My biggest fears in life all revolve around my own body. Disease or the idea that one day my heart will peace out of our relationship without asking my permission, terrifies me into paralysis—and if you’re wondering, yes, I’m a hypochondriac. So it should come as no surprise that I love the body horror genre. More than suave nightwalkers, bumbling zombies, or jangly walking ghosts that look trapped in a glitch-ridden videogame, atrocities against the flesh or the body going rogue are what keep me up at night. Not all of these are downright horrifying, but they’re the ones that stand out the most to me.
10. The Machinist (2004)
Someone is going to groan about this choice. True, it’s not the first film that comes to mind when you think body horror, but the emaciation that Christian Bale undergoes as he edges closer and closer to a psychological break is something to behold. There’s no gore or blood, but damn if isn’t unnerving what our own minds can do to our bodies.
9. Tusk (2014)
Yes, the premise is goofy as fuck, and no one was surprised that Kevin Smith couldn’t make it through a film without a dick reference, but when you get down to it Tusk is a nightmare. From the moment Justin Long’s obnoxious podcaster passes out Michael Parks begins to disassemble and rearrange Long’s body for the purposes of cramming it into a customized Walrus suit. It’s not a perfect movie, but holy hell I‘ll think twice about answering an ad on a flyer anywhere.
8. Street Trash (1987)
I’ll never forget how Street Trash was pitched to me. “It’s a movie where transients drink whiskey and they melt. Oh, and there’s this dude that’s like King of the Junkyard. You’ll dig it.” And dig it I did. Street Trash may not be the world’s best commentary on poverty, but the gnarly effects and over-the-top premise makes for a good time—consider watching it for your upcoming Halloween party.
7. The Dark Backward (1991)
This is a movie I’ve seen recently and shout out to my writing partner, David Agranoff, for turning me on to it. Judd Nelson plays an aspiring stand-up comedian named Marty Malt who one night finds an arm growing out of his back. Redonkulous you say? Absolutely. However, there’s a darker story here, one that takes a deeper look at how the entertainment industry will exploit and turn someone’s bodily defect into a commodity.
6. From Beyond (1986)
Creatures from other dimensions don’t always make the best bedfellows. In Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story a team of scientists learns this the hard way when their sadomasochistic boss comes back from the other side as a horny shambling monster. If you’re looking for a sleazy good time From Beyond is here for you.
5. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
I can’t say I enjoyed, understood, or even liked Tetsuo. Yet, it seemed wrong to not have it on the list, as its focus is almost solely on Tetsuo’s transformation from every day man into scrap-pile monstrosity. At times it’s goofy, like the moment where Tetsuo’s junk becomes an out-of-control drill that destroys a table, but then there are more harrowing scenes like when a piece of rebar is shoved into a gaping leg wound.
4. Society (1989)
There was no way I could do a body horror list and not include Brian Yuzna’s Society. Underneath all the body melting and carnivorous orgies is an interesting dissection of classicism, and a young man just trying to fit in. Believe me when I say that you’ve never seen anything like this and you might think twice about going to parties afterward.
3. The Skin I Live In (2011)
Unlike some of the other films on this list Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is a slow and skillfully plotted story that doesn’t need poisonous whiskey or exploding heads to make someone appreciate their bodies. I don’t want to ruin the twists this movie takes, so I’ll leave it at that.
2. Under the Skin (2013)
Based on the novel by Michael Faber, Scarlett Johanssen plays an alien masquerading as a young woman that drives around the city picking up men and removing their skin. The atmosphere, subtle ambient score, and lingering camera work was enough to make me grind my teeth when I saw it in theaters, specifically the scene where one of the victims floats into the black void until their skin pops off. If nothing in this movie gets to you you’re watching it wrong.
1. The Fly (1986)
I purposely left all of the other Cronenberg movies off this list. Yeah, Scanners, Videodrome, and The Brood are all favorites and deal with body horror in their own way, none of them come close to Seth Brundle’s transformation after a fly hitches a ride with him in his transporter. From acidic puke to his cock falling off, The Fly will always be my number one favorite body horror movie.
Anthony Trevino is the author of the New Bizarro Author Series 2015-16 novella King Space Void published by Eraserhead Press, the horror comic Fruition, and also made an appearance in the True Detective tribute anthology Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction from CLASH books