First, it controls your mind. Then it destroys your body.

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If you have a strong stomach and you’re looking for visceral horror that you can practically feel, then look no further than the body horror subgenre. While they may include psychological elements, ultimately these are films that are about destroying bodies in especially creative ways. This is the definition of “visceral”. And everything is possible – this is cinema, after all. So when I say “creative”, let’s just say I mean it.

The following is a list of 5 of the greatest body horror movies of all time. Just so we’re clear, I tried to select films that don’t simply feature such scenes, but whose entire premises are body horror.

I also intentionally didn’t include The Human Centipede movies. Even if you’re a defender of the franchise, you have to admit they’re kind of overexposed. In any case, I don’t consider those films to be rankable (as Roger Ebert said about the first one, they exist in a place where the stars don’t shine).

5. Altered States

altered states

William Hurt is a scientist who experiments on himself by taking hallucinatory mushrooms in a sensory deprivation tank that cause him to devolve, first into an ape, and eventually into a protoplasmic blob of life. Yeah, this is a weird movie. That’s kind of a theme with these, but this one is really out there.

4. Hellraiser

hellraiser

A man solves a puzzle box, and is rewarded with hooks that fly out of the box and literally tear him apart. But his suffering is far from over: he’s taken to hell by the Cenobites, where he feels every sensation they inflict on him forever.

This is a movie (franchise) about infinite torture that combines pain and pleasure, and yet somehow no one’s accused it of being torture porn. I can only guess that’s because no one had invented the term when it came out. The extremity of that torture – not just visually, but conceptually – is genuinely shocking, and I don’t think it ever won’t be.

 

3. The Fly (1986)

the fly

David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly improved on the (already great) original by turning the body horror aspect up to 11. While the original barely showed the transformation, relying on the horror of the concept (and wisely so, as the effects were unimpressive), Cronenberg was able to really go all-out, and the results are spectacular. If you don’t want to gag at least once while watching this movie (I get a little queasy just looking at this image), then all I can say is you have an iron stomach.

2. Videodrome

videodrome

Another film by David Cronenberg (who specializes in body horror). In this, Max Renn, the president of a TV channel finds a broadcast of an extremely violent torture program (that he assumes is snuff), and decides to air it. This film examines whether it’s possible for media to change who we are. When, later in the film, Max hallucinates that he has a VCR in his belly that allows him to be programmed, the answer is a definite yes.

1. Alien

The chestburster scene is probably the most iconic body horror scene in cinema. Of course, that’s no fluke: the whole movie was great enough to spawn a franchise that is still alive to this day (and some of those sequels are even good). This is really no contest.

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I saw 'Mars Attacks!' in theaters when I was five. I still think it's the greatest horror movie for five year olds ever made.