Of all the subgenres of horror, body horror tends to bring the most repulsive, cringe-worthy offerings. There’s something inherently terrifying about your own body turning against you, transforming it against your will into something grotesque and inhuman. Even when not afflicted by supernatural diseases and bizarre horrors, the human body is capable of doing some pretty disgusting things. There’s no end to the creative ways body horror violates, mutilates, and mutates basic biology, finding endless ways to test the gag reflex in the process. Body horror has also long provided fertile ground for groundbreaking filmmakers to explore the psychologically and physically disturbing ways human anatomy can be abused.
Whether you’re in the mood for macabre humor or squeamish frights, these five body horror movies put the emphasis on horror with abnormal growths, bodily fluids, and immense pain.
All are available to stream now.
The Brood – Criterion Channel, Kanopy
Typically, the first name associated with this subgenre tends to be David Cronenberg. So, it only seems fitting to include at least one of his many significant contributions to horror. While The Fly might be considered his crowning achievement, this week’s pick goes to his more personal film, The Brood. Parenthood gets monstrous when a group of demonic child-like beings terrorize a man and his young daughter. They’re connected to the man’s estranged wife, who is receiving a radical form of psychotherapy at a remote institute. The body horror takes a good while to present itself, but when it does, it’s nothing short of shocking. The disturbing imagery in the final act, complete with a riveting yet unhinged performance by Samantha Eggar, will sear itself into your skull forever.
Body Melt – Prime Video, Tubi
A subset of body horror is melt horror, a specific flavor of genre films where, expectedly, the flesh melts, oozes, and dissolves into goo. In other words, these types of films are best viewed on an empty stomach. Body Melt is an Australian horror-comedy that sees a community being used unknowingly as guinea pigs for a new dietary supplement. Too bad it causes rapid decomposition and excruciating death. It’s as over the top as it is goopy, and as zany as it is ultra-gory. If you love Peter Jackson’s early splatter works, then you’ll love this.
Clown – Vudu, Tubi, Pluto TV
Presenting a new angle in body horror, Clown sees a dad trying to compensate for a cancellation to his son’s birthday party by donning a clown suit he finds in the basement of a house he’s selling. Once the party is over, he finds the clown suit is fusing itself to his body. The more it takes over, the higher his drive to slaughter children. It’s a demonic possession turned slasher movie, by way of grotesque body horror. Scenes featuring attempts to remove the clown skin make for excellent, cringe-worthy horror. Look for Peter Stormare to steal scenes while delivering needed exposition on the mythos. Clown isn’t perfect, but it does entertain and eschew the typical body horror blueprint.
Starry Eyes – Prime Video, Tubi
Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer use body horror to showcase the darker side of Hollywood. Alex Essoe stars as Sarah, an aspiring actress desperate to land a breakout role and become a star. When presented with a rare, insidious opportunity to join the Hollywood elite, Sarah’s willing to do whatever it takes, including selling her soul. Starry Eyes bides its time until an explosive final act. Expect shocking violence and utterly revolting body horror as Sarah undergoes the most gruesome makeover. Ambition has never looked so ghastly.
Antiviral – Hulu
Brandon Cronenberg’s feature debut demonstrated that perhaps the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd, an employee at a company that acquires diseases and pathogens from celebrities and then, for a pretty penny, injects them into fans that long to connect with their coveted idols. Syd injects himself with an unknown pathogen from celebrity Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) to incubate and sell on the black market but finds himself drawn into a deadly mystery instead. Surreal, twisted, and grisly, Antiviral explores the lust for fame with buckets of blood.