13 Great Body Horror Films
Article By: Sean Abley
Be warned, many of the clips below are extremely graphic and NSFW!
1. Rabid (1977)
Several of David Cronenberg’s films could be included on this list, so we’ll limit ourselves to just one. Starring the late Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), Rabid could be viewed as early propaganda against the Canadian health care system. After a motorcycle accident, Chambers is taken to the nearest medical center, which just happens to be an experimental plastic surgery clinic. One weird skin graft later, and Chambers has a stinger in her armpit that not only drains blood from her victims, but also transforms them into, wait for it, rabid maniacs who go on a killing spree. As they say in the trailer, “Pray it doesn’t happen to you!"
2. Society (1989)
After a successful release in Europe, Brian Yuzna’s flawed classic slunk into the U.S. via home video three years later. Basically dismissed as trash at the time, this cruel, twisted little film has garnered a cult following in the years since, and rightfully so. Despite some uneven casting choices, and a few not-quite-realistic-enough effects, Society delivers the goods in the stomach-turning department. Upper class high school senior Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Baywatch) has a nagging feeling something isn’t quite right with his idyllic life. As it turns out, Bill Whitney is one perceptive kid. Not only is he adopted, but his family and most of his friends are a humanoid species who love what they call “shunting,” aka shapeshifting orgies where they feast on the poor. If you want to see a particularly disgusting clip, there's one on youtube. This clip is way NSFW, and a major spoiler as it reveals the ending of the film, but for those not opposed to finding out what this society is into, click away.
3. The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Space radiation is responsible for many a malady in horror films: zombies (Night of the Comet), killer plants (Day of the Triffids), and really mean trucks (Maximum Overdrive) to name a few. Sadly for Steve West (Alex Rebar, Amityville: The Evil Escapes), it also makes people melt. There’s not a lot going on here above and beyond the melting and the stalking and the more melting, but that’s enough to fill 80 enjoyable minutes before West is a nonmobile pile of goo. The Incredible Melting Man is a great TV night party movie, with early-career effects by Rick Baker (Videodrome) and plenty of opportunities for wry observation and commentary.
4. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Written, directed, produced and starring Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a triumph of microbudget filmmaking. As beautiful as it is punishing, T:TIM offers no real explanation for the transformation of its characters into metal-infused biomorphs, which means Western expectations of how a film should roll out need to be put aside. Nominally, the story involves the accidental vehicular death of the “Metal Fetishist” (Tsukamoto) by an errant driver (Tomorowo Taguchi, Tomie), and the metal-based revenge he wreaks on the businessman and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara, Organ). One production aspect that should be noted – Tsukamoto and costar Fujiwara (an extreme filmmaker in her own right) traded off camera operating duties when the other was in front of the lens.
5. Ragin' Cajun Redneck Zombies (2013)
It’s the Hatfields and the McCoys, but in this version, they come together to fight their kinfolk who have mutated into alligators courtesy of gator meat tainted by bad moonshine. A tale as old as time.
6. Sssssss (1973)
Pre-Battlestar Galactica Dirk Benedict and post-The Sound of Music Heather Menzies star in this tale of an evil scientist (Strother Martin, Nightwing) who has decided the survival of mankind hinges on the ability to transform into a reptile. Benedict takes an assistant gig with Martin, which puts him in proximity of both Martin’s daughter Menzies and the serum that will eventually put a big strain on his new relationship. Interesting fact – this is the single screenplay credit for makeup effects artist Daniel C. Striepeke.
7. Street Trash (1987)
A case of rotgut wine turns out to be the permanent but messy answer to the homeless problem in New York. One sip of the toxic hooch causes a severe case of total body breakdown. There are several subplots in Roy Frumkes’s gleefully gory and violent horror comedy, but the main events are the disintegration scenes playing out in the trashier areas of NYC. If Frumkes’s name sound familiar, you’ve probably heard of his decades-long in production documentary Document of the Dead.
8. The Stuff (1985)
The prolific Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, Maniac Cop, Phone Booth) wrote and directed this flick about a killer curd. If Activia just isn’t doing it for your lower GI tract, then give The Stuff a try. Found bubbling up from a crevice in the ground, the delicious yogurt-like substance is actually a parasite that eats you from the inside out. Cohen regular Michael Moriarity (Q, The Stuff, It’s Alive, It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive, and Return to Salem’s Lot), cabaret singer and actress Andrea Marcovicci, SNL’s Garrett Morris, and Paul Sorvino lead possibly the most unexpected cast configuration in exploitation film.
9. Spontaneous Combustion (1990)
Tobe Hooper cowrote and directed this strange little film about a fire starter named Sam. After his newlywed parents subject themselves to atomic testing, Sam is born with the power of pyrokinesis (which he immediately uses on his parents). A grown up Sam, now played by Brad Dourif (Curse of Chucky), rediscovers his powers, except now they take a physical toll on his body. The film’s internal logic dictating how Sam’s powers manifest becomes completely convoluted by the end scene, but this is a fun example of those low budget early 90s sci-fi horror flicks that dominated video stores for a decade.
10. Contracted (2013)
With drug resistant infections making the news over the last decade, it makes sense that filmmakers would look for ways to capitalize on our fear of unprotected intimacy. In this film by Eric England, a young woman named Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is drugged and raped by a guy who earlier in the evening had sex with a corpse. This marriage material leaves her with a strange STD that first causes her body, then her brain, to rot. Exploring themes of sexuality, victim’s guilt, and body image, Contracted aims for the gut and the head with predictably horrific results.
11. From Beyond (1986)
Stuart Gordon’s follow up to the impeccable Re-Animator was his second H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and second film to star Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners) and Barbara Crampton (You’re Next). The plot involves a machine called the Resonator, which not only gives you multidimensional vision, but transforms your body as well. After the scientist who invented the machine is killed horribly, his assistant Dr. Tillinghast (Combs) is arrested for murder. Dr. McMichaels (Crampton), Combs’s court appointed psychiatrist, believes his incredible tale, and soon they and Detective Brownlee (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead) are camped out in a spooky old house studying the thing. The machine’s vibrations cause all sorts of anomalies, including bringing back the dead scientist, enlarging Tillinghast’s pineal gland, and giving McMichaels the bright idea to put on fetish gear and seduce Tillinghast. Not as beloved as Re-Animator, but a fun film nonetheless.
12. Body Melt (1993)
This hilariously disgusting Australian effort has little plot, but a lot of the titular activity. Residents of a small community are thrilled when they find free samples of a new dietary supplement in their mailboxes. The problem is, these new wonder drugs cause rampant genetic mutations and crazy hallucinations instead of the intended perfect bodies. Gruesome set piece after gruesome set piece make this a must see for those that like their horror wet and messy.
13. Teeth (2007)
Is there a man alive who won’t wince during the kill scenes in this film? Teeth, the first feature by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of artist Roy Lichtenstein), is a feminist horror flick employing a medical condition in lieu of a machete. Virginal Dawn (Jess Weixler) discovers she’s not like the other girls while being raped by her new boyfriend. After biting off his penis and leaving him for dead, Dawn does her research and discovers that she’s the girl with something extra – vagina dentata. Ouch!
Sean Abley writes the “Gay of the Dead” blog for Fangoria.com. His writing has appeared in Fangoria, The Advocate, Unzipped, and in his new book, Out In the Dark: Interviews with Gay Horror Filmmakers, Actors and Authors.