Welcome to Beat the Algorithm — a recurring column dedicated to providing you with relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. Today, we’re recommending movies to watch if you’re a fan of David Cronenberg’s goop-sterpiece The Fly.
David Cronenberg isn’t the kind of director you expect to achieve commercial success. And yet, in 1986, the Baron of Blood with all his fleshy machinations and heady pseudo-science broke into the mainstream. The Fly is the only one of Cronenberg’s films to win an Oscar (an inexplicable fact, but a righteous win for Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis’ special effects makeup). The Fly more or less made “David Cronenberg” a household name. Think about that for a second. The man who thought to put a uterus on the outside of Samantha Eggar’s body in The Brood, who unleashed sex worms on a Montreal apartment building in Shivers, and who dared to ask whether a man could make out with a television in Videodrome: a household name. Hell yeah.
There was something in the water in the 1980s that produced a smattering of stupendous body horror-filled remakes of 1950s genre fare. And right amidst 1982’s The Thing and 1988’s The Blob, there was The Fly: the tale of an eccentric scientist, two telepods, and one tiny, buzzing mistake. In the film, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) meets and falls in love with a brilliant if decidedly strange scientist named Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), who is on the brink of a revolutionary invention: instantaneous teleportation. Unfortunately, Seth can only successfully teleport inanimate objects. But once Veronica, uh, reminds Seth about the importance of flesh, he successfully teleports a baboon. And then, one night, a romantic misunderstanding and a little too much booze push Seth to test the machine on himself. Unaware of the stowaway in his pod, the ensuing teleportation fuzes Seth’s DNA with that of a common housefly, with progressively gruesome results.
As heartbreaking as it is stomach-churning, The Fly is one of a kind. But if you’re a fan of goopy effects, mad scientists, and poignant meditations on the inevitability of death … we have plenty of streaming recommendations. So buckle up and don’t forget to check your telepods for unwanted pests.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
At first glance, The Incredible Shrinking Man is an entertaining, if gimmicky, sci-fi B-movie that basically delivers what’s advertised on the box. Grant Williams’ Scott is indeed a man who, following an incredibly strange encounter with a mysterious fog, does begin to shrink. But as Scott adapts to his changing circumstances, the film becomes masterfully and somewhat surprisingly heartfelt. His shifting stature gives him a profound outlook on the world and his place in it. The all-American Scott is, for what we can only assume to be the first time, living in a world not made for him. As he navigates the logistical and metaphysical implications of growing smaller every day, the film adapts into a beautiful and touching mediation on what it means to search for significance against the odds.
Available to rent on Amazon Video, Vudu, Microsoft Store, and Spectrum on Demand
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
A cornerstone of “well, well, well… if it isn’t the consequences of my actions” cinema, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is also one of Roger Corman‘s finest films. Ray Milland stars as James Xavier, a doctor who develops eye drops that give him X-Ray vision. But all is not well in what was surely a well-thought-out experiment. When his newfound abilities put him in conflict with those around him, it doesn’t take long before he starts to spiral. Xavier’s vision becomes permanently distorted while his abilities are constantly at risk of being exploited. With groundbreaking effects utilized to convey the horror and wonder of Xavier’s world, the film is a kaleidoscopic nightmare with a finale that you have to see to believe.
Available on Paramount+, Paramount+ Amazon Channel, Epix, EPIX Amazon Channel, The Roku Channel, DirecTV, Night Fright Plus, and IndieFlix
Demon Seed (1977)
Demon Seed is one of those films that David Cronenberg didn’t direct, but might as well have. Set at the intersection of body horror and pernicious smart technology, director Donald Cammell makes plain the slippery slope between automated convenience and abject horror. Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) creates an organic supercomputer whose benign artificial intelligence mutates into an outright obsession with human beings. The AI, named Proteus IV (voiced by Berry Kroeger), desires a more … intimate knowledge of humanity. When Harris denies the request, Proteus locates an available terminal: the computer system that runs Harris’ home. Seizing control of the house, Proteus sets its sights, and squirm-inducing purpose, on Susan (Julie Christie), Harris’ estranged wife.
Available on The Roku Channel, Hoopla, Tubi, and Plex
Altered States (1980)
So you want to talk about scientists experimenting on themselves with horrific, genetic consequences? Well, then you have to talk about Altered States, one of director Ken Russell’s few films to garner the critical praise he so often deserves. A psychopathologist (William Hurt) experimenting with hallucinogens and sensory deprivation tanks (a winning combo) careens beyond the boundary of consciousness. As the doctor explores his deeply rooted sense memories and states of mind smuggled away within his own genes, his body begins to shift. Throw in a work/life love story, exhilarating rushes with hellish side effects, and an uncanny conviction that the body, however twisted, still remembers its genetic past, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a double bill.
Available on Max Go, DirecTV, and Cinemax Amazon Channel
From Beyond (1986)
As a “mad scientist” Seth Brundle kind of trips accidentally into villainy … if we want to call it that. He didn’t mean to invent that monstrous gene-splicing machine. He just wanted to make a more manageable form of transportation for people with motion sickness! From Beyond’s Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), meanwhile, all but kick-flips his way into the darker, slimier recesses of scientific inquiry. Namely: by creating a giant tuning fork that can allow curious minds to see beyond the veil of perceivable reality. This, of course, means orgasm migraines, fleshy creatures, and throbbing pituitary glands.
Where Seth’s journey into malpractice was, generously, the result of oversight and heavy drinking, Dr. Pretorius wants to get weird, wild, wet, and wriggling right from the jump. And while there’s a time and place for tragic, Cronenbergian pseudo-science, you have to respect the balls-out insanity of the goop gang (Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, and Dennis Paoli).
Available on Pluto TV and Spectrum On Demand
Cronenberg is undeniably the king of body horror, but not too far down on the hierarchy is Clive Barker. There’s a lot to love about Hellraiser — the story isn’t afraid to get metaphysical and the film successfully spins a lot of horror character tropes on their heads. But there’s one aspect that might not be easy to love, but is necessary to respect: this film is unbelievably disgusting. It’s a bloody, goopy showstopper that has no qualms with visualizing every detail of the human body that polite society dictates should remain on the inside. Hellraiser tears its characters apart and sloppily pulls them back together with gleeful and brutal enthusiasm. If you relish the grossness of The Fly, look no further than this horror genre staple.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, AMC+ Amazon Channel, The Roku Channel, Hoopla, Tubi, Shudder, and Shudder Amazon Channel
Dead Ringers (1988)
There’s a moment in Dead Ringers where Beverly, one of the twin gynecologists played masterfully by Jeremy Irons, seeks out a specialty metalworker to construct some rather unique tools for his practice. The worker informs him that there surely must be larger corporations in town who can assist him. But the problem, as Beverly informs him, is that what he wants to create is far too radical for the big companies. And if there’s a moment that better sums up David Cronenberg‘s relationship to mainstream filmmaking, I haven’t found it. Indeed, this radically bold and emotionally harrowing thriller is, by design, not made for the masses. It’s a richly rewarding film that places devotion and dependency at the forefront of its thematic interests. But pair it with The Fly and you’re primed to tease out one of the common threads of the two films: love, and its limits.
Available on Hoopla, Tubi, Kanopy, Popcornflix, Pluto TV, Shout Factory TV, and VRV