Body Shocking: Top 10 David Cronenberg Movies

dead ringers red scrubs david cronenberg body horror cinema

Note: Contains images that may be considered graphic and disturbing to some readers.

David Cronenberg is among the most original talents the movie industry has ever known. In the early days, he became associated with–even defined by–a type of cinema known as “body-horror” and earned a name for himself as “The Baron of Blood” and “Dave Deprave.” In later years he moved away from the exclusive realms of horror to explore other genres.

In a career spanning over forty years, the director has always remained relevant; his work adored by fans as well as taken seriously by critics. Outrageous and thought-provoking, there is nothing like the nightmare world of David Cronenberg. Not even close.

m butterfly still jeremy irons china
A moment of happiness for Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) and Song (John Lone) at the Great Wall.

10

M Butterfly

It’s fair to say that “M Butterfly” is unloved and forgotten. Based on an award-winning Broadway play inspired by a true story, Jeremy Irons is on electric form as a French diplomat embarking on a twenty-year love affair with a female opera singer (or so he thinks). It’s time “M Butterfly” came in from the cold.

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Peter Weller stars as a writer, drug addict and spy in “Naked Lunch” (1991).

9

Naked Lunch

How do you go about adapting an unfilmable novel? The answer is: you don’t. Cronenberg used the book’s title and a few other elements to tell the tale of a man’s troubled journey to becoming an artist. William S. Burroughs infamously shot his wife dead during a drunken game of William Tell. That tragic event provided the basis of the movie “Naked Lunch.”

david cronenberg body horror cinema a dangerous method keira knightley
The relationship between of Freud and Jung is explored in “A Dangerous Method” (2011).

8

A Dangerous Method

“A Dangerous Method” is bloody brilliant. Those that bark on like junkyard dogs, declaring it sucks big time, need to chill and take another look. The ultimate Cronenberg space is a clinic. It is to the director’s imagination what the haunted house is to ghost stories. “A Dangerous Method” is a clever redefinition of classic Cronenberg themes. Fact.

heavy makeup on woman's face in shivers, horror movie by cronenberg
‘I’m hungry. Hungry for love!’ A parasitic form turns people into sex fiends in “Shivers” (1975).

7

Shivers

The film where it all began. “Shivers” has aged remarkably well. It looks a bit rough around the edges, for sure, but the execution is clean. A parasite birthed in a lab is let loose in a plush apartment building in Montreal. The occupants turn into, well, sort of like … horny zombies? Seriously! The third act is dreamlike and deliciously weird.

Existenz jennifer jason leigh david cronenberg body horror cinema



Video games will reshape reality as well as the future in existent.

6

eXistenZ

It feels like a good time–the midway point of the article–to declare that Cronenberg’s movies are as funny as they are shocking or gross. “eXistenZ” is like a remake of “Videodrome” done as a comedy of (computer) errors. Ted Pikul’s line, “I’m very worried about my body,” is arguably the ultimate body-horror zinger.

the dead zone fire Stephen king david cronenberg body horror cinema
John Smith (Christopher Walken) wakes from a coma with a powerful new ability: he can read minds.

5

The Dead Zone

Dave Deprave and Stephen King. It feels as mismatched a pairing as a sardines and peanut butter sandwich. “The Dead Zone,” it turned out, is a classic. An ordinary middle-class American school teacher wakes up from a coma as a freak of nature. Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen rock it as the hero and villain.

jeff goldblum in the fly.  david cronenberg body horror cinema
“The Fly” (1987) is one of the great body-horror masterpieces.

4

The Fly

“The Fly” is something of a last hurrah. After this, the director let go of his “Baron of Blood” persona and moved on to pastures new. The special effects are disgusting (you’ll never eat donuts again… maybe) and the blood-and-guts quota is set very high. It’s worth mentioning that “The Fly” plays like a deranged romantic screwball comedy. “His Girl Flyday”?

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The death of Barry Convex in “Videodrome” (1983) is a gory highlight.

3

Videodrome

Cronenberg always has had a flair for unusual casting. “Rabid,” for example, starred porno actress Marilyn Chambers. In “Videodrome,” the director’s first certifiable masterpiece, he cast Blondie’s Debbie Harry as a radio DJ and S&M enthusiast. Full of extreme imagery and iconic lines—“Long live the new flesh!”— “Videodrome” is the director’s most beloved and batshit crazy flick.

Deborah Kara Unger kissing james spader in hospital bed. Crash movie by cronenberg
Mr and Mrs Ballard share a kiss in the hugely controversial “Crash” (1996).

2

Crash

Erotic, sexy, even romantic, “Crash” was a scandal upon release in 1996. What’s the big deal? Well, the film details the lives of a group of individuals who find car crashes the ultimate turn-on. “Crash” is wall-to-wall sex. Depraved sex! There’s, like, four sex scenes in a row. Not joking. It’s also an artistic triumph with dreamy compositions and camera work.

jeremy irons dead ringers david cronenberg body horror cinema
“Dead Ringers” (1988) reigns supreme as Cronenberg’s greatest cinematic offering.

1

Dead Ringers

Jeremy Irons’s portrayal of twin gynaecologists descending into madness and self-destruction is peerless. It is quite frankly – and uniquely– two of the greatest performances ever committed to celluloid. The illusion is extraordinary in a psychological drama of the most profound melancholy. “Dead Ringers”: a marvel of film-making craft, screen acting and art design.

Images © respective film studios
Martyn Conterio

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Martyn is based in London, England and writes about movies. He has had work published by Little White Lies, The Guardian, Total Film, Grolsch Film Works, Rue Morgue and other quality publications and websites. He is the author of a monograph on Mario Bava's classic horror film, "Black Sunday." An avid soccer fan, he supports... Follow the author @ Twitter and view more articles.

September 17, 2014 Cinema Horror Special Feature