surgeon causes an accident which leaves his daughter disfigured and goes to extreme lengths to give her a new face.
Perhaps one of the earliest, and best, examples of body horror comes from the 1960 French film Les Yeux Sans Visage. “Eyes without a Face” is a very impressive, classy picture that has inspired many later horror movies. The music by Maurice Jarr adds to the uneasy and creepy atmosphere – it makes you feel like on the never-stopping ominous merry-go-round and you can’t get off it.
7. Martyrs: Director Pascal Laugier 2008
Synopsis: A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.
One of the best films to come out of the French Extreme film movement was the 2008 body horror film Martyrs. Let’s not confuse this with the absolutely subpar remake done by the US shall we? The original is a tense, atmospheric masterpiece that gives you some of the most shocking scenes in horror to date. Some, you may never ever forget.
6. Tôkyô Zankoku Keisatsu aka Tokyo Gore Police: Director Yoshihiro Nishimura 2008
Synopsis: In future Tokyo, a young woman in the privatized police force tracks down her father’s killer while battling against mutant rebels known as engineers.
Perhaps a bit too over-the-top to be considered true body horror, Tokyo Gore Police is one of the more demented films to come out of Japan. With over-the-top gore, more blood than a body actually holds, and several grotesque deformities, TGP will leave you laughing and cringing at the same time. If you like this film, I also recommend you check out the film called Meatball Machine.
5. La Piel que Habito aka The Skin I Live In: Director Pedro Almodóvar 2011
Synopsis: A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.
A dark, thoughtful, frightening piece, never shying away from the heights of melodrama that Almodovar is known for, this sits beautifully on the line between Cronenberg at his best and a crazy soap opera. Just enjoy this film and go into it completely blind, you won’t be disappointed at all.
4. Grave aka Raw: Director Julia Ducournau 2016
Synopsis: A young woman, studying to be a vet, develops a craving for human flesh.
One of the more grotesque films on my list today, in my opinion, is the French masterpiece Raw. It is clear from the start that the objective of the director is to make the audience uncomfortable, and I applaud his effectiveness in doing so. I was most impressed by the ability of Raw to leave me genuinely cringing at nearly every single scene. It didn’t even have to be gore filled or disgusting in a traditional sense. The whole film oozes an uneasiness that continually seeps into the audience, leaving you unable to look away despite your desire to do so.
3. Tetsuo: The Iron Man: Director Shin’ya Tsukamoto 1989
Synopsis: A businessman accidentally kills a Metal Fetishist, who gets his revenge by slowly turning the man into a grotesque hybrid of flesh and rusty metal.
Tetsuo so visually striking that you could never fully describe it in words. The film is an absolute masterpiece that contrasts its depravity with its black and white depiction. Each frame is cramped and chaotic, much of the time it’s filled with wires, pipes, chain-link fences, and all the other incidental debris of life in the late 20th century which suddenly seems significant and even menacing.
2. Suspiria: Director Dario Argento 1977
Synopsis: An American newcomer to a prestigious German ballet academy comes to realize that the school is a front for something sinister amid a series of grisly murders.
Did you honestly think that there wouldn’t be any Argento representation on a horror list? Suspiria is perhaps Dario Argento’s best known piece, despite getting a really crappy remake from the US. There’s no scene in this movie that doesn’t hold meaning and it is an absolute classic from one of the best directors to ever grace the horror genre. You absolutely must watch this film, the disservice you do yourself by not doing so is beyond tragic.
1. The Fly: Director David Cronenberg 1986
Synopsis: A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.
Cronenberg’s best film, in my opinion, graces us at number one today featuring Jeff Goldblum plays a brilliant scientist in one of his best performances ever. You can’t go wrong with this film, even as we near its 40th anniversary (God I feel old saying that). To this day it is one of the most grotesque, disturbing and beautifully done pieces of body horror to ever grace the silver screen. There’s a reason this film is number one and I’ll leave it to you to discover why for yourself. Enjoy, horror hounds!