Top 20 Body Horror Movies
VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
There is nothing more traumatizing than body horror! For this list, we'll be ranking the most disgustingly influential horror flicks from the body horror subgenre. Our countdown includes "Cabin Fever", "Tusk", "Possessor" and much more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Body Horror Movies. For this list, we’ll be ranking the most disgustingly influential horror flicks from the body horror subgenre. What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
#20: “Crimes of the Future” (2022)
Director David Cronenberg is widely considered the undisputed master of body horror cinema. This is despite the fact that Cronenberg actually has a fairly diverse filmography. That said, fans were understandably excited when the man returned to the director’s chair for 2022’s “Crimes of the Future.” Although the film’s reception was perhaps dampened by unfair expectations, the end results are more than thought-provoking, with theatrical surgeries being performed for an audience of highly-evolved humans. The less the film is spoiled the better, however, as “Crimes of the Future” does a great job at presenting a weird world with equally strange and grotesque situations.
#19: “Street Trash” (1987)
If the body horror cinema of David Cronenberg has been lauded for its artistic merit, then 1987’s “Street Trash” should perhaps be noted for doing the exact opposite. That’s because this film from director J. Michael Muro is unapologetic with its gory and graphic special effects. Instead, the messiness of “Street Trash” is worn as a badge of honor, as some bad hooch starts dissolving anyone unfortunate enough to imbibe its contents. There’s no good taste to be found in this flick, but that’s sort of the point, as “Street Trash” is basically selling what kind of goopy mess the filmmakers can create at any given moment. Hey, they call them “cult classics” for a reason, right?
#18: “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” (2009)
By the late 2000s, overtly grotesque splatter flicks had largely become commonplace. That didn’t mean certain movies weren’t culturally shocking, however, as evidenced by the controversial reception to a little film titled, “The Human Centipede.” This first film in the franchise possesses a simple premise: a mad doctor decides to sew up a trio of people to create a perverse new being. It’s a riff on the “Frankenstein” trope, sure, but also of German atrocities during World War II, and it’s all done in gory, graphic detail. Is the science here sound? No, not really, but that didn’t stop some moviegoers from venturing to the cinema to see what all of the fuss was about.
#17: “Cabin Fever” (2002)
Writer-director Eli Roth came barging out of the gate in 2002 with this visually arresting debut feature, the gross and harrowing “Cabin Fever.” Roth’s influences from 1970s exploitation and horror cinema are put on full display, as “Cabin Fever” riffs upon the STD-panic plotlines of films like David Cronenberg’s “Shivers,” and updates them for a new generation. The virus at play here is presented with gruesome special effects, but Roth’s film also features memorable characters, some bits of perverse humor, as well as an ending that many won’t see coming. There’s also a sense of human tragedy at play that makes “Cabin Fever” feel like Roth’s most actualized film to date.
#16: “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” (2016)
The business of surgeries and autopsies are obviously ripe material for any self-respecting body horror film, such as 2000’s “Anatomy,” or our next pick, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.” This latter film from 2016 possesses a more supernatural bent to its story, but that doesn’t make the visceral end results any less traumatic for the audience. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch put in great performances as coroners who aren’t exactly sure what’s going on with the body of a “Jane Doe” they’re tasked with treating. The film goes to some surprising places, and does so with some grand attention to gross detail. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is definitely worth a watch.
#15: “Tusk” (2014)
Fans tend to be split as to whether or not Kevin Smith’s 2014 horror film “Tusk” was a failure or success. Some point to Johnny Depp’s performance in the film as a near-dealbreaker, while others praise “Tusk” and its commitment to sticking with an absolutely ridiculous premise. A podcaster who falls victim to a madman’s desire for a perfect walrus-creature hybrid? Sure, why not? After Smith’s comparatively more grounded thriller “Red State” in 2011, “Tusk” feels absolutely bonkers, but in a great way. It’s a film that does “Frankenstein” by way of a 1970s drive-in, complete with an ending that’s not so much bittersweet as it is completely WTF.
#14: “The Void” (2016)
The often-surreal world of Italian horror feels alive and well within 2016’s “The Void,” with the film embracing an obtuse premise for the sake of some nostalgic fun. Specifically, Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” feels like a clear influence, as does the cosmic horror work of author H. P. Lovecraft. “The Void” feels committed to delivering slow-burn horror with some excellent practical effects. Again, this feels like a film with an old soul, one that embraces its occult and supernatural roots while at the same time grounding them within the physical confines of its hospital setting. It’s a low-key classic that definitely deserves some appraisal.
#13: “American Mary” (2012)
Jen and Sylvia Soska have rightfully earned their reputation within the horror realm as directors with a unique vision. “American Mary” is excellent proof of that sentiment, although some fans may be surprised as to how much black comedy is inserted into this tale of a broke med student who starts performing illegal body modification surgery. Katharine Isabelle is wonderful in the title role, working through the emotional trauma of her work, while never apologizing for the actions she takes throughout the film. There’s a sadness here throughout it all, as Mary is also a victim. All the while the film is a gorgeously shot descent into a subcultural underground of obsession and danger.
#12: “Eraserhead” (1977)
Director David Lynch blew minds back in 1977 with this cult, midnight movie hit. “Eraserhead” has been studied by film critics and academia for years as an analogy of a fear of fatherhood that afflicts its protagonist, Henry Spencer. Additionally, the soundtrack to “Eraserhead” is a maddening sound collage of industrial noises that just adds to the film’s unnerving atmosphere. What’s always captured audiences’ attention over the years, however, is the deformed baby that serves as the crux of Spencer’s main story. It’s a disturbing creation, even today, and tests the limits of viewer endurance as it builds towards its ultimate climax.
#11: “Titane” (2021)
Director Julia Ducournau certainly turned heads back in 2016 with her debut feature, “Raw.” So, fans were understandably excited when Ducournau’s second directorial feature, “Titane,” debuted in 2021. Said quite simply: nobody was ready for this one. “Titane” is body horror at its core, sure, but also possesses themes of gender identity, post-traumatic stress disorder and social dissociation. Lead character Alexia is reprehensible in her actions, and possesses an unrelenting car fetish. This aspect of “Titane,” combined with its gruesome violence and bold thematic commentary, make it a truly unique viewing experience.
#10: “Slither” (2006)
Believe it or not, writer-director James Gunn was actually known more for his horror and splatter movie credentials prior to his entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gunn had collaborated writing films for Troma Entertainment prior to unleashing “Slither” upon the world, a directorial debut that presented Gunn’s slick grindhouse vision to the world. The black humor that permeates so much of Gunn’s work is on full display here, while at the same time showcasing some gruesomely memorable special effects. “Slither” is a little bit throwback, a little bit reimagining and a whole lot of fun.
#9: “Possessor” (2020)
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and this definitely applies to the cinematic work of Brandon Cronenberg, son of… well, you know who. “Possessor” is just one example of how Brandon’s creative vision strays from his father in the best possible way, the sign of a filmmaker walking on his own two feet, yet with eyes fixed firmly upon his heritage. “Possessor” is twisted, following an assassin who inhabits the bodies of others to complete her work. It also pushes boundaries with its unique execution, strong script and equally impressive performances. Andrea Riseborough in particular is magnetic as the lead character, while Cronenberg’s work here ensures that the family name will endure for years to come.
#8: “Altered States” (1980)
Are you looking for some freaky, truly bizarre cinematic psychedelia? Then look no further than 1980’s “Altered States.” The film arrived from the mind of maverick director Ken Russell, and presents a hard sci-fi vision with a body horror center. “Altered States” possesses some truly nightmarish imagery, particularly during scenes where its characters explore the hallucinogenic properties of sensory deprivation. There’s religious allegory at play and an intoxicating weirdness that makes “Altered States” feel creepy, surreal and unsettling. We can virtually guarantee that you won’t walk out of this one without some very weird thoughts about what just happened.
#7: “Dead Ringers” (1988)
Guess what? It’s David Cronenberg time again! “Dead Ringers” is yet another devious slice of madness from the director’s enviable filmography, one that’s been critically acclaimed since its release back in 1988. Jeremy Irons in particular earned praise for his work handling two roles, that of identical twin gynecologists who manipulate and mistreat their female patients. Hallucinogenic imagery and morbid surgical effects pepper “Dead Ringers” with that classically disturbing Cronenberg charm. Meanwhile, the movie also showcases how the filmmaker can handle a larger budget. He’s released so many bangers, yet “Dead Ringers” still manages to stand out as one of the man’s best.
#6: “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989)
So, does “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” possess a coherent narrative and compelling story that will make you laugh, love and cry? No, no it does not. However, what the film does do is present a level of extremity perhaps undreamed of prior to its release in 1989. “Tetsuo” is unapologetically transgressive, a squirm-inducing experience that demands a lot from its audience. The soundtrack is similar to “Eraserhead,” with its unrelenting, industrial harshness, while the black-and-white photography is at once beautiful and grotesque. Flesh, metal and madness: “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” goes all the way.
#5: “Re-Animator” (1985)
Many of the films featured on this list are pretty grim with the stories they’re trying to tell. Thankfully, we have “Re-Animator” for a little bit of a palette cleanser. Although, to be fair, this one is also pretty freakin’ messy. Stuart Gordon’s horror-comedy hinges upon the performance of its lead, Jeffrey Combs, who does a great job at presenting his character of Herbert West as a villain with superb comic timing. Beyond this, “Re-Animator” adapts its H. P. Lovecraft source material about a mad doctor with both reverence and irreverence, balancing the gross practical effects with a seat-of-the-pants vibe that could’ve only come out of the excessive 1980s.
#4: “Videodrome” (1983)
“Long live the new flesh.” This is the famous tagline from David Cronenberg’s 1983 cult classic, “Videodrome.” The film may not have been a financial success at the time, but the years have seen “Videodrome” be lauded as an early home run for Cronenberg, who had already been making his mark on the independent scene. There’s an underlying sense of sex and sleaze within this film’s narrative about a sinister audio frequency that combines the screening of snuff films with mind control and manipulation. “Videodrome” is fetishistic, with a measured pace that builds up to an unforgettable climax. It’s a film that needs to be experienced at least once.
#3: “Hellraiser” (1987)
This genre classic from the mind of Clive Barker is the ultimate blending of pain and pleasure, a harrowing nether-scape that goes by one infamous name: “Hellraiser.” Some examples of older, classic horror may hold up for their era, but “Hellraiser” manages to continually disgust generation after generation with its idiosyncratic melding of sex, sin and death. Doug Bradley entered the horror icon zeitgeist when he portrayed the film’s lead antagonist, Pinhead, a Cenobite master of pain. The practical effects are gorgeously messy and grotesque, and the whole film just feels the best kind of blasphemous. “Hellraiser” set a new standard for fear back in ‘87, and earned a classic reputation that continues on through to the modern day.
#2: “The Thing” (1982)
Remakes have always been a tricky proposition with horror fans, but director John Carpenter truly broke the mold when he remade the 1951 film, “The Thing from Another World.” Carpenter’s 1982 vision, simply titled, “The Thing,” is now considered to be one of the best horror remakes, full stop, and rightfully so. The special effects team of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston bring to life all of the horrors an assimilating alien life form can dream up, from a dog amalgamation to a defibrillator scene that has gone down in the annals of horror history. “The Thing” is sci-fi, horror and paranoid suspense thriller all rolled into one.
#1: “The Fly” (1986)
C’mon, you knew this was coming. Who else could take our number one spot? David Cronenberg has directed nearly every shocking body horror hit of the day, from 1991’s underrated “Naked Lunch” to this 1986 hit. “The Fly” is sold largely on its amazing practical effects, but there’s also a lot going on here underneath the surface. Themes of tragic love, disease and the fear of aging all play into it, although fans can also just come to the party looking for latex and slime. The film delivers on that front, as well, with Jeff Goldblum’s transformation from Seth Brundle into Brundlefly being shown in graphic, grisly detail, bits ‘n bobs falling off the actor until one shocking, violent climax.