Tag Archives: body horror



Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 April 2017

Distributor: Universal

Director: Julia Ducournau

Writer: Julia Ducournau

Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

Original title: Grave

France 2016

95 mins

Julia Ducournau’s technically masterful female-focused cannibal film is less insightful than it may seem.

A girl walks alone at dawn, alongside a deserted country road. When a car drives by, she dives underneath it, causing the car to crash into a tree. The driver is dead and the girl leans over the car door to examine him. Here we are, then, revisiting David Cronenberg’s Crash, one might be tempted to think. Yet we soon find out that, if Julia Ducournau’s first feature film – selected for the Cannes Critics’ Week 2016 – definitely pays tribute to the ‘baron of blood’, it is most indebted to his recent novel Consumed. (Incidentally, let it be said that the English title makes the film’s cannibalistic turn evident from the start.) Cronenberg makes a perfect and duly acknowledged tutelary figure for the 32-year-old French director, who must have been fed pithy anecdotes from dissecting tables and emergency wards in her early days by her dermatologist father and gynaecologist mother. This might partly account for Ducournau’s obsession with the transformation of bodies, already omnipresent in her short film Junior (2011) and in her TV film Mange (2012). Junior actress Garance Marillier – now come of age and confirming her talent – is entrusted with the main role of Justine, who joins her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) for her first year in a veterinary school. During the unavoidable fresher initiation ritual (and in France medical schools are known to be the most gruesome), vegetarian Justine is forced to swallow a raw rabbit kidney, which, after an allergic reaction, triggers a novel taste for meat. A bikini-line depilation accident transforms this taste into a craving for human flesh, which actually runs in the family, as Alexia turns out to be ‘crash’ girl, eating her victims’ spare parts.

Although at first sight, Ducournau seems to be using the horror genre as a vehicle for a reflection on the passage to adulthood, the film is rather short on social or psychological insights, while the plot and the characters seem half-baked. In fact, Ducournau indulges in a sensationalist exploitation of the theme and the wide range of unpalatable reactions it provokes. This was clearly confirmed when she presented her film at the Etrange Festival, and evidently relished retelling the pungent anecdote from the Toronto Film Festival where paramedics had to be called during the screening to assist a spectator who had found the film hard to stomach. Thus, inscribed within the horror genre, Raw rather self-consciously plays with its codes, safe within its boundaries and often verging on parody. Ducournau delivers an efficient and technically mastered (but one would not expect less from a Fémis graduate) variation on the cannibal flick, which manages to keep a few twists in store alongside the more expected final feast. Ducournau was one of the 30 people on The Alice Initiative 2016 list, which aims to boost the number of female directors. Let us hope she gives us more fat to chew on in the years to come.

Pierre Kapitaniak


Videodrome 1

Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 17 August 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg

Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits

Canada 1983

89 mins

***** out of *****

Every national cinema has its own unique brand of indigenous storytelling, but by virtue of its geographical proximity to the economic and cultural juggernaut that is the United States of America, English Canada has had the unenviable position of maintaining a voice and identity all its own, struggling for half a century to tell uniquely “Canadian” stories to speak to both Canadians and the world. French Canada has always been able to maintain a distinct identity because of the language issues. English Canadian culture has had a tougher time of it, but it’s not simply a more tasteful, literate version of the United States.

David Cronenberg, along with the likes of Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, Peter Mettler and a clutch of other visionary filmmakers in English Canada, generated product which can be viewed as Canadian by simple virtue of the fact that both the style and content of the films could only have been made in a North American context that prided itself on uniquely indigenous qualities in spite (and perhaps even because) of the southerly Behemoth of Uncle Sam.

And though plenty of Canadian dramatic product was (and often continues to be) almost unbearably tasteful, this has happily never been a problem for any of the aforementioned filmmakers – especially not David Cronenberg. “Tasteful” has seldom reared its ugly head anywhere near his films.

Videodrome is as Canadian as Maple Syrup, beavers and the MacKenzie Brothers, but with the added bonus of almost hardcore sadomasochistic snuff-film-style torture weaving its way throughout the picture as narrative and thematic elements.

Max Renn (James Woods) is the head honcho of a tiny independent Toronto TV station which specialises in unorthodox programming with an emphasis upon lurid, exploitative and downright sensational stylistic approaches and content. This is clearly a fictional representation of the uniquely Canadian Toronto company CITY-TV which became famous for its soft-core “Baby Blue Movies” and the open concept studios for news and public affairs. Though Cronenberg denies it, Max Renn is clearly modeled upon the real-life Canadian visionary Moses Znaimer who revolutionised broadcasting throughout the continent, and even the world, due to his unorthodox approaches.

Renn finds himself looking for something to take his station and broadcasting in general in far more cutting edge directions. Via his pirate satellites, he discovers a rogue broadcast from Malaysia featuring non-stop BDSM. The actions are vicious, hard-core and clearly the real thing. He searches desperately to track down the direct source of the feed, seeking the learned counsel of Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) a “medium is the message” guru (based on Canada’s Marshall McLuhan).

Unfortunately, Renn has been exposed to a nefarious virus by watching the footage and soon reality and fantasy begin to mesh together while he engages in an S/M relationship with radio interviewer Nikki Brand (Deborah “Blondie” Harry) and discovers that his body has sprouted its own VCR within his guts.

There is, of course, a conspiracy and, of course, it’s rooted in America where the snuff station is actually broadcasting from. The goal of mysterious New World Order-like power brokers is to use Max to infect the world with total acquiescence.

To say Videodrome is prescient, is a bit of an understatement. Cronenberg brilliantly riffs on early 80s Canadian broadcast innovations and visionaries (like Znaimer and McLuhan) to create a chilling, disturbing look at how a corporate “One-World” government seeks to anesthetise the world (and destroy all those who are not susceptible to the virus of brainwashing).

Videodrome is scary, morbidly funny, dementedly sexy (gotta love lit cigarettes applied to naked breasts, a vaginal cavity in Renn’s stomach which plays videotapes and stashes firearms and, among many other horrors, masked figures exacting violent torture on-screen) and finally, one of the great science fiction horror films of all time.

I will not spoil anything for you by elaborating upon the following, but I will guarantee that you’ll be able to experience the shedding of the “old flesh” to make way for “the new flesh”. Right now, though, you really don’t want to know.

A famous Canadian TV commercial during the 60s-80s featured a variety of British tea-sippers slurping back Canada’s “Red Rose” tea and looking directly into the camera to remark (in a full Brit accent):

“Only in Canada, you say? A pity.”

It’s kind of how the rest of the world can feel about David Cronenberg and his Videodrome. It is precisely the kind of movie that could only have been spawned in Canada, but unlike Red Rose Tea, it’s available worldwide and forever.

Greg Klymkiw

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

The Human Centipede 3
The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 July 2015

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment/ Monster Pictures

Director: Tom Six

Writer: Tom Six

Cast: Dieter Laser, Laurence R. Harvey, Eric Roberts, Bree Olsen, Tom Six

USA 2015

100 mins

So farewell then, the Human Centipede, our time together was brief, yet far too long, and frankly I wish we hadn’t gotten quite so intimate. The THC trilogy are/were a perfectly perfect modern phenomenon, in that they were so successful as an internet meme and clickbait talking point that the actual films themselves seem surplus to requirements. The central idea broke through into comedians’ routines, spawned a South Park episode and a porn parody, and weaved its way into pub (if not dinner party) conversation and water cooler chatter. In short, it became a thing, and a thing that even people who don’t like that sort of thing became aware of. That three features have been whipped up from an idea you could explain during a one-stop bus ride is some kind of malign miracle.

If you must catch up with the actual series, part three is set in an American prison, being run, badly, by Warden Bill Boss and his accountant Dwight Butler, played by Dieter Laser and Lawrence R. Harvey, the stars of the first and second films. Given a deadline to improve matters by Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts) Boss is eventually convinced by Butler that they should take inspiration from the Human Centipede films and convert the riotous prisoners into one long alimentary canal. The plot takes a good while to get to where it’s clearly getting to, and is, in any case, mainly there to provide a series of depravities along the way before we get to the 500-person’ ’pede final act. So we get a pen-knife castration, a boiling water-boarding, a gunshot execution via a stoma hole, some light cannibalism and the various indignities inflicted upon the warden’s secretary Daisy (Bree Olsen), all of which would be a lot more offensive if it weren’t carried out by Dieter Laser as Boss in probably the most grotesquely mannered scenery-gargling performance ever committed to film. His stratospherically over-the-top gurning ensures that we can’t take any of this gleeful obscenity remotely seriously, and his mangled German/American syntax makes much of his gratuitously profane dialogue indecipherable. Anybody sharing screen time with him is left the quandary of whether to follow his lead or to go low key and restrained in order to effect some kind of balance; mostly they look a little startled that he’s doing whatever he’s doing.

But the idea that anybody so clearly eye-rolling bugfuck insane and obnoxiously undiplomatic would be put in charge of anything is absurd from the outset, and we are clearly in the realm of the absurd here. If the Final Sequence has any ambition beyond making you want to toss your cookies it’s as a sledgehammer satire on the politics of the U.S. of A.: the prison is named after Dubya, there is lots of business with flags and eagles, the suffering detainees prominently feature Muslims, Blacks and Native Americans, and there are plentiful shots of orange jumpsuit-clad prisoners being tortured, all with the take-home message being that any atrocity is permissible here as long as it upholds the bottom line. It’s not subtle.

The other theme taking up a lot of screen time in the third Human Centipede film is, um, The Human Centipede. The second film had Harvey’s nebbishy Martin Lomax becoming inspired by the first film to create his own monster, this one opens with Boss and Butler watching the first two. Thereafter most of the characters are required to voice an opinion on the THC films, generally positive, though another screening to the inmates is clearly regarded by them as cruel and unusual punishment and results in a riot. It’s as if Tom Six can’t imagine a viewing of his films as anything other than a life-changing obsessive experience or at least provoking strong reactions for or against. This strain peaks in this film with a cameo by Mr Six, playing himself, in arsehole uniform of mirror shades and linen suit, approving Mr Butler’s proposal as long as he can watch. Six has enough self-awareness to depict himself throwing up when confronted with the reality of his ideas, and I’m sure there are some who’ll find all this meta business playful and diverting. But the net result is that you have a 102-minute film written by, and starring, Tom Six, in which everybody onscreen keeps banging on about the work of Tom Six. I think the phrase I’m looking for is ‘Christ, dude, get over yourself’.

Where Six is going to go after this is anybody’s guess, there’s a peculiar European flavour and sensibility to the trilogy that might develop into something, though it’s often buried beneath the other business. The film kinda works on its own terms, it sets out to be disgusting and succeeds, and to criticise it along those lines would be a fruitless endeavour. It seems more valid to point out that it is oddly paced, stilted and set-bound, that Laser should have been reined in, and that we spend an awful lot of time in Boss’s office and not much with the prisoners. I can’t help wishing the dialogue was better, and with the meat and potatoes set-ups here I’m not entirely convinced he knows what he’s doing behind a camera. But hey, it pulls itself together a bit for the last act, and delivers what anybody renting, streaming or buying something called The Human Centipede 3 would want to see. He clearly has no problem coming up with foul ideas, his main claim to fame is that he has come up with an idea that’s just that bit more repellent than everybody else’s. The problem being that, like the human centipedes in all three films, once created they don’t actually go anywhere or do much other than die. I’m pretty sure that a fair proportion of the audience want to see the group creature go on a rampage that just never happens, damnit. Ah well, in my review of the first outing I voiced my regret that the creators didn’t break out the spangly top hats and canes for an unforgettable musical finale. This time I couldn’t help wishing that, in collision with another internet meme set in a prison yard, we could have had a synchronised routine to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. If you’re listening, Tom, that’s not a call for part four.

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) is released in the UK on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on 20 July 2015 by Monster Pictures.

Mark Stafford

Watch the trailer:


Shivers 1

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 13 October 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg

Cast: Fred Doederlin, Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele

USA 1975

88 mins

A delivery boy strolls down the hall of a new luxury high rise just as a grotesquely corpulent old woman pokes her head out of a doorway and moans lasciviously: ‘I’m hungry.’ She waits for a response, then parrots petulantly: ‘I’m hungry!’ Lunging violently at the lad, her teeth bared, she screams, ‘I’m hungry for love!’ As she sates her unholy desires, a gelatinous blood-parasite is deposited down his throat as she sucks face with him.

This is one of many vomit-tempting moments in David Cronenberg’s first commercial feature film, Shivers, which happily inspired incredulous Canuck pundits to demand government accountability, as the picture represented an early investment from the Dominion’s federal cultural funding agency. The 1973 horror classic has now been restored and premiered during the 2013 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s not only a scare-fest, but is also replete with all manner of nasty laughs, all of them wrenched naturally out of an utterly unnatural situation. Pre-dating the AIDS crisis, Cronenberg links sex with death. The delightfully simple tale involves a new form of parasitical venereal disease spreading like wildfire within a Montreal luxury community, gated by its island borders on the mighty St Lawrence. The disease turns its victims into homicidal sex maniacs.

Allow me to repeat that:


And what a frothy concoction Shivers truly is with all manner of viscous emissions:

• Blood parasites being vomited from a balcony onto an old lady’s clear plastic umbrella;
• Parasites roiling and bubbling just under the surface of Alan Migicovsky’s sexy, hairy belly;
• A lithe, nude body of a lassie formerly adorned in a school uniform has her midriff sliced open, her insides then drenched in acid.

Add to this frothy concoction a whole whack o’ babes, from pretty Susan Petrie as a weepy wifey, Lynn Lowry as a drop-dead gorgeous nurse, to the heart-stopping British scream queen Barbara Steele.

Stunningly, Cronenberg manages, in one salient area, to match the great Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitch, of course, infused utter terror in the minds of millions who dared to take a shower. In Shivers, Cronenberg delivers one of the most horrendous bathtub violations ever committed to celluloid. Best of all, the sequence involves Barbara Steele. ‘God bless you, Mr Cronenberg, God bless you!’

This review was first published as part of our TIFF 2013 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

Watch the trailer:

The Fly

The Fly

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 19 May 2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: David Cronenberg

Writers: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg

Based on the short story by: George Langelaan

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

USA/UK/Canada 1986

96 mins

Our cinemas are presently teeming with transformation, infested with the umpteenth spawn of Stan Lee, Marvel and DC - underwhelming Spiderman, the Avengers ad nauseam - so it is perhaps worth having a quick spew. Comic books give us transformation, clean, wreathed in steam and colourfully costumed, but the flip side of such adolescent power fantasies is the disgust of mutation; dirty, gooey and possibly fatal.

David Cronenberg’s The Fly begins with Howard Shore’s wonderfully bombastic B-movie score striding through the titles and immediately places the movie in highly strung melodramatic territory. Cronenberg’s gore-fest was based on the 1958 black and white horror film, which itself was based on a George Langelaan short story published a year earlier in Playboy and was directed by Kurt Neumann and scripted by Shogun author Jim Clavell. Cronenberg’s up-to-date reimagining (long before the horrific verb ‘reboot’ had seen the light of day) was an unexpected critical and commercial hit on its release in 1986. It was the film that brought body horror into the mainstream. But gruesomeness aside (only for the moment), The Fly is a chamber piece, a relationship drama, which infests adolescent hopes of transformation with the corrosive vomit of mutation.

Geena Davis is the ambitious journalist Veronica Quaife, who belatedly realises she’s onto a major story when she snags Seth Brundle, a goggle-eyed and socially inept young scientist, at a conference and he takes her home to show off his latest invention: teleportation devices. Completing the ménage í  trois of filigree-named protagonists is Stathis Borans (John Getz), Veronica’s ex-lover and current editor, who at first is sceptical and jealous.

‘I’m onto something big, really big,’ Veronica tells him. ‘What? His cock?’ Stathis replies.

In a sense though, Stathis is right. He’s the hairy truth teller. Everything in the film is motivated by sex, despite Seth’s ludicrous suggestion that his invention has been spurred by the fact he got motion sickness on his tricycle. This is a B-movie horror plot complete with a monster, a mad scientist and a spunky girl reporter, but somehow when it was being teleported from 1958, a tiny relationship drama must have got into the machine and the two were fused. Seth is obviously lonely, which explains his otherwise insane indiscretion in blabbing to the beautiful Veronica. He is the virgin of the piece - unworldly and naí¯ve, with his wardrobe full of the same clothes and his ‘cheeseburger’ dinner date invitation. Whenever he steps out of his laboratory, things are going to go wrong, be it drinks receptions or arm-wrestling contests. His relationship with Veronica is immediately intense and swiftly marred by petulant and adolescent jealousies.

Veronica, with her can-do no-bullshit approach, is the mover and shaker. She is the one who seduces Seth, in her own time and on her own terms. ‘You’re cute,’ she tells him, but only once he’s proved his chops as a scientist. She is the one with experience. She has perhaps used sex in the past, having - after all - slept with her boss and decided to stop sleeping with her boss, while keeping her job. Stathis could easily have been taking advantage of his position. He is the sleazy, hirsute chancer, cheerfully sneaking into Veronica’s apartment to take a shower. ‘Was passing… felt a bit grimy,’ he says. Despite Veronica’s protestations, perhaps they are meant to be together. There are sparks in their exchanges, compared to the puppy love Veronica enjoys with Seth. She cuddles Seth and coos about his flesh, like an old lady who steals babies (her comparison!). Seth is like their baby, a troublesome genius who shouldn’t be allowed out on his own and who ultimately longs to be joined to her and be completed by her. Seth (the romantic) wants to consume her totally, whereas Stathis just wants to fuck her.

The goo of the make-up effects is still impressive today, but none of that matters if we don’t care about the characters, as was to be proved by the sequel, which was directed by the make-up artist Chris Walas to make an interesting but ultimately forgettable film. Cronenberg’s success here, helped by several career-best performances, is to drop fully realised characters into the B-movie plot. Seth’s disintegration as a human being is played out tragically. At first, he feels benefits from the experiment gone wrong: super strength, increased sexual performance etc. but soon comes to realise that it’s a disease, a kind of cancer. His mutation isn’t a clean Peter Parker transformation. To be fair, The Amazing Spiderman does give Parker some sticky moments, but they are more for comic effect than fuelled by body disgust.

Seth is not simply turning into something. That in itself wouldn’t be all that bad. Waking up one morning to find yourself a giant cockroach is amply better than waking up one morning to find yourself a rubbish mix of cockroach and man. The speed of Seth’s deterioration and his desperate attempt to retain some semblance of humanity even as he becomes Brundlefly give the film something like a tragic grandeur. Veronica’s disgust and loathing, as exemplified by her maggot dream, is tinged with pity. Stathis, finally, is also transformed. He becomes the hero of the piece, albeit an ineffective one, trying to protect Veronica and, as a consequence, suffering his rival’s jealous bile.

In the end, the only fatality of the film is Seth himself, who to some extent achieves his ambition of being the first insect politician and retains some degree of humanity (and some call on our sympathy) even in his final moments.

John Bleasdale

The Human Centipede 2

The Human Centipede 2

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 November 2011

Venues: Nationwide

Distributor: Bounty Films/Eureka Entertainment

Director: Tom Six

Writer: Tom Six

Cast: Laurence R. Harvey, Ashlynn Yennie, Emma Lock, Katherine Templar

UK 2011

88 mins

Like last year’s infamous A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede 2 has managed to become the hot button issue of the UK film industry. In one corner, we have the BBFC; in the other, the fans. What is being fought over is not only the morals of British society but also our approach to controversial art in the future.

First, the BBFC banned the film, because they said it was impossible to cut it to an acceptable format. Now they’ve allowed it in a cut version although one member of the board abstained from voting in favour of the decision. Some critics love it, some absolutely hate it. Audience members throw up, some cheer, others boo. The contents have now become almost mythical for their gratuitous violence. So how does a low-budget horror film elicit such strong reactions from every segment of the film industry?

With The Human Centipede, Tom Six proved that horror did not need to live up to expectations to fulfil its potential. Audiences expected gross-out body horror of the most extreme kind, and he delivered a well-timed and skilful update of the mad scientist figure.

With the sequel he seems to have pulled out all the stops to deliver something visually extreme. However, at the core of his film lies a central performance that borders on slapstick. Laurence R. Harvey stars as Martin, a seemingly mild-mannered car park security guard who lives with his abusive mother. Martin seems to spend his days watching the original Human Centipede on repeat and putting together a shoddy plan to continue the work of Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser). As his psychosis blooms, no one around him is safe from his fantasies of playing doctor and conducting the ultimate centipede experiment.

In this sequel, Tom Six promises that the whole thing is ‘100% medically inaccurate’ and to say that he fully delivers on this claim is an understatement of sorts. Martin is an introvert, the kind of person who as a child would get picked on at school, and his understanding of surgery and human anatomy leaves a lot to be desired. However, Martin compensates for his lack of knowledge with a gleeful sense of enthusiasm that drives the film forward.

Laurence R. Harvey’s performance is pitch-perfect: Martin lies somewhere between the deadpan mannerisms of Buster Keaton and the full-blown psychotic tendencies of Henry. Each gesture, each facial expression perfectly conveys his character. He is not moral or amoral but free from these considerations - a child lost and never found.

Perhaps the biggest problem with The Human Centipede 2 is the forced cuts by the BBFC - reading their detailed report on the film, it’s hard not to feel cheated by these numerous snips, which create leaps in the narrative logic and a sense of discordance. However, as it stands, The Human Centipede 2 is still a terrific movie: if you can tune into its warped, droll humour and excessive brutality, this is one hell of an experience you are sure not to forget. Tom Six has managed to channel a true British nasty through his uniquely European approach. Unmissable.

Evrim Ersoy