The rougher the better.
By Anna Swanson · Published on October 10, 2022
October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it is true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror film a day, but here at FSR we’ve taken it up a creepy notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best and most disturbing body horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 day horror lists.
Okay, folks, it’s time to get slimy, gooey, and absolutely nasty. You know all the stuff that usually stays inside? Well, not anymore! That’s right: we’re talking about the best that body horror has to offer. Believe it or not, even us seasoned horror fans had to have a bit of an internal debate about what qualifies as body horror. On the surface, it could really be any horror film where the focus is on the body. But isn’t that mostly horror, you say? Yes, pretty much. So you can see our problem.
When it comes to narrowing it down, there are a few things to consider. First, a simple slasher stab (say that five times fast) can succeed in damaging or even destroying the body, but it doesn’t feel like bodily destruction is the goal, so we have to keep that in mind. What we’re really looking for here is something you feel viscerally. And this is of course more difficult to quantify. What makes one person’s toes curl may do absolutely nothing for another. But ideally, the best body horror movies should focus on manipulating, mutilating, or just plain disemboweling the human body. Watching these movies is a bit like going for a swim: we recommend you do it, but do it 30 minutes after you’ve eaten. So without further ado, let’s get into the best body horror movies, as decided by Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhoferand with best regards.
10. Society (1989)
Initially, Community seems like a pretty standard “the adults make something up” teen conspiracy movie. In the upper class world of Beverly Hills, a teenager begins to suspect that his parents are part of a secret society. And then… well… things get a little weird. Because this movie keeps its cards close to its chest for most of the runtime, it’s only fair that we don’t spoil the exact frenzy this movie unleashes on its audience. But trust us when we say it’s wild, unpredictable and like nothing you’ve ever seen. On top of that, the film is a total blast, a testament to the power of practical effects and wonderfully unique. So enjoy. Just don’t look while you eat. (Anna Swanson)
9. Hellraiser (1987)
Cenobite Pinhead is the most iconic image from Clive Barker‘s Hellraiser franchise, and while the character is certainly a prominent part of later films, the 1987 classic that started it all features monsters of a much, um, clumsier variety. There is Frank (Sean Chapman), the extreme pleasure-seeker who touches the wrong puzzle box and accidentally transforms himself into a hideous, skinless attic dweller living off his lover Julias (Clare Higgins) dates to regenerate his body.
Body horror in Hellraiser stands out because it’s decidedly ugly in an unflinching way—the camera doesn’t shy away from every gut-wrenching phase of Frank’s resurrection—but also because it makes the intense sensations of Frank’s experiences so visual. Whether the man is being torn apart by otherworldly shackles or lurking in the shadows in a flesh suit that looks like a walking, raw nerve, there’s an eerily visceral nature to his appearance that never lets us forget that his is a story of kinky adventure , that has gone badly. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
8. The Brood (1979)
Nola (Samantha Egger) lifts her white dress upwards and we see the psychoplasmically induced outer womb below. It’s red, splashy and everything you want in one David Cronenberg movie. Her anger is giving birth to babies, little soldiers who will do anything to stop the emotional and physical abuse she has endured her entire life. Frank (Art Hindle) tries desperately to soothe his wife and deals with her anger in a way that is simply too little too late. The Brood coming to him as tiny mortal extensions of Nola’s psyche. Killing one is like stopping a dam from bursting. You might stop a leak, but there’s too much trauma to deal with. And it doesn’t matter whether Nola survives the ordeal or not. Her rage has already scarred her “naturally” born child, Candice. She is condemned to bear her mother’s injury. Just like we all are. (Brad Gullickson)
7. The Malignant (2021)
Considering Malignant took horror fans by storm last year, we’re willing to bet you’ve seen it and know exactly why it’s on this list. If you haven’t seen it, hoooooo boy, buckle up. This campy masterpiece from the one and only James Wan is a bang and a half. After surviving an attack that killed her abusive husband, Madison begins having strange dreams about other murders. Sounds like pretty standard nightmare, right? Well, it would be if it weren’t for the fact that those murders actually happened. The murders are gory and gruesome enough to fire up seasoned horror fans, but when it comes to body horror, the best parts of this film are too good to pass up. So go forth and enjoy, you glorious sufferers. And if you are familiar with Malignant, we can promise that a rebuke never hurts. Soon you will know this movie like the back of your head. (Anna Swanson)
6. Eyes Without A Face (1960)
There is a tweet I think of at least one a week that pokes fun at the difference between Italian and French horror films, where part of the joke is that the French spend way too much time thinking about how much freer they’d be if they weren’t covered. in the skin. There are plenty of body horror movies that go before Eyes without a face. Quatermass Experiment, X the unknownand the original The fly, to name a few. But even its gushier modern peers can’t stand up George Francis‘s demented tale: In a secluded country estate, an obsessive surgeon is driven by guilt to restore the face of his disfigured daughter, Christiane, whom the public believes to be dead. Harvesting the skin of local women in a frantic attempt to pull off the perfect skin graft, the doctor sinks deeper and deeper into madness without thinking to ask what Christiane, his subject and his prisoner, really wants. Dripping with melancholy and all the frivolous fluids that come with a heterograft, Eyes without a face brings a touch of class to a subgenre mainly interested in romping around unmentionables. (Meg Shields)
Related topics: 31 day horror lists
Anna Swanson is a senior contributor hailing from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.