Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

Series - Retrospective

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Colin Geddes traces the emergence of the body horror genre in the work of such Cronenberg contemporaries as Brian De Palma, Ken Russell and John Carpenter, and recent films by some of Cronenberg's fearlessly transgressive cinematic offspring.

Films in Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror

    • Altered States
    • Ken Russell
    • A brilliant research scientist (William Hurt) attempting to explore new levels of consciousness undergoes a terrifying series of evolutionary (and devolutionary) transformations, in Ken Russell's wildly psychedelic sci-fi drama.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Tetsuo: The Iron Man
    • Tetsuo
    • Shinya Tsukamoto
    • Shinya Tsukamoto wild cyberpunk tale channels Kafka's The Metamorphosis, David Lynch's Eraserhead and the collected works of David Cronenberg in its vision of a world where flesh and metal have begun to horrifyingly merge.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Beyond the Black Rainbow
    • Panos Cosmatos
    • First-time director Panos Cosmatos creates a truly original science-fiction vision with this Cronenberg-meets-Tarkvosky fever dream.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • In My Skin
    • Dans ma peau
    • Marina De Van
    • Writer-director-star Marina de Van announced herself as one of the strongest and most intriguing female voices in contemporary horror with this shudder-inducing tale of a beautiful young PR rep whose experiments in self-mutilation begin to spiral into full-blown madness.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Body Melt
    • Philip Brophy
    • A new vitamin pill causes some unfortunate side effects in the residents of a small town — including mutation, melting, and exploding — in this gleefully disgusting Australian atrocity exhibition.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Possession
    • Andrzej Zulawski
    • A spurned husband (Sam Neill) discovers the gruesome truth of his wife's (Isabelle Adjani) adulterous secret, in this outrageous cult film from Polish provocateur Andrzej Zulawski.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Slither
    • James Gunn
    • Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, and Firefly's Nathan Fillion star in this hilariously gross horror comedy about a small town invaded by an army of mind-controlling space slugs.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Sisters
    • Brian De Palma
    • A beautiful young model (Margot Kidder) tries to conceal the bloody handiwork of her murderous twin in Brian De Palma's stylish Hitchcock homage.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Society
    • Brian Yuzna
    • A Beverly Hills teenager discovers the bizarre truth about his upper-crust family, in Brian Yuzna's twisted and transgressive allegory about how the rich feed off the poor (here, literally!).

    • No events playing at this time.
    • The Thing
    • John Carpenter
    • Released in the summer of E.T. to resoundingly poor box-office and critical reception, John Carpenter's big-budget remake of Howard Hawks' 1950s sci-fi classic has since been reclaimed as a modern masterpiece of the genre.

    • No events playing at this time.

From the grotesques of Lon Chaney to Tod Browning's Freaks to the many adaptations of Jack Finney's landmark novel The Body Snatchers, fear, revulsion and unease about the human body has been a primary theme of horror cinema. It was the work of David Cronenberg, however, that gave this strain a generic label of its own: "body horror," which focuses on the transformation, mutation, decay or mysterious inner workings of the body and the psychological turmoil that accompanies them. Eschewing the supernatural, Cronenberg holds up a mirror (or a microscope) to the horrors that already pulsate and ooze within us, revealing how that dark biology is intimately linked to the deepest of our desires — and how attempts to tamper with or reshape the body can unleash those repressed forces, often in destructive and nightmarish ways.

Parallel with Cronenberg, a number of other directors were pushing the same boundaries in the horror genre's relation to the body. Following his Hitchcock homage Sisters, Brian De Palma would go on in Carrie and The Fury to explore the links between bodily change and psychic rage that Cronenberg would elaborate on in Scanners, The Brood and The Dead Zone; Ken Russell took a break from his string of psychedelic historical pageants to tell, in Altered States, the story of a scientist whose experiments with consciousness spark a terrifying series of evolutionary (and devolutionary) transformations; John Carpenter upped the body-snatching ante with his legendarily gruesome remake of The Thing; and Polish maverick Andrzej Zulawski realized one of the most repulsive sexual encounters in screen history with the outrageous cult film Possession.

In this sidebar to our retrospective From Within: The Films of David Cronenberg, we showcase both Cronenberg's body-horror contemporaries and those later filmmakers who were powerfully influenced by his unique vision. From Shinya Tsukamoto's original cyper-punk masterpiece Tetsuo to the disturbing self-mutilation opus In My Skin, from the gleefully gross Slither and Body Melt to the slyly satirical Society and the dystopic future of Beyond the Black Rainbow, this series both looks back to Cronenberg's roots and forward to the fearlessly transgressive offspring he has spawned.

— Colin Geddes