13. American Mary
Even the most hardened of horror fans may find it tough to stomach these body horror movies. Characterized by graphic transformations and deconstructions of the body, body horror plays into some of our most visceral fears and phobias, and these nine films are some of the most horrifying additions to the genre. From the iconic works of David Cronenberg to some lesser-known freaky flicks, these are sure to leave you deeply disturbed.
Before writer/director James Gunn was smashing all preconceived superhero-movie notions with Guardians of the Galaxy, he was garnering critical acclaim with his slimy satiric homage to The Blob, George A. Romero, and several of the films on this list. Set in anytown, USA and starring Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker, Slither follows a group of locals invaded by a wormy creature hell-bent on taking over the planet—or at least turning its inhabitants into gooey monsters with blistery eye sores.
11. Ginger Snaps
When it comes to the quantity of menstrual horror out there, let’s just say the field is flooded. However, when it comes to finding quality? All dried up. Thank goodness for this indie gem, a feminist body horror parable similar to the likes of Teeth or the Danish nightmare When Animals Dream. From director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton, Ginger Snaps stars a pair of outcast teenage sisters, one of whom gets bit by a werewolf. As Ginger’s body changes, her, ahem, primal instincts are unleashed, and genre fans are treated to visceral imagery that modernizes an overdone trope.
The indie horror with an appetite will leave you without yours. Although the cannibalism is what sold Raw to so many fans, for our money, a scene in which the main character vomits thing that should not be vomited is far more grotesque than any of the moments in which human flesh is nibbled upon.
9. From Beyond
One look at the poster art and you get why Stuart Gordon’s 1986 body horror is on this list. Based on the nightmarish works of H.P. Lovecraft, there’s actually more to this freaky film than oozy special effects. A lot more. Pretty much a Re-Animator reunion, From Beyond is about yet another group of scientists who are poking their instruments where they don’t belong. After creating what is called The Resonator, a machine that warps perceptible reality and offers a glimpse into a parallel universe of pleasure, the scientists find themselves under attack from its unhuman life forms. From there, things get perverse, peculiar, and very messy.
Related: 11 Books for Fans of H.P. Lovecraft
8. The Thing
Kurt Russell bundles up and grows out the scruff to play R.J. MacReady, the protagonist helicopter pilot who leads the charge against a shape-shifting alien that’s been found out in the Antarctic and toted back to an American research station. Based on the Who Goes There? novella by John Campbell, John Carpenter’s frosty film features an organism capable of assuming the identities of the human it kills, which results in an amalgamation of mutated organs, tentacled appendages, and buckets of slime.
The French know how to freak you out. Martyrs, a film associated with the New French Extremity movement, will disturb even the most jaded body horror fan. Lucie and Anna were both abandoned as children and sent to the foster care system, where each suffered physical abuse. Reunited later in life, Lucie tells Anna that the torture was more than she could ever imagine. And soon, Anna discovers that to be true for herself.
6. Cabin Fever
When a group of college students heads to a cabin in the woods for a weekend, you don’t have to be a horror fan to know that something bad will happen. But you may be surprised to discover that it’s not a deranged killer threatening their existence in this movie. Instead, it’s a truly disgusting flesh-eating virus. In a particularly disturbing sequence, one of the victims, rather than shave the hair off her legs, shaves her skin off her leg.
Unless you actively seek out perverse films about lust and gluttony (and, hey, no judgment), we’re pretty sure you missed György Pálfi’s award-winning Hungarian genre-bender. A wacky stunner that intertwines three stories like a string of fat sausage links, Taxidermia is a tale about a frustrated soldier’s bizarre desires, his obese speed-eating champ son, and his taxidermy-obsessed grandson who moves from stuffing animals to stuffing his own torso. One could call the film a depiction of Hungary’s socio-political failures–OR we could just call it the best appetite suppresser known to man.
4. The Brood
Go ahead and ready your gag reflex for the Baron of Blood. We have three—yes, three—David Cronenberg gems coming up (he is the king of venereal horror after all). First up: The Brood, a tale about a man, his wife, the wife’s oddball psychologist, and the mutant freaks she keeps under wraps. The closest thing Cronenberg has to an autobiographical tale, The Brood was born while he and his own wife were in the throes of a custody battle. And you thought your mind went to dark places.
Who knew Cronenberg’s 1983 techno horror would be as poignant today as it was more than 30 years ago. Max Renn (played by James Woods) is a sleazy TV programmer who learns that the torture porn he’s broadcasting on his channel isn’t as fictitious as he assumed. A warped watch that channels body horror at its best, this one’s also a quality example of how too much TV can fry your brain—or at least turn it into a viscid mush.
Though the 80s and early 90s are credited with spawning the majority of quality body horror films, there’s a string of recent releases threatening to steal that crusty crown. Films like Starry Eyes, Honeymoon, and this summer’s Bite are real treats, though it’s a 2014 sleeper hit we wanna call out. A dark parable that dwells in the desolate territory that is a well-executed romance horror, Spring follows its main character, Evan, from California to the Italian coast and into the arms of his dream girl—a dark-haired beauty whose harboring, shall we say, a monstrous secret.
1. The Fly
And now, our final Cronie classic: the film that will forever change the way you look at Jeff Goldblum. As Seth Brundle, a brilliant scientist who performs one too many experiments, Goldblum slowly morphs over the course of the film into a 185-pound fly right in front of his girlfriend’s eyes. Technically, a sci-fi horror, we consider this body horror masterpiece a tragic romance that tests the limits of love. Because, hey, we get the whole growing old together thing, but tending to a significant other’s putrid white vomit and disgusting hangnails is quite another story.
Promotional poster for "Slither" via Gold Circle Films