‘The Last of Us,’ and 11 Other Things to Never Watch If You Hate Body Horror

‘The Last of Us,’ and 11 Other Things to Never Watch If You Hate Body Horror

If you like horror that focuses on grotesque destruction, perversion, or violation of the human body (and that’s most horror, if you think about it) the films and shows listed below should fit right into your peculiar wheelhouse. If you don’t well, consider this a trustworthy list of no-goes for you.

Rather than just list every David Cronenberg movie, I mixed it up with instances of extreme body horror in unexpected places, and hopefully a hidden gem or two that you haven’t already seen eight times.

The Last of Us (2023)

HBO’s new series is a feast of body horror, from the fungal zombies that take over people’s brains to the more mundane insults to the physical body provided by bullets and bricks, but there is a moment in episode 2 that is so intimately horrific, I’m already calling it a classic moment of shivery body horror.

Teeth (2007)

Horror movies have traditionally been very hard on women, particularly sexually active women, so it’s nice to see a movie with a truly sexually empowered female lead. The idea of a woman with teeth in her vagina is only terrifying to men, after all. To main character Dawn, having a deadly box lets her explore her sexuality without worrying about anyone crossing her boundaries — or at least, things don’t work out very well for the dudes who try it in Teeth.

Human Centipede (2010)

Even though it’s a fairly well constructed indie horror movie with an original (though stomach-churning) idea at its centre, no one likes The Human Centipede. That probably means the movie works exactly as the filmmakers intended — they clearly wanted to make a repulsive movie, a movie you can’t watch without putting yourself in the place of the centipede and wondering where you’d fit into its bizarre hierarchy. We’re all hoping we’d be at the front — not a terrible deal, given the alternatives — but we all know we’d probably be near the back, two levels removed from the food and not even able to see where we are going. Such is life.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

Maybe it’s not technically a horror movie, but this 1971 classic has some of the scariest scenes ever in a kids’ movie, whether it’s that white-knuckle boat-ride/acid trip sequence, the nightmarish poverty of the pre-golden-ticket Bucket family (they can only afford one bed), or the whiff of sulphur around Willie Wonka himself. But for me, the most horrific sequence in Willie Wonka is the pure body horror of Violet Beauregarde being transformed into a human blueberry. She totally deserves it, but her inflating like a purple weather balloon, then being rolled to the “juicing room” by the mysterious Oompa Loompa, is just shudder-inducing

The Brood (1979)

David Cronenberg is the king of body horror. Almost every one of his films could be included on a list like this, but I like The Brood best. In this early career outing, Cronenberg looks at motherhood and the Human Potential Movement bullshit of 1970s and turns everything blood red. The Brood tells the tale of a woman undergoing “psychoplasmics,” a radical therapy where patients physically manifest their psychological trauma, sometimes in the form of bruises, bite marks and suppurating boils, and later in the form of evil “children.” The main character, Nola, gives birth to one of the titular brood in a particularly startling and disturbing scene that will not sit well with anyone contemplating having a child of their own.

Safe (1995)

A monster movie without a monster, Safe tells the story of a wealthy woman whose life seems perfect until she starts suffering from a disease that may or may not exist. Unlike typical sickness movies, Safe never provides a clear definition for the malady from which the main character suffers. Instead we see her experiencing intermittent, troubling symptoms that don’t rule out the possibility that it’s all in her head. Physical or not, the malady draws her further and further away from her upper-middle class cocoon into a dark twilight filled with doubt, fear, and some very disturbed new friends. It’s body horror that’s all the scarier because it really happens to people, all the time.

Possessor (2020)

The Cronenbergs have made body horror into a family business. Possessor was directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, and it presents a near-future science fiction/horror story that is guaranteed to unsettle you, not just for it violence and viscera, but for its deeper point about how quickly we’re losing our autonomy to corporation, and how their ultimate goal is the colonisation of consciousness itself. (Brandon’s goopy looking followup Infinity Pool is now in theatres.)

Freaky Friday (1976)

There have been a ton of movies where people switch bodies but it’s usually played for laughs, with only a brief moment devoted to the overwhelming horror of such a thing happening would be in real life. The only depiction I’ve seen that rings trues was an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program

where Brian Posehn and Steve Agee switch bodies. They don’t have wacky adventures. Instead, they’re filled with disgust and horror — imagine what it would be like to taste someone else’s mouth, or look at someone else’ moles in the mirror. Anyway, Freaky Friday is secretly a body horror movie and you can’t tell me any differently; just watch the trailer above. It’s terrifying.

Scanners (1981)

Scanners, a story about psychics at war, is not the best David Cronenberg work, but there is a scene about 10 minutes into it that is one of the most effective special effects shots in cinema history and an unforgettable moment of body horror. You know what I’m talking about — the part where the dude’s head explodes from the inside out. Luckily, the releasing company saw fit to include a truncated version of the head-explosion scene in the trailer, so you can just watch that, secure in the knowledge that this is the only head that explodes in Scanners.

The Special (2020)

This micro-budget, straight-to-streaming horror flick is so obscure it doesn’t even have a Tomatometer rating, but its central mystery and “hey, we’re making a movie!” spirit elevates it above the online dreck. In The Special, a man visits a brothel because he thinks his wife is cheating on him. He orders “the special,” which turns out to be a wooden box with a hole cut in it. He does what you’d expect, and from there, sinks into obsession, addiction, murder, and more. You could probably guess the “poetic justice” ending without even watching it, but you should watch The Special anyway; it’s great.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

If you turned on Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life hoping for surrealistic very-British comedy sketches, you won’t be disappointed, but you’ll also be surprised and delighted (?) by one of the grossest moments of body horror ever filmed. In a sketch called “Mr. Creosote Blows Up,” we see what happens when the fattest man in the world actually eats all he can eat, then adds just one more mint that’s “wwwaaaafffer thin.” Monty Python, overall, is love-it or be-annoyed-by-it, but this sketch is pure genius. You can watch it above.

Society (1992)

Earning bad reviews and audience indifference on its release in the U.S. in 1992, Society has slowly amassed a cult following enamoured of its weirdo/paranoid style, commentary on American wealth and classism, and, especially, its stomach-churning makeup effects. Society is the highpoint of the “goo-era” of body horror, with its unforgettable Grand Guignol finale featuring about a ton of flesh-coloured latex and slime. Turns out Society was ahead of its time.

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