Thursday, August 26, 2010


For me the most anticipated film of the upcoming Oscar season is Darren Aronofsky's latest, Black Swan. The trailer (below) reveals that Aronofsky is tangling together aspects of psychological thrillers and body horror in his follow up to The Wrestler. It's not clear if prima ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) is actually undergoing transmogrification or if it's simply all in her head. We will have to wait until December 1st for the answer to that query. As I fervently await opening night, I got to thinking about other films which have grossed out audiences by showcasing some truly disturbing alterations to the human form. Franz Kafka kick-started the genre in the literary world with his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis. In the near-century since then many directors and screen writers have put their own spin on body horror; creating an entirely new sub-genre of cinema.

The Black Swan? Could this be what Nina will turn into?

The body horror aspect is evident in this screen cap from the trailer.

Nina pulls a feather out of her back, apparently she is growing wings.
It is unknown if a copious amount of Red Bull is the cause.

The Brood (1979)
The trailer (below) only gives the viewer a peek at the monstrosities many of the characters in The Brood are afflicted with. The true horror in The Brood concerns the wife of the main character and the reveal is one of the most surprising curve balls in the history of celluloid. The plot involves a forward-thinking psychotherapist whose new technique called "psychoplasmics" has seriously negative physical side effects. This Canadian picture was written and directed by David Cronenberg, who was disturbingly inspired to pen the screenplay after undergoing a horrid divorce from Margaret Hindson. Cronenberg would use the body horror theme once more in 1986's The Fly. On a personal note, I recall watching this on television with a friend as a child and we were both terrified by the kitchen scene. I happened upon a copy a while ago and after watching it again, it's still disturbing but not as terrifying as it was to ten-year-old me. A remake is scheduled for 2013 and as many recent horror remakes have faltered, some bloggers and message board trolls are strongly opposed. However, I think The Brood could use an update which will hopefully build and expand on this creepy Canadian classic.

District 9 (2009)
Best Picture nominee District 9 not only features body horror but also speaks of the horror human beings inflict on each other through social segregation. Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp lived through the South African apartheid era and was in turn inspired to bring this tale of intolerance to the silver screen. The film's protagonist at first detests the alien prawns but soon becomes an alien in his own body and is forced to assimilate with the foreign arthropods. Now I'm certain had there been only five Best Picture nominees (the Academy reinstated the 10 nominee rule not seen since 1943) District 9 wouldn't have garnered a nod. However the reality this film addresses is all too horrifically real; case in point, most of the slums used in the film were genuine locations.

Splinter (2008)
Friday the 13th made audiences scared of the woods, Jaws made them afraid to go into the water and Splinter made everyone run in terror from... porcupines. (?)  This indie-horror gem finds a young couple (half of that couple is played by Wipeout hostess Jill Wagner) abducted by criminals while on their way to a camping weekend. Unfortunately for all involved the foursome run over a spiky mutant rodent whose quills can't be removed with tweezers. Holed up in an abandoned gas station, loyalties are tested and horror fans are delighted. Winner of six Screamfest Horror Film Festival Awards, including Best Picture, Splinter may be a bit overrated but remains a sharp entry in the body horror books.

The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's classic remake of the 1951 film is crucial to the body horror genre. The Thing features feelings of isolation, the trepidation of trust and a freeze-dried monster that would love to look just like you. As cheap and dated as the special effects are they still manage to provide scares and squirms. Watch for a prequel directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead coming in 2011. The all-male cast in Carpenter's interpretation is something that made the film unique, so we'll have to see how Heijningen works female characters into the mix.

The Faculty (1998)
Typical of the late '90s, The Faculty features many popular stars of the time thrown into some horrific situations.  Freshly-scrubbed students realize their teachers have undergone an abhorrent alien adjustment and fight to put a stop to the takeover before it's too late. What else would you expect from Kevin Williamson (Scream scribe) and Robert Rodriguez (director of From Dusk 'Til Dawn and Machete)? It's basically "Invasion of the Beverly Hills Body Snatchers 90210" and as a teenager I absolutely loved this alien invasion extravaganza. Look for a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart sporting a goatee and parting with some of his phalanges. (In a coincidence of blognormous proportions the substandard trailer (below) features the Last Hard Men's cover of School's Out that I mentioned in my last post on super groups.)

Cabin Fever (2003)
There's body horror and then there is plain disgusting. Years later I am still haunted by the opening sequence featuring that deceased canine. The scene where a character shaves her infected legs is upchuck inducing yet also illustrious as it speaks to her vanity insanity. Hostel creator/director Eli Roth's directorial debut is original as there are not many films that feature flesh eating bacteria. In addition, after viewing Cabin Fever you can say that that pile now pooled by your feet was originally food.

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