A great horror movie infects our imaginations. It has us double checking the locked door and peeking under our beds before we turn out the lights, just to make sure there are no signs of Freddy or Michael in sight. And just to be safe, we like to keep our feet underneath the covers at all times.
This is the price that horror fanatics have to pay. Often on a nightly basis.
But body horror movies have a much more invasive affect on their audience. After all, how do you defend against something that’s happening inside of you? These types of movies take advantage our all-too-real fears of sickness, death, and mutilation. They don’t just have us closing our eyes for fear that Jason is going to jump out in the next frame. Instead, they have us clutching our bodies in self-preservation while we watch the characters suffering on screen. Suffice it to say, these films are not for the faint of heart. Or the weak of stomach.
Here is our compilation of 15 Totally Disturbing Body Horror Movies.
15. Cabin Fever
Compared to Eli Roth’s overly gruesome Hostel series, Cabin Fever is a surprisingly well-rounded movie. It has a quirky sense of humor and a self-awareness about it that Roth’s subsequent films seem to lack. And though Cabin Fever is by no means a perfect movie, the graphic depiction of its characters being consumed by a flesh-eating virus remains beyond disgusting.
A play on your typical “cabin in the woods” movie, there’s no psychotic killer or army of undead stalking the college students in Cabin Fever. Instead, their own bodies are destroying themselves from the inside out. This starts with them vomiting blood – so much blood – and continues until their skin literally starts peeling off. If someone could have only warned poor Marcy before she attempted to shave her legs…
What’s even more unsettling is that Roth based the movie on an actual trip he took to a horse farm, where his own skin had such an allergic reaction to the hay that he actually developed some bleeding sores of his own.
Starting as an idea on his podcast, Kevin Smith wrote and directed this twisted tale about a deranged old man who dreams of turning a human into a walrus. Even though the premise started off as joke, Tusk ultimately turned into a truly bizarre body horror movie.
Michael Parks was cast as the deranged old man, and Justin Long as the podcaster who travels up to Canada to interview him. But things take a turn for the worst after the young man is drugged and he wakes up to discover that one of his legs has been amputated. After that, it’s one procedure after the next, until the young man is ultimately sewn up into a walrus suit made of human flesh, complete with two tusks carved out of human bone.
The movie is short on laughs and high on squirms, and it went on to received mixed reviews from both audiences and critics. Tusk is the first film in Smith’s True North trilogy, which also includes Yoga Hosers, released earlier this year, and Moose Jaws, which has yet to be released.
After arriving on a distant planet with hopes of discovering the origin of life, the crew aboard the space ship Prometheus quickly finds that their makers are far less than welcoming. This 2012 prequel to Alien follows suit with the rest of the series and offers up a number of stomach churning scenes – which include an exploding alien head, an eel-like organism that burrows its way down one of the scientist’s throats, and let’s not forget the shot of the miniature worm emerging from one of the crew member’s eyeballs. However, the most disturbing scene in Prometheus by far is when archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw, played viscerally by Noomi Rapace, becomes impregnated with an alien organism and has to giver herself an impromptu c-section.
After Elizabeth enters the animated medical pod, we’re subjected to every detail of the procedure – from the robotic laser burning an incision across her abdomen to the wound being stretched open, and finally, the alien organism being pulled out. As if that wasn’t already enough to make you break out in a cold sweat, the placenta bursts open and spills fluid into Elizabeth’s open wound. The squid-like creature begins thrashing about and Elizabeth struggles to make it out of the medical pod alive.
Fortunately, Elizabeth survives the ordeal and will be making a reappearance in next year’s Alien: Covenant.
12. From Beyond
From the same crew that brought audiences the audacious Re-Animator, this 1986 film is also based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft. From Beyond begins with Dr. Pretorius testing out the Resonator, a machine that stimulates the pineal gland and allows its users to see beyond our realm. Of course, like all mad science in movies, the machine is far too powerful and so the knowledge-hungry doctor is eventually sucked into the alternate reality.
As Dr. Pretorius’s assistants attempt to use and eventually destroy the Resonator, they are exposed to one grotesque experience after another. Dr. Pretorius grows increasingly deformed until his skin resembles raw flesh and his pineal gland emerges from his forehead like a giant probing worm. And of course, the doctor has also developed an insatiable taste for human flesh. Were you expecting anything less from this campy horror classic? The slimy squelching of From Beyond‘s practical effects will linger in your ears long after the end credits have rolled.
This surrealist film, directed by the often perplexing David Lynch, still manages to gross out audiences despite its meager budget and grainy black and white images. Eraserhead‘s story revolves around a man trying to bring his deformed child up in an industrial wasteland, and Lynch drew on his experiences living in the dilapidated areas of Philadelphia as inspiration for the setting.
Though no one knows for certain, many of the crew suspected that Lynch used an actual animal fetus to assemble the deformed child prop. One particularly disturbing scene involves Henry removing the child’s swaddling only to discover that it has no skin, only a mish-mash of organs that were being held together by the cloth. This open metaphor about the fears of fatherhood became a hit on the midnight movie circuit and marked the beginning of Lynch’s directing career. Lynch became a vegetarian while filming Eraserhead, and it would be no surprise if seeing the deformed fetus turned a few viewers off eating meat too.
Though Teeth was hardly a box office hit, only gross $2.3 million, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t already know the premise of this darkly comedic horror film. Teeth is a biting critique of abstinence-only education and of the double-standard that teenage girls experience when it comes to sex.
After experiencing a sexual assault, teenage abstinence spokesperson Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) discovers that she has teeth in her… well… you already know. Once the high schooler comes to terms with this shocking reality, Dawn the victim eventually becomes Dawn the vigilante. She uses her vagina dentata to cut potential rapists down to size, so to speak.
Despite its overly graphic and groan-inducing sex scenes, Teeth actually received positive reviews for putting a spin on typical horror movie tropes and casting a female as the lead. Though the film is already a hard R, we can’t help but wonder what a NC-17 cut of the movie would look like. On second thought, maybe we wouldn’t.
Long before his Guardians of the Galaxy fame, director James Gunn brought us this horror comedy which draws heavily on the 1986 B-movie Night of the Creeps. Though Slither provides its fair share of laughs throughout, there are certainly no shortage of alien slugs, slimy tentacles, gruesome deaths, and grotesque body transformations. To put it in simpler terms: Those with weak stomachs need not apply.
Despite mostly positive reviews, Slither didn’t exactly knock it out of the park at the box office, failing to earn back its $15 million budget. However, the film went on to find a cult following, and is particularly praised by horror fanatics for its frequent homages to other genre films, including The Thing, Rosemary’s Baby, Tremors, Stephen King’s The Stand, and many more. Using a mix of practical and CGI effects, Slither straddles the line between homage and satire. The unforgettable sight of living humans being absorbed into a slimy, dripping mass of flesh is indelible proof, however, of its horror cred.
8. Ginger Snaps
A teenage girl starts her period on the very same day that she gets attacked by a werewolf, giving her two monthly cycles to look forward to. If that premise alone doesn’t compel you to check out this horror parable, then we don’t know what will. For a teenage-led horror movie, Ginger Snaps is surprisingly well written. The interplay between Brigitte and Ginger, two death-obsessed sisters living in small-town Canada, is already so intriguing that when the werewolf finally shows up it’s simply a bonus.
Ginger’s slow but unavoidable transformation into a werewolf (and woman) is both hilarious and horrifying. This is perfectly showcased in one particular cringe-worthy scene where Brigitte struggles to give her sister a belly button piercing in hopes that it will prevent her from going full-werewolf. The ring is pure silver, after all. But of course nothing can stop Ginger’s monthly cycle, and it’s likely that Ginger Snaps has the same effect on teenage girls that Rosemary’s Baby has on expecting mothers.
7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Based on the novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has seen its fair share of adaptations, but it’s the 1978 version staring Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum that continues to give us the willies. The body horror comes into play when a small group of friends living in San Francisco discover that the human race is slowly being replaced with alien doppelgangers that are void of human emotion. But the aliens don’t just inhabit the already existing bodies. Instead, new bodies are formed within pods while the unsuspecting humans are asleep. While it’s certainly terrifying to watch your exact copy slowly come to life underneath a layer of white moss, the most disturbing scene in the film by far involves a dog bearing a human head.
While Matthew and Elizabeth are attempting to blend in with the emotionless duplicates, the deformed dog runs up on the couple and Elizabeth can’t help but scream, blowing her cover in the process. The grotesque effect is extremely well done for a film made nearly 40 years ago, and watching a dog’s tongue hanging out of a man’s mouth continues to unsettle audiences today.
6. Goodnight Mommy
A recent movie particularly loved by horror fans, Goodnight Mommy follows ten-year-old twins who suspect that their mother is not who she says she is after she returns home from cosmetic facial surgery. The story is told from the perspective of the boys as they try to uncover what happened to their real mother while they’re forced to deal with the impostor living in their house.
The twins eventually tie the woman to the bed and super glue her lips shut in order to stifle her screams. However, the boys are forced to cut them back open with a pair of scissor after discovering that she can no longer eat. There are also a number of skin crawling scenes that involve some particularly large cockroaches, so any insectophobics may want to steer clear from this film altogether.
5. Dead Ringers
It’s impossible to have a list about body horror movies without bringing director David Cronenberg into the conversation. This guy has directed so many squirm-inducing, stomach-churning features throughout his 50 year career that he could practically fill an entire list of his own. This may his first appearance on this list, but it won’t be his last. And though Dead Ringers may not be one of Cronenberg’s goriest features, this 1988 film is certainly one of his creepiest.
The identical Mantle twins, both played by Jeremy Irons, work together as highly successful gynecologists who specialize in fertility problems. Their “specialization” takes the form of self-designed grotesque-looking surgical implements. It also includes them sleeping with the same women without telling them that they’re twins. If that isn’t already creepy enough, there are also a number of terrifying medical procedures that would certainly make any woman think twice about attending her next gyno appointment.
William Friedkin, legendary director of The Exorcist, takes paranoia to a new extreme in this psychological horror movie about two loners holed up in a bug-infested motel room. Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a victim of spousal abuse who gets caught up with Peter, a crazed drifter played by the always excellent Michael Shannon.
Peter claims to be an ex-soldier who was experimented on by the government, and he’s eventually able to convince Agnes that their motel room has been purposefully infested. Claustrophobia quickly sets in as we become trapped inside the room with Agnes and Peter, who literally begin to pick their own bodies apart. Caught in a folie a deux, they cover the room in aluminum foil, fly traps, and bug zappers in an attempt to stop the invisible infestation. But things take an abrupt turn for the worse when Peter begins to rip out his own teeth with a pair of pliers, claiming that the government planted bug sacks inside of his gums. The manic performances by both Judd and Shannon are enough to make your skin crawl, and Bug will no doubt inflict a bit of paranoia in anyone who watches it.
3. The Thing
It may be hard to believe now, but back in 1982, when it was released, The Thing wasn’t well received by audiences or critics. So what’s given this John Carpenter film so much staying power? The ingenuity of its an antagonist, for one. It comes in the form of an alien parasite that audiences never actual see. Instead, we’re shown what happens when the parasite invades a new host, and it’s these gruesome effects that have kept audiences engrossed in The Thing after all these years.
Make-up artist Rob Bottin worked alongside Carpenter to create an ever-changing creature whose appearance shifts depending on its host. From the slimy pile of mutant dogs to one man’s torso literally turning into a gigantic mouth, every practical effect in The Thing is disturbingly well done. And of course we’ll never forget the decapitated human head that suddenly sprouts spider legs and begins crawling across the floor and forever into our nightmares.
Amongst every terrifying body horror movie that features extraterrestrials, the original Alien still reigns supreme. Some of the scenes in the 1979 film are so memorable that the creatures within those scenes have received their own nicknames. For instance, if you mention “facehugger” or “chestburster” to a science fiction fan they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about. And as it turns out, there’s a very specific reason that the infamous chest bursting scene is so unsettling.
After actor John Hurt collapses onto the dinner table the gruesome effect, along with the actors’ reactions, was captured in a single take. Of course, the actors knew that the creature would be bursting out of the prosthetic chest, but they were purposefully not told about the fake blood that was going to be shot out at them with high pressure air pumps. As you can see in the scene, many of the actors can’t help but back away from the gory effect. In fact, when actress Vernoica Cartwright was suddenly splattered with the fake blood she even fell to the floor and went into hysterics.
1. The Fly
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s impossible to have a list about body horror movies without including David Cronenberg. So did you really think that we’d forget about his 1986 body horror magnum opus The Fly?
The Fly, the story of an ambitious scientists who attempts teleportation only to accidentally splice himself with a fly’s DNA, remains the only Cronenberg film to win an Oscar. Unsurprisingly, the award went to Best Makeup Effects, and Jeff Goldblum’s metamorphosis from eccentric scientist Seth Brundle to “Brundlefly” remains one of the most disturbing deformities ever put to film. To achieve the grotesque transformation makeup artist Chris Wallace actually started with the final creature and worked backwards to meet the actor’s appearance. By putting us in the shoes of Seth Brundle, and realistically showing us every step of his horrific transformation, The Fly remains the most disturbing body horror film of all time.
So which body horror films leave your stomach doing somersaults? Let us know in the comments!
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