Horror comes in many forms, from monsters and ghosts to psychotic killers and crazy cults. But there’s nothing quite like body horror to separate the hardcore fright fan from the more casual viewer. The phrase ‘body horror’ was first coined in the British academic journal Screen in 1986, and it loosely describes movies where the terror comes from the human body itself, whether it’s melting, mutating, or perhaps hosting some terrifying parasite.
1986 was also the year that David Cronenberg’s classic The Fly brought the sub-genre to a wide mainstream audience. But while Cronenberg remains the godfather of body horror, there are many other movies that have delighted in disturbing audiences with disgusting flesh-based shocks.
There are plenty of body horror movies available right now on a variety of streaming services, including Netflix, Prime, and Shudder. With so many of us stuck at home right now, there’s never been a better time for horror fans to explore some weird and gory sub-genres–and it doesn’t get weirder or gorier than body horror. So here are some of the gloopiest, goriest, and most gruesome body horror classics you can check out right now…
14. The Perfection (2019)
This Netflix Original is a wild and over-the-top film that throws a load of different genres into the mix, from psychological drama and cultist thriller to slasher movie and gruesome body horror. The unpredictable plot focuses on Charlotte (Get Out’s Allison Williams), a former child cello prodigy who had to give up her dreams to take care of her ailing mother. A decade later, Charlotte reconnects with her former tutors and meets Lizzie, the latest graduate from their exclusive music school–and things get very weird very quickly.
Most disgusting scene: One character sees dozens of huge cockroaches writhing underneath her skin, which proceed to erupt out of her arm. She then chops her arm off.
13. Antiviral (2012)
David Cronenberg’s son Brandon has also ventured into filmmaking, making his debut with this seriously weird sci-fi tale of celebrity obsession. In the future, fans can buy “celebrity viruses,” to experience the same medical afflictions of their idols. You want to share the same herpes infection as your favorite pop star? No problem.
Most disgusting scene: The scene most worthy of the Cronenberg name is a dream sequence in which our infected hero imagines he is transforming into a twisted fusion of man and machine.
12. Brain Damage (1988)
Frank Henenlotter directed the 1982 classic Basket Case, the wonderfully sleazy tale of a young man who keeps his horrifically misshapen brother in a basket. But it was his second movie, Brain Damage, that really delivered the body horror goods. The movie is a drug analogy, in which an evil leech-like brain-eating parasite called Aylmer forces his hosts to bring him victims by getting them hooked on a hallucinogenic drug that he secretes directly into their brains.
Most disgusting scene: The highlight is an amazingly gruesome scene in which our hero Brian hallucinates that he is slowly pulling his entire brain out through his ear.
11. Tusk (2014)
Kevin Smith’s very weird horror-comedy started life as a Gumtree ad, posted by a man looking for a lodger who would agree to dress up a walrus. While the ad was later revealed to be fake, it was enough for Smith to take the idea to its extreme. A mad old fisherman kidnaps a podcaster, amputates his legs, then sews him into a walrus suit (featuring tusks made from the poor guy’s leg bones).
Most disgusting scene: The moment we see “Mr Tusk,” in all his disturbing–yet darkly funny–glory is not easily forgotten.
10. The Stuff (1985)
While never as well-known as Wes Craven, George Romero, or John Carpenter, Larry Cohen was unquestionably one of the finest genre directors of the ’70s and ’80s. His hugely entertaining and totally unique horror satire The Stuff focuses on an edible and highly addictive substance that is sold as a delicious healthy alternative to ice cream. Unfortunately it’s also a parasitic organism that infects your brain and mutates your body.
Most disgusting scene: One consumer is taken over by the Stuff, which proceeds to stretch his mouth to a truly grotesque degree.
9. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Japanese director and actor Shinya Tsukamoto recently appeared in Martin Scorsese’s historical drama Silence, giving an acclaimed, dignified performance. But 30 years ago, Tsukamoto was making an impact in a very different way. His directorial debut, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is an insane black-and-white cyberpunk nightmare, in which a man gets his revenge on the couple who tried to kill him, by transforming himself into a fusion of man and machine.
Most disgusting scene: In the movie’s most shocking sequence, Tetsuo kills his girlfriend by raping her with a spinning drill, which has replaced his… well, you can probably guess.
8. The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
The title of this ‘70s sci-fi horror says it all–there’s a man, and he melts. Incredibly. He’s an astronaut who returns from a mission to Saturn, and not only is space radiation making him slowly dissolve, it’s turned him into an insane cannibal. The film was reedited by producers and is a bit of a tonal mess, but the gruesome effects from make-up pioneer Rick Baker are undeniably impressive.
Most disgusting scene: Our melting hero attacks a woman through a window and get his gloopy arm lopped off by a meat-cleaver in the process.
7. From Beyond (1986)
Streaming: Pluto/Prime Rental
Director Stuart Gordon, who sadly died last month, followed his classic 1985 zombie comedy Re-Animator with the darker, weirder From Beyond. Based once more on a story by HP Lovecraft, it focuses on two rival scientists who are attempting to see beyond our normal reality using a machine known as the Resonator. Of course, the machine does more than that, and it ends up physically changing the doctors, providing plenty of opportunity for gloopy body horror.
Most disgusting scene: The villainous Dr. Pretorius goes through some wonderfully strange transformations, including the one pictured above.
6. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror favorite might have been a critical and commercial bomb when it was first released in 1982, but it’s now considered one of the finest horror movies ever made. The movie showcased some incredible work from VFX genius Rob Bottin, as the titular creature imitates a group of scientists stationed at an arctic base, making its appearance in the most gruesome ways possible.
Most disgusting scene: The most outrageous transformation sequence is a procession of increasingly gobsmacking moments, which starts with the team’s doctor attempting to resuscitate one of his colleagues after he seemingly suffers a heart attack. It’s probably easier to go and watch it than describe it, but as one of the other scientists exclaims at one point: “You gotta be f***ing kidding me!”
5. Videodrome (1982)
Streaming: Prime Rental
No body horror list would be complete without at least a couple of movies from the master of the sub-genre: David Cronenberg. For many fans, the director’s finest movie is the mind-warping thriller Videodrome, in which a TV signal induces horrific hallucinations, allowing Cronenberg to indulge in a series of increasingly disturbing sequences.
Most disgusting scene: Star James Woods discovers that he has grown a vaginal slit in his belly, into which he plunges a gun. Later on, one of the movie’s villains declares, “I’ve got something I want to play for you!” and pops a pulsating, organic videotape in there. Ok, that’s two scenes, but we’ll make an exception for Mr. Cronenberg.
4. Street Trash (1987)
This outrageous 1987 horror comedy goes out of its way to offend. From the necrophilia jokes to a game of football played with a ripped-off male member, Street Trash really does have something for everyone. The main plot centres around a batch of ancient whiskey that an unscrupulous liquor store owner sells to the bums of Brooklyn, which has the unfortunate side effect of making them melt.
Most disgusting scene: The first meltdown is also the most spectacularly revolting, as one poor fella sits down on an abandoned toilet, takes a swig, and quickly turns into gloop in gloriously colorful style.
3. The Human Centipede (2009)
Streaming: Prime Rental
Tom Six’s shlock-horror-comedy The Human Centipede has become synonymous with outrageous, disgusting horror; even non-horror fans who would run a mile from watching it know the movie’s name. And they have good reason to run too, as Six fully delivers on the promise of the title.
Most disgusting scene: There’s no scene sicker than the one in which mad Dr. Heiter wakes up his creation, three kidnapped victims who have been sewn together to form a disturbing mock-centipede. The whole sequence is made even worse by the doc’s wild jubilation that his experiment has worked. As his victims cry in terror, he weeps t
2. Society (1990)
There’s no other horror movie quite like Society. Directed by Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna, it’s a satire of 1980s class and privilege that plays out like a weird, subversive soap opera. Ex-Baywatch star Billy Warlock discovers that his privileged, status-obsessed friends and parents are in fact shape-shifting, power-mad sex mutants.
Most disgusting scene: The movie ends with the infamous orgy scene in which the movie’s elite merge gloopily into one another while literally consuming their victim. The class metaphor might not be subtle, but the whole sequence is unforgettable.
1. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg’s best known and most successful movie also features some of his most outrageous body horror moments, as Jeff Goldblum slowly and painfully changes into–yes–a fly!
Most disgusting scene: There’s almost too many juicy scenes to choose from, but for sheer disgustingness it’s hard to top the final moments of Goldblum’s transformation, as what remains of his human flesh falls away and the insect emerges.