October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best and most unsettling body horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Alright, folks, it’s time to get slimy, goopy, and absolutely gross. You know all that stuff that normally stays inside? Well, not anymore! That’s right: we’re talking about the best that body horror has to offer. Believe it or not, even we seasoned horror fans had to have a bit of an internal debate about what qualifies as body horror. On the surface, it can really be any horror movie where the focus is on the body. But isn’t that most horror, you say? Yeah, pretty much. So you see our problem.
In narrowing it down, there are a few things to consider. For one, a simple slasher stabbing (say that five times fast) might succeed in injuring or even destroying the body, but it doesn’t feel like bodily destruction is the goal, so we have to keep that in mind. What we’re really looking for here is something that you feel viscerally. And this is, of course, harder to quantify. What gets one person’s toes curling might do absolutely nothing for someone else. But ideally, the best body horror movies should have a focus on manipulating, mutilating, or just straight-up eviscerating the sanctity of the human body. Watching these movies is kind of like going for a swim: we recommend you do so, but do so 30 minutes after eating. So without further ado, let’s get into the best body horror movies, as decided by Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, Valerie Ettenhofer, and yours truly.
10. Society (1989)
At first, Society seems like a fairly standard “the adults are up to something” teen conspiracy movie. In the upper-class world of Beverly Hills, a teenager begins to suspect his parents are part of a secret society. And then… well… things get a little weird. Because this movie keeps its cards close to its chest for most of the run time, it’s only fair that we don’t spoil exactly what madness this film unleashes on its audience. But trust us when we say it is wild, unpredictable, and like nothing you’ve ever seen. On top of that, the film is a total blast, a testament to the power of practical effects, and wonderfully unique. So enjoy. Just don’t watch while eating. (Anna Swanson)
9. Hellraiser (1987)
The Cenobite Pinhead is the most iconic image from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise, and while the character is definitely a standout part of later films, the 1987 classic that started it all features monsters of a much, um, goopier variety. Namely, there’s Frank (Sean Chapman), the extreme pleasure seeker who touches the wrong puzzle box and accidentally turns himself into a disgusting, skinless attic-dweller who feeds on his lover Julia’s (Clare Higgins) dates in order to regenerate his body.
The body horror in Hellraiser stands out because it’s decidedly nasty in an unflinching way – the camera doesn’t shy from each ghoulish phase of Frank’s resurrection – but also because it makes the intense sensations of Frank’s experiences so visual. Whether the man’s being ripped apart by otherworldly chains or lurking in the shadows in a meat suit that looks like a walking raw nerve, there’s a lurid visceral nature to his appearance that never lets us forget that his is a story of kinky adventure gone bad. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
8. The Brood (1979)
Nola (Samantha Eggar) lifts her white gown upward, and we see the psychoplasmically induced external womb beneath. It’s red, blobby, and everything you want in a David Cronenberg movie. Her rage is birthing babies, little soldiers who will do anything to halt the emotional and physical abuse she’s suffered her entire life. Frank (Art Hindle) desperately tries to soothe his wife, attending to her anger in a way that’s simply too little too late. The Brood come for him as little deadly extensions of Nola’s psyche. Killing one is like halting a dam from bursting. You might stop a leak, but there’s too much trauma to master. And it doesn’t matter if Nola survives the ordeal or not. Her rage has already scarred her “naturally” born child, Candice. She’s doomed to carry her mother’s damage. Like we all are. (Brad Gullickson)
7. Malignant (2021)
Considering Malignant took horror fans by storm just last year, we’re willing to bet you’ve seen it and know exactly why it’s on this list. If you haven’t seen it, hooooooo boy, strap in. This campy masterpiece from the one and only James Wan is a blast and a half. After surviving an attack that killed her abusive husband, Madison begins to have strange dreams about other murders. Sounds like pretty standard nightmares, right? Well, that would be the case if it wasn’t for the fact that those murders actually happened. The murders are gory and grisly enough to titillate seasoned horror fans, but when it comes to body horror, the best parts of this film are too good to spoil. So go forth and enjoy, you glorious sickos. And if you are familiar with Malignant, we can promise that a rewatch never hurts. Pretty soon, you’ll know this movie like the back of your head. (Anna Swanson)
6. Eyes Without A Face (1960)
There’s a tweet I think about at least once a week that pokes fun at the difference between Italian and French horror films, with part of the joke being that the French spend way too much time thinking about how much freer they’d be if they weren’t covered in skin. There are plenty of body horror films that predate Eyes Without a Face. The Quatermass Xperiment, X the Unknown, and the original The Fly, to name a few. But even its gushier modern peers can’t stand up to Georges Franju’s demented tale: In a secluded country estate, an obsessive surgeon is spurred by guilt to restore the face of his disfigured daughter, Christiane, who the public believes is dead. Harvesting the skin of local women in a furious attempt to pull off the perfect skin graft, the doctor sinks deeper and deeper into madness without thinking to ask what Christiane, his subject and his captor, really wants. Dripping with melancholy and all the rogue fluids that come with a heterograft, Eyes Without a Face brings a touch of class to a subgenre chiefly interested in mucking about in unmentionables. (Meg Shields)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists