You know how when somebody tells you not to touch your face while you are going outside with your face mask? That is when you suddenly become conscious of an itch. Don’t you just hate that? With the coronavirus still raging on and giving us a reason to wear a face mask and keep six feet apart from strangers, it is starting to become annoying.
Especially in Chatham, where Halloween is supposed to be a fun time. Downtown stores of Main Street would organize a special trick r’ treat for the kids. Public schools, such as Fairmount Avenue (now today’s Borough Hall) and Washington Avenue, would hold parades and contests for the best costumes. There would even be a contest for the spookiest house. But with the coronavirus still alive, these events are in jeopardy.
Therefore, it is a really scary time. If there is one thing mankind has always been afraid of, it is the enemy within. Now with Halloween arriving, there is an invisible monster lurking in the air. Would it be funny to imagine a Chatham child dressing up as a germ? Maybe, but I would also bet when it comes to enjoying what is on the big screen, no one will want to watch a flick that reminds them of the pandemic unless they want a thrill out of it. I am talking about the body horror genre.
Dating back to cinema in the 60s, or even as far back as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, horror body refers to a genre that showcases viscerally disturbing violations of the human structure. It is a type of scary tales that play on mankind’s fear of bodily infections and mutilations. A lot of times, they concern a character who goes through an identity or midlife crisis. Often, they are shrewd people who undergo an unwanted change that alerts who they are, mentally and physically. When the transformation is complete, disaster usually occurs. While it gives a great thrill, that itch you can’t scratch, you’ll never feel it the same way again.
Here’s a few body horror movies that can do just that. In this year of coronavirus, they may make you want to keep social distancing.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
There are so many zombie movies that can make this list, but it’s the one that started the craze that deserves recognition.
Night features your basic story of survivors in a zombie apocalypse which has just started. Through the tension and the fear of being infected, groups become divided over survival versus morality.
From the mind of director George Romero, his zombie movies are often commentaries on social life and political events. Many has interpreted Night as a commentary on the then Civil Rights Movement, with the lead character played by African American actor Duane Jones. Night has also been thought to touch on other subjects, such as Cold War politics, the Vietnam War, and the disillusionment of the average nuclear family. Altogether, we see a world on the brink of chaos, with search and destroy operations picking off all the weak.
What is obvious is how it seems people in general turn on one another when chaos and death occur. The zombies are not the real monsters in this movie, but us. In the body horror genre, the infected individual really shows their true character as does those around him, once it realized he carries death. Like in any typical horror story, things go from bad to worse when death is known and coming closer.
And what is it that drives the zombies away, but fire. When there’s a plague, there’s always a burning. Most get out of control.
The Brood (1979)
If there is a man who is considered the originator of the body horror genre, it is David Cronenberg. During the 70s, he exploded onto the horror scene, with cult hits like Shivers and Rapid. But it was The Brood that established his reputation as an entirely different horror director. It is also the first collaboration between Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore; the latter of whom scoring nearly all the director’s movies.
In the decades since, The Brood has attracted scholarly interest from academics in the areas of film theory for its themes regarding mental illness and motherhood, and its combining elements of the woman’s film with body horror. Usually, we hear stories of strong women making a good life for themselves. Here, we see abused souls whose repressed power causes pain and disaster for others.
At the center of all these debates is Nola Carveth (played by Samantha Eggar), playing a severely disturbed woman locked in a legal battle with her estranged husband for custody of their five-year-old daughter. As this fight rages on, Nola attends sessions with her doctor (Oliver Reed) who specializes in a therapy, known as “psychoplasmics.” This encourages patients with mental disturbances to let go of their suppressed emotions while undergoing physiological changes to their bodies. This cult film showcases Cronenberg’s fascination with science fiction and gruesome mutilations and murders. If there ever was a remake, I would want it to be remade by Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar).
In this year of the coronavirus, The Brood is a scary tale that encourages you to let go of your repressed emotions calmly. If there is one thing that can have an effect on your health, it is stress and anxiety. Sometimes, it seems so intense, it’s like your body is changing!
The Fly (1986)
From one Cronenberg movie to another, this is one of his best-known accomplishment. A remake of the 1958 Vincent Price cult film, The Fly is more of a tragedy than it is horror. Yes, we have detailed mutilations, as well as a delivery scene with a very ugly baby, but we see characters that we care about and a story of forbidden science, starting with good intentions, but ending in disaster.
Seth Brundle is a scientist who comes across as creepy, but brilliantly creates several pods that create instantaneous teleportation. Trying to push the boundaries of his own limits, and while trying to open himself up to his new love journalist Ronnie, his invention that changes him psychologically… and physically. At first, we love to see him getting the attention he deserves, the romantic dates he has put off, and the energy and enthusiasm he exhibits while doing unexpected acrobats or adding extra sugar to his coffee. But then, with his DNA infused with that of a housefly, his skin starts mutating, and certain pieces fall off.
The Fly is noted for being Cronenberg’s largest commercial success and for being the only Cronenberg film to win an Oscar for Best Makeup. This accomplishment was made possible by make-up artists Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis. The transformation of Brundle is said to be metaphorically about aging, terminal disease, or AIDS. And while we wait for the coronavirus to pass, we find ourselves frequently checking for symptoms, spraying disinfectant, and checking temperatures.
As its famous tagline says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
The Thing (1982)
The fear of a foreign invader is a subject that has inspired many classic horror movies, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One would say they were based on the nation’s then-fear of communism. Nowadays, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to see a horror movie about the fear of disease.
Like many great movies in general, The Thing was received terribly on first release. After all, E.T. came out the same year and offered a more optimistic view on alien life. John Carpenter’s The Thing has been hailed as one of the greatest horror films ever made and one of the best examples of body horror. Today, filmmakers have noted its influence on their own movies, and it has been referred to in television and movies, while spawning various merchandise, including a 1982 novelization, haunted house attractions, board games, and sequels in comic books, a video game, and a 2011 prequel film.
With an alien that can shapeshift into any living organism, you feel as paranoid as the crew of an Antarctica research station, not knowing who the creature in disguise is. In recent months, we have probably heard countless stories of people who to their shock become coronavirus patients. More recently, our president had contacted the virus! You can imagine how our nation is reacting; like a bunch of individuals isolated in a white hell, trying to make sure the apocalypse does not spread.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Based on its title, you would definitely believe there is nothing sweet about this film.
What we got is a story of two teenaged goth sisters with a fascination with death and who dream of leaving their boring town and finding acceptance elsewhere. But the life-changing encounter they wish for comes in a more horrifying matter, with fur and fangs. Whereas Cronenberg had a housefly, director John Fawcett (Orphan Black) has a werewolf.
And whereas The Fly is said to be a metaphor for a terminal disease, Ginger Snaps uses lycanthropy as a satirical metaphor for teenage life and puberty. As one sister starts to embrace her transformation, the other tries to save the other from the darkness. With the power of its female leads (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle) and dark humor, Ginger Snaps has been described as one of the best teenage wolf movies.
When pandemics occur, it often brings out the good and the bad in people. Watching this body horror, as we watch Ginger transform physically and psychologically, we see the effects it has on the people around her. Sometimes, we are happy during the moments she enjoys her high school life, while embracing her new power. Other times, we are saddened by what toll it takes on her sister and when all hope seems lost in finding a cure. Overall, this body horror cult classic is a study on being a teenager and puberty as a monstrous force.
Cabin Fever (2002)
With his debut, director Eli Roth came swinging into the horror world. For most, Cabin Fever was a grossed-out horror comedy with a cliché plot of young people partying at a cabin-in-the-woods scenario. Roth however took it a step further with graphic violence, dark humor, and many homages to classic thrillers (Evil Dead, Deliverance, and The Blair Witch Project).
In the early 2000s, Roth emerged with a group of horror directors known as the Splat Pack. These filmmakers became known for operating under low budgets and raising the level of onscreen violence, with smash hits such as High Tension, Saw, The Devil’s Rejects, Wolf Creek, and The Descent. For that decade, no one feared haunted houses and monsters made in science labs. They were afraid of human strangers who might kidnap and commit sadistic torture. Hence, the horror genre of torture porn was born.
In this case, we don’t have a machete-wielding masked killer, but a form of flesh-eating bacteria. Though Cabin Fever starts off as the typical college-party-gone-to-hell cliché, we soon see that it’s more about how people react in situations that threaten their lives, and the isolation working against them (much like The Thing). The more people get sick, the more desperation starts to sink in. Human morality gets lost among the trees and people start to reveal who they really are.
Some would say things around Morris County look a lot better than what’s been going on in Seattle and Manhattan lately. Yet, across the nation, there is all kind of talks on the coronavirus and the bad reactions people are making to it. You can imagine with the president having contracted the virus that a lot of people getting scared and overacting. There are always rumors of the pandemic dwindling or going through a resurgence. Either way, they don’t take the stress off the situation. As we wait for the time when we can go outdoors without our face masks, we are all suffering from cabin fever.
Many times, it has been compared to Ginger Snaps, with another female protagonist going a grotesque, metaphorical puberty phase, but with the style and atmosphere seen in the Italian Giallo thrillers. With screenplay and direction of French director Julia Ducournau, Raw may encourage you to stay indoors to avoid anything that awakens hidden urges.
Justine is a lifelong vegetarian and is ready to attend the same veterinary school her parent went to, and which her older sister Alexia also goes to. Things start off uncomfortably when all the new students are forced to participate in hazing rituals: late-night partying in their underwear, getting splattered in animal blood, and eating raw rabbit’s kidneys. The next morning, Justine not only has a strong, itchy rash all over her body, she has a strong, new appetite.
This visceral thriller is about what happens when you cage the beast. How many people nowadays are tired of being indoors, doing events virtually and just want to have some in-person fun. Obviously, we are not on the verge of anarchy, but as restaurants, libraries, movie theaters and town halls are starting to let people inside (by appointments only), we are deep down feeling just a little relieved. Raw may be the movie that encourages you to keep social distancing.
It may even encourage you to become a vegetarian. Or even vegan!
There is a lot of different genre elements to this flick, including science fiction, cyberpunk, action, and drama. In fact, Upgrade has been described as cyborg adventure series The Six Million Dollar Man meets revenge fantasy Death Wish. So, why does it fit into body horror?
In the near future, cars can drive by themselves, police surveillance drones are flying everywhere, and home security systems can speak to you, set alarms, schedule work sessions, and make protein drinks. Furthermore, technology and the human body have been infused together (such as in Cronenberg’s eXistenZ). One can have cell phones implanted in their ears, scanners in their eyes, and firearms in their arms. Yet, with every piece of flesh and bone removed, in pursuit of becoming the ultimate cyborg, the subject becomes less human.
The case is not the same however for mechanic Grey, who’d rather do things with his hands. All that changes when he becomes a quadriplegic, following the murder of his wife. Yet, an encounter with a brilliant scientist, who surgically places a computer chip in his spinal cord and makes him walk again, alters his life even more. The chip, known as STEM, starts speaking inside him and helps to hunt for the murderers. More and more, Grey finds himself trapped in his own investigation that puts his life in danger. And many times, he grants STEM permission to do things he can’t bring himself to!
Director Leigh Whannell may have started off as a writer for Splat Pack director James Wan (Saw), but has in recent years stood out as great director in his own right, along with Insidious 3 and The Invisible Man. His movies are not just scary, but seriously written narratives, with realistic characters, and well-choreographed action scenes that blend graphic violence with dark humor.
If you have become a germophobe during this pandemic, you will probably become a technophobe after watching Upgrade; wishing to stay indoors, healthy, and self-sufficient. During these trying times, we wish things went back to normal. We wish we could go to our favorite places without the inconvenience of wearing a face mask. In the end, it all makes us appreciate the little things in life: eating at our favorite restaurants, hanging out with friends and family in-person, checking out library books, or attending our hometown’s annual summer festival.
For now, here’s a list of body horror movies that will not only encourage you to stay healthy but once the lockdown is over, to not take life for granted. Now that the AMC Theater is open to the public in my area, I will finally enter through its doors and see in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. I only wish A Quiet Place, Part II could be released this year.