The Invention of Body Horror
Inventor Thomas Edison was a man of many talents. Most people don’t know he was also a movie producer. No surprise, his films were made using a motion picture camera he invented. Whether by accident or on purpose, he also became the inventor of body horror. In 1910 Edison would greenlight the first production of Frankenstein as a feature film.
For two centuries, Frankenstein films have filled movie theaters. Some twists on the classic story include director Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein (2015) told through the point-of-view of Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s loyal assistant. Depraved (2019) from Director Larry Fessenden is the story of a broken soldier named Henry. Suffering from PTSD he is hired to create a man named Adam. Built from the body parts of murder victims his money-hungry “killer boss” brings back to their secret lab.
When you can’t build a person out of assorted limbs and organs, try some DIY body horror! Who can forget the infamous words of Mama Canady? A troubled mother living a trauma-filled life. After offering a doll to her disturbed and insecure daughter, in the film May (2002), she suggests, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” Then, all hell breaks loose!
The Fly (1986) is a horror film ahead of its time. Owing to the film’s success are the gross special effects. After accidentally fusing himself with the DNA of the most annoying insect known to man, molecular physicist, Dr. Seth Brundle spins out of control towards his demise. The Fly would raise the bar for special effects and win an Academy Award in the category!
It’s clear, the body horror which “inspired Frankenstein has long since become part of our cultural and cinematic DNA.” According to FilmTheroy.org body horror works best because of its “unnerving designs of the human physique, components of terrifying bodily distortion, decomposition, bodily dismembering, and illnesses that plague the body in such cases that make it appear scientifically unsuitable.”
Equally as gross as The Fly is the film Slither (2006). A dark body horror-comedy. Featuring the townsfolk of Weesley, South Carolina. All they have to do is avoid infection. From extraterrestrial parasites. Slither contains excellent 80’s-style special effects. Two moments; when the host body becomes “inhumanly bloated” with parasites, and a creepy bathtub scene proving why only taking showers, for the rest of your life, makes perfect sense.
Not Every (Body) Horror is the Same
Voyeurism is also a great recipe for body horror. Director, Brian DePalma’s odd, but wildly fun, Body Double (1984) is influenced by several classic Alfred Hitchcock films. The interesting plot twists and an unexpected kill scene, with a drill, make this body horror a cult classic.
Combine Carrie (1976) and Mean Girls and you get a body horror film that answers the age-old question: “Beauty possessed by a demon is in the eye of the beholder.” Wait, that’s not right. Neither is the deliciously unapologetic and sometimes inappropriate Jennifer’s Body (2009) by director Karyn Kusama. High school is hard enough; can’t we all just get along? Not if you’re a young teenage rock band needing a satanic ritual to gain success in the music biz!
How about a nice relaxing trip to the coast? Nothing in sight for miles. The Beach House (2020), is a one-of-a-kind body horror film. When two couples agree to stay at a quiet beach house nature decides to turn life upside down. The film exposes a twist about the effect of global warming and shows how Mother Nature can unleash an unexpected kind of evil. Exposed to a strange fog, and bioluminescent algae, the couples fight for survival makes for one of the most unique body horror films to date. Staycations at home look much more appealing.
One of the best body horror films, The Thing (1982), from legendary Halloween (1978) director John Carpenter pits 11 men from an Antarctic research station against a shaping-shifting organism. With some of the most repulsive body horror special effects ever created, The Thing simultaneously caused critical controversy and a new legion of horror fans.
The best scene in the film is, “when the severed head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) grows and skitters away on arachnoid legs. The horrifying image and the reaction from the crew is completely understandable. How else can you respond to such an inexplicable violation of humanity?” A remake of The Thing (2011), an homage of the original film, “showed the same basic premise; exhibiting a little patience, then doling out its ickiest, nastiest moments in ways that make them stick.” John Carpenter would be proud!
Body Horror Defies Evolution
For the body horror genre to remain successful, it must constantly evolve. Audiences want new, unique and out-of-this-world evil. Like the unblemished naked body, in The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016). When the sheriff of a quiet town investigates a multiple homicide crime scene, he discovers the dead body of an unidentified woman buried beneath the house. Transferred to the local coroner’s office that was operated by a father and son, it becomes clear that regardless of her identity, she is somehow connected to the crime.
On the surface, Jane Doe is all ghost story. Underneath, “no matter how far the film slides off the rails, the corpse lies stiff as a board, brimming with sinister potential.” At every stage of the autopsy, the body continually regenerates back to its original form.
The recipe for great body horror films requires only a few simple ingredients. Mutants, human hosts, and hungry parasites. Suspicious characters turning against one another terrified each other is contagious. In reality, body horror “ultimately, relishes the destruction of the organic form to the point of unnatural evolutionary insignificance.”