The body is a temple. Or, at least that’s what people say. In horror films, the body is a cheap rental — damaged, used, abused, sliced and diced. Simply put, you do not want to be a body in a horror film.
Often, horror relies on sources of external danger: claws, teeth, a machete, a ghostly presence. But sometimes the most frightening scenario is when the danger comes from within (the calls are coming from inside the house!). There are few things more terrifying than when the body turns on itself.
This year, we’ve met a virus that has enacted more violence than Freddie, Jason and Michael Myers combined. In honor of Halloween (and in dishonor of that horrid virus), here’s a look at some of the best scary movies that feature horror from inside the body. Disease, parasites, madness — it’s all fair game here.
“Shivers” (1975) — It wouldn’t be a body horror list without the godfather of disease, director David Cronenberg. In his debut feature, phallic alien parasites run amok in a Canadian high-rise apartment complex, turning all the inhabits into sex-crazed monsters. But this is no fun romp — and the consequences of unbridled inhibition are front and center in this grisly flick. The most frightening thing, however, is the question posed throughout, which is: what happens to humans if we just embrace the virus?
“Cabin Fever” (2002) — Before ostensibly creating the “torture porn” genre with his “Hostel” films, director Eli Roth infected the world with his gross-out debut, “Cabin Fever.” The movie follows a group of friends venturing out to a cabin in the woods (can we all pinkie swear to just stay away from cabins in woods?). Unbeknownst to them, the local water source carries a flesh-eating disease, and as they fall victim to it, let’s just say that friendships aren’t the only things that fall apart. As gross as this movie is, it’s also very funny. I wish Mr. Roth had kept his sense of humor for his later films.
“Pontypool” (2008) — If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that language can be a disease unto itself, especially when conspiracy theories on social media and turn friends and relatives into people we hardly recognize. “Pontypool” imagines a zombie-like outbreak where the infection is transmitted through language. Set almost entirely inside a radio station, the film follows DJ Grant Mazzy, who experiences the outbreak via on-air call-ins, which become increasingly harrowing and frightening. The film is a reminder that language is so easily weaponized, and can cause real harm if it infects you.
“The Crazies” (1973) — George Romero single-handedly invented the zombie genre, but in my opinion, his most frightening portrayal of a health crisis is “The Crazies.” The film centers around a small town whose water supply accidentally becomes tainted with a biological weapon called Trixie, which turns everyone into homicidal maniacs. Those unaffected by Trixie face danger from both sides: their newly insane neighbors, and a government that’s willing to kill the town’s inhabitants to prevent the infected from escaping.
“Slither” (2006) — Before director James Gunn weirdified the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he injected the body horror genre with some much needed humor. When an alien parasite crash lands on Earth and infects actor Michael Rooker (who’s always so good at being simultaneously funny and frightening), he sets out to spread his seed throughout the land. “Slither” is basically a love letter to every alien/zombie/body horror movie that came before it (Rooker’s minions look exactly like the parasites in the above-mentioned “Shivers”).
“It Follows” (2014) — There are few movies that have captured the nightmare logic of trying to hide from an indefatigable enemy like “It Follows.” The plot involves a sexually-transmitted disease where those infected become pursued by relentless slow-moving ghosts, and the only cure is to pass the disease/curse onto someone else. This stylish indie film brims with dread and paranoia, and it becomes even more relatable as case numbers rise. Just like the characters in this movie, we’re basically all just trying to stave off the creeping threat that will most likely get us all eventually.
“I Drink Your Blood” (1970) — This movie is great because it raises the age-old question: How do you, a small boy, get revenge on a gang of Satanic hippies after they’ve brutally assaulted your older sister? Why, you feed them meat pies laced with rabies, of course! This film was inspired by the hysteria following the Manson Family murders, which turned every hippie into a monster overnight. But if you think hippies are scary, can you imagine them cranked out on rabies? Luckily, we have this exploitation film to show us what this would be like.
“Street Trash” (1987) — When a liquor store owner finds a case of expired booze, he decides to sell it on the cheap to the local homeless population. However, the mystery drink has a tendency to, um, melt those who drink it, and it doesn’t take long before the the drink and its gooey effects ravage the homeless community. This may be the most unwoke movie in existence, and would be pretty reprehensible if it wasn’t so dumb. But beneath the political incorrectness, the film does examine the evils of those who are eager to profit off vulnerable populations during a health crisis. Plus, there’s a scene where people play catch with someone’s dismembered penis. So there’s that.