The Canadian-born writer, director, and actor, David Cronenberg helped usher in the body horror subgenre as a major innovator. He’s long revulsed audiences with his visceral psychological and bodily transformation horror brand. Cronenberg’s untraditional, personal filmmaking translating on screen as some of horror’s most uncomfortable, surreal journeys sets him apart.
While he long ago departed from horror, he’s set to return in a significant way with Crimes of the Future. NEON releases Cronenberg’s return to body horror in theaters on June 3.
In the film, “As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
“Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed… Their mission – to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.”
The film’s cast also includes Scott Speedman, Welket Bungué, Don McKellar, Lihi Kornowski, Tanaya Beatty, Nadia Litz, Yorgos Karamichos, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos.
We’re celebrating Cronenberg’s return to the genre by looking back at eight of his most memorable body horror moments.
Rabid – Armpit Stinger
Cronenberg delivered another outbreak horror movie two years after Shivers. This time, the origin is an experimental surgery that causes a horrific mutation in patient Rose (Marilyn Chambers). Poor Rose discovers a newfound thirst for human blood, and her victims become rabid-like aggressors that spread their infection. Leave it to Cronenberg to infuse a vampire with body horror; Rose feeds on her victims with a sharp phallic stinger that emerges from a new opening in her armpit.
Shivers – Bathtub Terror
Cronenberg blends sex and violence in a nightmarish parasitic outbreak in a high-rise apartment complex. Scientifically engineered parasites meant to replace functioning human organs instead renders their hosts sexually violent, hellbent on spreading their infection to others. How the pulsing worm-like parasites infect provides a lot of gnarly body horror moments, including a bloody bathtub moment that sees a parasite force its way into resident Betts’ (Barbara Steele) body while she’s taking a bath.
Dead Ringers – Mutated Surgery
The body horror is far more understated here to underscore the deteriorating psychological state of Dr. Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) and twin brother Elliot (also Irons). Depression, paranoia, and prescription drug abuse instill delusions in Beverly, creating horrified discoveries of mutated vaginas on the operating table. These mutations are never shown by design; it’s all in Beverly’s head. What Cronenberg instead offers the viewer is the archaic torture devices that Beverly uses as surgical tools. The viewer’s imagination runs wild from there, creating something far more effective and unsettling.
Scanners – Head Explosion
A gruesome horror moment so iconic that it precedes the entire film. In it, antagonist Revok (Michael Ironside) infiltrates a marketing event and volunteers to assist with a ConSec Scanner’s display of power, the latter utterly unaware that Revok himself is also a Scanner. The scene builds in intensity until that brain-splattering pop results in the audience recoiling in terror.
eXistenZ – Micro Pods
Reality becomes impossible to detect thanks to gaming’s next level “bio-ports,” fleshy biotechnological ports surgically inserted near the spine so players can connect to virtual reality games. Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Pikul (Jude Law) get upgraded with new “micro-pods” so they can enter the game, and Cronenberg gets goopy with it. Extreme closeups of unnatural orifices coated with lubricant so it can slurp up the fleshy pods makes for a very squeamish way to play video games.
The Brood – Nola Gives Birth
A horde of mutant children terrorizes Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) and those around him. The climax reveals monstrous brood is the offspring of his estranged wife Nola’s (Samantha Eggar) rage, but she’s so isolated and psychologically broken that she doesn’t quite grasp what’s happening. She lifts her dress to reveal how these homicidal children have come to exist- Nola’s psychoplasmically-induced external womb. She births one in front of Frank, tearing it out from the fluid-filled sac, and thanks to Eggar’s instinct as an actress, licks the newborn clean like a cat.
Videodrome – “Open Up, Max”
This late scene sees Videodrome’s producer, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson), insert an undulating tape into a now gaping slit in Max’s (James Woods) torso. The cassette allows Barry and the company to brainwash and control Max, which would be terrifying enough. Cronenberg takes it to a whole new icky level by drawing the tape insertion out to excruciating levels with a visual and aural assault. The pulsing and squelching flesh induce discomfort. Then, Max uses his new wound as gun storage.
The Fly – “I’m Scared”
Cronenberg’s The Fly starts unleashing no shortage of body horror moments the second poor Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) unwittingly merges his DNA with that of a housefly. None is as horrific or heartbreaking as when Ronnie (Geena Davis) returns to his loft to find that Seth’s human side has deteriorated grotesquely. He confesses to her how terrified he is of losing himself, between vomiting digestive enzymes and ears falling off. They hug each other in terror as he begs for help. It’s a visceral moment that repulses as much as it engenders empathy; you’re desperate for these two to find a way through it even as Seth’s journey tests your gag reflex.
Crimes of the Future releases in theaters on June 3. Get your tickets now!