There are several sub-genres in scary movies, but one of the most petrifying to endure is body horror. While it’s certainly unnerving to watch an unprepared, innocent girl try to hold her own against a murdering sociopath, it’s much more abrasive to witness a person try to battle a disease within their own body. At least when the killer is trying to knock down your door, you still have control over your own self. Body horror is so invasive, it’s difficult to sit through, because the viewer feels his or her own vulnerability at work. After all, what greater invasion of privacy is there than to have the error lie beneath our own skin? What greater discomfort exists than watching a figure we’ve become so familiar with morph into an uncharacteristic stance? In honor of this repulsive category, I’ve decided to list the ten most disturbing body horror movies. Read on, and see which titles you can stomach.
Billy Halleck is a self-centered, overweight man with no remorse. When he accidentally runs over a gypsy woman, he knows that his connections to the courts will clear him of his crimes without a problem. However, he wasn’t planning on Tadzu, a family member of the recently deceased, to put a curse on him that will cause Billy to lose weight rapidly. Because he is a heavier man, at first, Billy doesn’t mind the magic. He’s actually thrilled to be able to eat whatever he wants and only grow skinnier. As time goes on, Billy soon realizes that he will atrophy until he is literally skin and bones. Now, Billy must find a way to redeem himself before he withers away to nothing. We all make mistakes, but we never consider the thought that perhaps one of our greater selfish acts could lead to our demise. Billy’s survival is placed in the hands of a stranger, and in all honesty, he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. What’s more terrifying than the thought that one of our wrongdoings could haunt us until we die?
While at a party, an intoxicated Samantha indulges in what she thinks is a one night stand. Later, she discovers that it wasn’t the liquor that lead to her foggy memories, but rather, a date rape drug, and assault. Sadly, the news only gets worse. For poor Samantha, one night of indiscretion leads to a world of torment. At first, she shrugs her headache off as a hangover. As her health declines, she begins to worry that her blurry suitor has given her a sexually transmitted disease. When her state of mind takes an even greater downfall, she grows too afraid to find out what’s really wrong with her. She didn’t ask for this, she’s not an unkempt person. She just wants a normal life, but this is affecting every aspect of it. Interesting and horrifying because it’s not just messing with her physical appearance, but it’s changing her emotionally as well.
Dawn O’Keefe has been a proud crusader for abstinence her entire life, so when she finally has her first sexual encounter, she’s as surprised as her partner to learn what is lurking down below. Dawn has a unique condition called Vagina Dentata, meaning that she has teeth in her vagina. Although Dawn grows into a fierce female warrior as a result of this discovery, the path to self-righteousness is lined with grotesque images of men losing their fingers, and other useful limbs. This drastic body alteration is undoubtedly one of the most bothersome of the horror genre.
7. Cabin Fever
What’s so awful about this movie is the way that people turn on each other so quickly when an unknown disease arises. It’s very honest about people’s reactions to unspecified symptoms. It’s brilliant, because you could place nearly any fatal/terminal virus in the place of this flesh-eating phenomenon, and it would fit perfectly. When a person has AIDS, others become afraid to touch them, despite the fact that it’s not nearly that contagious. This was especially true when it first became prominent in America in the 1980s, and people didn’t know much about it. The fear of the unknown, and the possibility of catching whatever plague is around, is greater than that of any human predator.
6. The Fly
Scientist Seth Brundle is testing his transmitting experiment when an outside factor causes everything to go horribly wrong. A fly enters the chamber with Seth inside of it, causing an otherwise successful test run to lead to an accidental transmutation. Seth begins displaying odd behavior, and several physical changes. It starts with a few stray hairs on his back that his girlfriend, Veronica, has tested and discovers are not human. Before long, his nails begin breaking off, and he starts to prefer his food coated with stomach acid before he dines. Despite her pleading, Seth refuses to confess his transformation until it’s too late.
5. American Mary
One really has to commend the Soska sisters for directing this courageous excursion into a relatively untouched territory. Uncomfortable to say the least, American Mary follows the story of a girl named Mary Mason, who struggles financially to put herself through medical school. While being interviewed for a job at a strip club, the owner asks her to save the life of one of his employees by performing unauthorized surgery on him for cash, and opens the door to a brave new world where anything is possible, as long as the price is right. Mary plunges into the underground life of body modification, and begins performing random operations out of her home. What makes this movie so unnerving, and completely fascinating, is that most of us don’t really know much about the practice. The movie plays with your morals, making you ask yourself what you consider acceptable, and possibly even finding that you’re open to more taboo experiences than you thought before. It allows an outside look into a unique subculture without actually getting involved in the process.
In the future, the celebrity craze has reached an all time high. A company called the Lucas Clinic has made getting closer to your favorite famous person that much easier, by providing fans with the same diseases that infect the ones they worship, directly from the person’s veins. This film is an intriguing and horribly familiar look at our obsession with household names. It’s terrifying to think that we could be so fanatical in our devotion that we would be willing to do things like eat the meat grown from celebrity tissues, but the movie strikes a nerve, because we all know how close that next step is. Apparently, it’s even closer than we thought, since reports have been announced of a real company deriving celebrity tissues to grow meat for fans to devour. Anyone who’s considering ingesting their favorite star should definitely check out Brandon Cronenberg’s film first, and see what partaking in such an act could lead to.
3. The Human Centipede
Dr. Heiter is known for his surgical skills, but he’s always dreamed of a bigger medical accomplishment. He wants to create a human centipede, and he’ll do anything to make it, including kidnapping a couple of tourists and sewing them together, mouth to rectum. Being drugged and kidnapped is bad enough, but being attached to a complete stranger in that way is as rough as it gets.
Julia’s always been more in love with her husband’s brother Frank more than her own husband, so when Frank rises from the grave and asks her to kill a few people in order to bring him back to his full self, she reluctantly agrees. Frank was foolish enough to indulge in the dark arts, and play with a magical puzzle box, which brought out the demonic cenobites, who pulled him into their hell dimension. With a drop of blood, he’s back in the real world, but he needs help to sustain his life. Frank’s skinless cadaver gains a little more meat every time Julia brings him a fresh corpse, as he literally sucks the life out of the victims. Between the cenobites, Frank, and his demented lover Julia, Clive Barker makes his mark as one of the top creators of body horror in the genre. His influence is not only seen in other, younger directors’ films, but even in those who don’t make movies, as they try to re-create the piercings and bodily changes that were inspired by the Hellraiser series.
1. The Thing
Back before Dieter Laser was dreaming up punishments for child molesters, before Eli Roth wrote a story about a skin disease based on his own real life experience, and even before Stephen King depicted a gypsy vengeance tale in his book that was adapted into a feature film, John Carpenter remade the 1951 classic The Thing From Another World. This sci-fi horror gem tells the tale of an extra terrestrial hat infiltrates a camp and mimics whatever entity it encounters. Killing the person — or dog — that it meets, it then physically copies that character, hiding itself from whoever else is around. Carpenter’s The Thing isn’t just scary because it can be anyone, and they can reveal their true extraterrestrial selves at any given moment, but also because when the thing reveals its true self, it’s a morbid, scrambled interpretation of what existed before. Some have two heads, some have spider legs, but all are infectious, mutilated monsters that are impossible to see coming. In addition to the paranoia that infests this Carpenter classic, the practical effects by Rob Bottin are absolutely astonishing, even to this day.