Four years ago when I decided to embark on this journey of exploring the horror genre and championing its value as a form of societal reflection, the very first academic book I picked up was The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul. This book is a collection of essays from well-known contributors in the horror community such as Andrea Subissati (it may or may not have been the reason why I bought it) that highlights a century of Canadian horror filmmaking. It explores the tax-shelter days of the 1970s, slasher films, Francophone Horror and most importantly the impact David Cronenberg has had on the genre. It was from reading these insightf ul reflections that I came to really appreciate the kind of horror films that are made in Canada and acknowledge David Cronenberg’s early work in the horror industry.
When I mention David Cronenberg’s name to people outside of the horror community, they mostly know of him from his later films such as Eastern Promises (2007), A History of Violence (2004) and Crash (1996). They tend to be surprised to find out that his directorial debut started in the horror genre with such films as Stereo (1969), and carried on with Crimes of the Future (1970), Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988). He has also acted in other such horror films as Nightbreed (1990), Blood and Donuts (1995), Resurrection (1999) and Jason X (2001). While he is Canada’s most celebrated internationally acclaimed filmmaker, people ‘tend’ to forget that he was one of the principal originators of the sub-genre of body horror.
Body horror has its roots in gothic literature but has emerged prominently in North American horror films. This is the type of horror that has an intentional focus on graphic and psychologically disturbing violations of the human body driving the narrative. This can happen in various ways such as disease, aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, gratuitous violence and unnatural movements of the body. Often body horror overlaps with other subgenres in horror such as slashers, splatter and monster horror; however, it differs in its approach because the focus is on the slow uncontrollable transformation of the body that causes intense feelings of psychological unease. It is gross but in a fascinating way.
And Cronenberg owns this subgenre of horror. His early films have often caused controversy among audiences and critics because of his depictions of gore and violence that just make you feel so queasy. His films focus on the progression of a disease on the body that comes from the social world and how this results in a breakdown of social order. Cronenberg’s horror films have been known to make even the most prominent of directors uncomfortable as he stated in an interview with The Guardian in 2013. He said that “Marty Scorsese confessed to me that he was totally intrigued by my early films, but terrified to meet me. And I said: “You’re the guy who made Taxi Driver and you’re afraid to meet me?”’
I am completely intrigued and entranced by the few Cronenberg films I have seen and I can’t wait to watch more and explore this growing fascination I have with body horror.