Why We Like Body Horror - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, October 15, 2021

Why We Like Body Horror

Our bodies are weird. And terrifying. And beautiful. And frustrating. It’s not something that’s usually considered typical conversation in everyday social situations, but why shouldn’t it be? We’re all grappling with the simultaneous strangeness and beauties of our bodies regularly. Why should we just cram all those thoughts beneath the surface? Even if social norms still haven’t advanced to the point that it’s normal to talk about these matters, one strain of horror cinema at least helps normalize the complicated relationships we all have with our bodies.

Body horror is a type of storytelling that places a focus on scares generated by concerns related to the human body, typically it being altered or being mutilated in a way that’s out of the norm. There’s a long tradition of this sort of horror storytelling in all sorts of mediums of expression, but the world of film has proven an especially effective vessel for body horror. Given that this artform is inherently a visual one, not to mention it can replicate the experience of watching another world through a window, the terrors of this subgenre could be realized more effectively and vividly than ever before.

Some of the most famous instances of body horror cinema have come from David Cronenberg, whose works are often fixated on the transformation of human beings. Projects like Re-Animator and Scanners explore this concept through gruesome imagery that twists a person’s body into previously unimaginable shapes and forms. Other quintessential instances of this subgenre include the 1989 remake of The Fly, Pedro Almodóvar’s 2011 feature The Skin I Live In, and Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning motion picture Titane. The visuals and tone of these projects fluctuate greatly, but their fascination with adjusting the human body to create scares remains consistent. Given the enduring popularity of this subgenre among both moviegoers and filmmakers, it bears asking; why exactly do we all like body horror so much?

RELATED: The Evolution of Body Horror in 5 Essential Films

For one thing, it’s just a great vehicle to deliver unnerving imagery you can’t get in any other genre. There are lots of deeper reasons we’re all gravitated towards horror, but it’s a lie to say there isn’t also enjoyment to be had in surface-level pleasures like witnessing unique death scenes or uniquely unsettling shots. For body horror, the entire thesis of this subgenre opens the door for so many different types of twisted contortions of the human body you can’t find in any other genre. Typical horror movies may kill off a character by having them get impaled. A body horror movie like John Carpenter’s The Thing, meanwhile, never eases the throttle on dispatching people through idiosyncratic grotesque means like having someone lose their arms to a toothy chest.

However, just as the superficial charms of body horror can’t be discounted, so too can the deeper implications of the subgenre not be tossed aside. Over the years, it’s become clear that the body horror genre resonates on a personal level with moviegoers, and why shouldn’t it? So many other genres tend to ignore the complexities of the human body by only presenting actors with chiseled figures and perfectly sculpted faces. In the body horror subgenre, the vulnerabilities of all our bodies are reflected in the silver screen. These movies can be terrifying, but they can also be oddly comforting in how they normalize the nuances of our bodies.

This feat has been reflected in countless essays over the years, including Nichole Goble’s piece “In celebration of horrific bodies: Disability & the films of David Cronenberg” for The Spool. Her piece begins by discussing her life experiences with Turner’s Syndrome and how she didn’t know anyone else with disabilities until she was nearly 30. Goble then notes that, without a group of flesh-and-blood people to immediately turn to for support, she turned to cinema, and in particular body horror movies, “to not just understand, but make peace with — and even find pride in — my disability.”

In addition to praising body horror for the way it recognizes the nuanced dynamics people have with their bodies, Goble’s essay also reflects on how “discovering body horror in my youth was like learning a new language to communicate about my own experience” as well as why David Cronenberg’s works are the pinnacle of this genre. “Cronenberg sets the standard for this particular subgenre,” Goble explains. “Because he never strips his characters of their humanity.”

Goble’s thoughtful writing vividly captures the personal resonance the world of body horror can craft. In their best form, these films deliver not just scares, but detailed human beings who live with disabilities daily. What a sharp contrast from the default norms for cinema, which often erase disabled perspectives entirely.

On the opposite side of the filmgoing experience, notable figures who’ve helmed body horror features can also lend insight into why this genre has endured for so long. Titane filmmaker Julia Ducournau, for instance, noted in an interview with Salon that her provocative motion picture uses the distortion of human bodies as a mechanism to capture the attention of moviegoers. “My entry point is her body,” Ducournau explained. “What she inflicts upon it in order for you to feel this immediate body empathy is the same as if you see someone break their legs in real life. You may not have had your legs broken, but you know that it's painful because you have this immediate body empathy that links us all.”

Titane is a vastly different creature from your average Cronenberg film. However, Ducournau’s explanation for how the on-screen depictions of body horror are supposed to resonate with moviegoers echoes what Goble saw as the key ingredient to Cronenberg’s filmmaking. In Titane, body horror is used to reinforce humanity rather than as a substitute for it. Through this means, Ducournau’s explorations of imperfect human bodies can touch something profound inside viewers that resonates on multiple levels. Through the perspectives of both filmmakers and audiences, its apparent empathy is as key as anything else to the lasting influence of body horror.

These qualities of relatability and human even creep up in Cronenberg’s discussions of the body horror genre. While being interviewed by FlavorWire, he challenged the very term “body horror” by observing that the “body is not a source of horror, it is what we are. My focus is on the body, and I don’t think of it as an obsession at all…if you accept what George Bernard Shaw said about conflict being the essence of drama — if the body is your subject and you’re dealing with conflict within the body — then immediately you’re dealing with things that happen to the body. It’s not really a question of horror, per se..”

Cronenberg’s comments are especially interesting in how they connect the crux of body horror as being connected to earlier forms of art by individuals like Shaw. This adds another layer to figuring out why body horror has endured for so long, it’s building upon themes that have often proved captivating and interesting to people throughout all of history. We’ve always been fascinated by the human body and, like a moth drawn to a flame, attracted to works of art that confront the complicated relationships we have to these mortal vessels. It’s only natural, then, that the domain of body horror, which is fixated on these quandaries would leave a lasting impression.

Across these vastly different testimonies, one can also see the common thread of how body horror intersects with everyday life to a profound degree. Though titles like The Fly can seem so detached from reality, they can provide allegories for, or even, in certain cases, explicit portrayals of struggles we all have with our bodies. As a result, the body horror domain of horror cinema manages to resonate on a deep enough level to ensure that we’ll be watching new entries in this subgenre freak out and captivate audiences for years to come.

KEEP READING: 'Wonder Woman 1984' Is the Scariest Body Horror Movie of 2020



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