Invade and subdue: film’s grisly return to body horror

Get Out, Life and Alien: Covenant are gruesome reminders that being taken over by someone( or something) else is as terrifying as ever. Spoilers ahead

We tend to think back fondly on the recently departed, but movie-goers will chiefly remember the late John Hurt racked with ache, clutching his ribcage as a hostile extraterrestrial explodes out of him like a visceral jack-in-the-box. His spectacularly violent death in sci-fi/ horror landmark Alien still stands as the movies crowning achievement over 35 years after the fact, a sublime fusion of the gory and the unsettling. Spectators could hardly blame director Ridley Scott for describing from that same well for his upcoming sequel Alien: Covenant, the trailer for which pesters a tweak on the concept with a back-bursting parasite. Casts come and go, but the terror of playing host to a creature exploding out of your torso is eternal.

Its a testament to the enduring effectivenes of body horror that the Alien franchise procured this longevity in the first place. Scan todays major releases of horror and suspense, and youll find that the frail, vulnerable, disintegrating, smushy human body has remained cinemas favorite torture chamber. The genre has remained vital by contriving new slants and approaches that project fresh significance on to what would be otherwise tired material, while the anxiety of bodily mutilation persists across generations. Beyond scary movie trends lie the inescapable horrors of being trapped in a flesh-prison; watching the skin slacken, feeling muscles weakening, harboring disease and other maladies. Those so inclined could think of life as one extremely protracted horror movie that nobody survives.

Body horror first took( ghastly, mutated) shape on cinema during the course of its 1950 s through the assorted monsters-of-the-week in the pulpy B-movies popular at the time. Notable early examples include low-budget gem The Blob a gelatinous mass engulfs a town, one swallowed leg at a time and being feature The Fly. That account of one scientists experiment run awry got a remake a few decades later politenes of David Cronenberg, the true godfather of body horror( another remake is also on the way ). Across such movies as Videodrome, The Brood, Shivers and Dead Ringers, the Canadian film-maker has gruesomely fused the body with technology, infested it with parasites, and subjected it to every stripe of degeneration. In Cronenbergs fiendish hands, the subject contains a potentially infinite number of interpretations.

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Current horror offerings have eagerly taken the torch from Cronenberg and continued to defile the human kind to increasingly differed creative objectives. In addition to the Alien franchise stimulating its grand expulsive return the following spring, doppelgnger release Life will likewise set an intelligent life form on a crew of unsuspecting cosmonauts trapped on a spacecraft. Both pictures derive their chilling psychological horror from considering the biology of an organism foreign to human knowledge, with portions that uncannily resemble human anatomy while diverging from it. The unknown can be frightening, and doubly so when its latched immediately on to ones face.

The black body has been a constant pop-cultural battleground ever since Billie Holliday sang of the strange fruit dangle from the poplar trees. Jordan Peele politicized the body horror tradition with his crossover made Get Out, refashioning it as a parable about white disdain and jealousy for black physical excellence.( Now would be the time for the spoiler-averse to skip a paragraph .) The sinister strategy at the heart of the films central mystery that the bourgeois but apparently well-intentioned couple played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener transplant the minds of elderly white townspeople into strapping black ships double-underlines the ongoing conflict between black and white Americans. Both the context and subtext of the film elevate a spooky genre piece into a scarcely covert revolutionary statement.

Perhaps body horror owes its perennial popularity to how uniquely fertile a seeding ground it offers for hair-curling extremes of terror. Two recent releases, the French feminine coming-of-age tale Raw and Gore Verbinskis neo-Gothic fever dream A Cure for Wellness, both target the fragile human form for shocking displays of uncommon gore as they present commentary on its gradual changes. Julia Ducournau offers a wise take on female maturity and camaraderie with Raw, but moreover, the premise( veterinary student develops a savour for human meat) provides her with a platform for displays of violence so sickening, audiences at the Toronto international movie festival notoriously excused themselves to vomit. Verbinskis latest plumbed some more graphic province than the average studio horror property; the perversions are too good to mention here, but those viewers with sensitive teeth would do well to exercise caution.

They say demise and taxes are the only things every living soul has in common; surely theres a great horror movie about filing W-2s out there just waiting to be written, but tapping into that universal discomfort over a disintegrating body has proven a far more reliable source for perverse fascination. The uncomfortable certainty that its only a matter of time until the body turns on its owner is a powerful primal force. Some people quake before jesters, some people loathe spiders, but everyone has the nervous physicians office fantasies of what could go wrong.

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