When it comes to some of the most gruesome and downright terrifying movies out there, body horror has to be one of the hardest to swallow. Rife with gore, mutations, torture, and fates worse than death, the genre is not for the faint of heart.
But if you're looking for some of the best out there on the market, we've got 25 heart-stopping movies perfect for a night of exploring the best of the best. Just in time for Halloween, check out this menagerie of morbidity, all stemming from the horrible ways the human body can be abused. It's going to be pretty wicked, so don't say we didn't warn you.
Kevin Smith’s bizarre horror flick Tusk is billed as a black comedy as well, but there’s nothing funny about being kidnapped by a bizarre retired seaman and forced to become a gruesome walrus. After a young podcast host meets with one Howard Howe, who’s offering a room for free, he soon finds out Howe’s intentions are less than admirable. What ensues is a terrifying tale of a man who’s forced to become a walrus, on the inside and out, mutilated beyond recognition and sewn inside a walrus costume made of human skin. Wallace may not have been the best guy, but he certainly didn’t deserve this.
Leave it to the son of the king of body horror to come up with this dystopian tale of Sad March, an employee of the Lucas Clinic. The organization collects pathogens and viruses from celebrities and people of interest who are sick so that the public can then purchase the ability to be injected with said germs. For some reason fans find this a way to feel “closer” to their favorite celebrities. As sick as this sounds, things get even sicker when a celebrity meat market and Syd's injections of a seemingly terminally ill patient begins. Prepare for some serious body and medical horror as the feature wears on, proving the Cronenberg apple doesn’t fall from the tree — it was directed by David's son, Brandon.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009)
Though we've become somewhat accustomed to its unique brand of horror by now, The Human Centipede: First Sequence is still a chilling film by all accounts. After a mad doctor decides to kidnap two women who head to his home while on vacation, dosing them with Rohypnol, he soon adds them to his "collection" of specimens. For what purpose? To create a human "centipede," of course, where human mouths are sewn to others' anuses, meaning yes, excrement is meant to pass through each "link" in the chain. Severed ligaments, humiliating modifications, and other horrific medical torture scenes make for one of the most depraved moments in body horror of all time. And there are two other movies beyond this one, if you're still ready for more.
Dawn is a young woman who’s also a proponent for abstinence. Teeth follows how her life changes drastically when she realizes she’s home for the mythical “vagina dentate,” or a vagina that bites back. After a guy she’s interested in attempts to rape her, a set of chompers down there ends up biting down hard enough to sever his penis. It only gets rougher from there, as others sexually assault Dawn and she realizes her vagina dentate is a means of protection for her against those who would try to harm her sexually. There are some particularly terrifying sequences here that will absolutely shock you, especially if you happen to have male reproductive organs.
This bizarre tale may not seem like an excellent source for body horror, but it features several examples of body horror that will stick with you long after viewing. It first follows a Hungarian military orderly who engages in sexual relations with pigs, a speed-eater who has a son named Lajoska, and then Lajoska's wretched existence at the end of the movie. His father is a grotesque mass of fat who cannot leave his chair, and the family’s pet cats eventually devour him. That’s nothing compared to Lajoska himself, however, who ends up removing his own internal organs and having a machine decapitate him so he can become a statue. It’s grisly. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
This classic example of body horror begins with a man known as the "Metal Fetishist" shoving a metal rod into a cut on his leg. You know things are going to get crazy from there. He's hit by a car driven by a regular salaryman and his girlfriend, who ends up finding that metal is growing from his very insides. After dumping the body of the Metal Fetishist, thinking he and his girlfriend are going to get away scot-free, there’s a chilling series of events that lead both men to become gnarled, hideous masses of scrap metal. Imagine metal and flesh meeting as one and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this cult hit.
The Fly (1986)
This David Cronenberg remake of the 1957 Vincent Price film is the quintessential body film, recounting the tale of one Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) who ends up as a hybrid fly/human creature after one of his science experiments goes awry. Brundle, while working on "telepods" that allow for instant teleportation from one pod to another, is accidentally merged with a fly at the molecular level. His fingernails fall off, his appearance changes drastically, and in the end he no longer resembles anything even remotely human. If you’re new to the genre, this is one film that fanatics will likely always point you to first.
Re-Animator tells the story of Herbert West, a character based on the H.P. Lovecraft love of the same name, who invents a serum that can bring dead bodies back to life. Starting with his dead professor Dr. Hans Gruber and moving on to dead cats and other human subjects, the serum seems to work, but only brings the bodies back to life in a zombie-like state. The reanimating agent ends up wreaking more havoc than positive progression, including a man shoving a severed head into a woman’s crotch and lobotomized victims who can no longer control themselves. Some of its more extreme sequences are the pinnacle of body horror, and if you give it a look you’ll see for yourself.
Another Cronenberg classic, Videodrome follows a man named Max Renn who works at a TV station broadcasting what amounts to software porn and violence. He happens upon a shockingly violent broadcast one day that culminates in the murder of anonymous victims, and decides it’s the future for his station. It’s called Videodrome, and it turns out to be much more than a collection of violent programming. Renn bites off more than he can chew when he begins experiencing hallucinations, such as his torso transforming into a slot that can play video cassettes, and even a weapon forged from his own body. Just imagine having to deal with all that.
The legendary Alien is considered one of the greatest science fiction flicks of all time, but it also has one of the most familiar elements of body horror ever. Aside from the threat of the xenomorphs (the titular “alien” creatures), the focus of the movie, there’s also the facehuggers, the second stage in their life cycle. Facehuggers leap onto the faces of the crew and essentially "impregnate" them with aliens, which then burst forth from their stomachs. It's a grisly sight to be sure, and one you've probably seen parodied throughout several movies and TV shows. It's a gruesome, invasive and ultimately humiliating end for a person, and sets the stage for the other unsettling ways Alien as a franchise has approached body horror in its myriad fashions.
David Lynch’s surrealist body horror film is as disturbing as it is indecipherable, but features a copious amount of gruesome imagery surrounding the 'child' in the film. It’s the offspring of protagonist Henry Spencer and girlfriend Mary X, two bizarre individuals who have somehow spawned a limbless monstrosity that’s swaddled in thick, bandage-like material. It looks vaguely like a baby alien calf or some sort of reptile, and it’s nothing of this world. When Henry discovers what lies beneath the bandages, the movie takes a spine-tingling detour into the world of mutilation and disgusting visuals. Between that and seeing the baby's face everywhere, you'll be wishing you hadn’t seen this hellspawn of a 'child.'
The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
This trippy bit of sci-fi follows a plot surrounding exactly what the title implies: a man who finds himself melting. After astronaut Colonel Steve West is exposed to a radiation blast on a flight to Saturn, he survives, but just barely. The flesh on his body is simply melting away, with his body having become radioactive. The solution? Consuming other human flesh, of course! There’s nothing sophisticated about the horrific bodily mutilation seen in the movie, but straightforward ooey, gooey, melting flesh that’s just not right. You won’t soon forget West's gnarly face after watching this flick.
From Beyond (1986)
Another Lovecraftian story, From Beyond finds scientists messing about with the pineal gland via a device known as the Resonator. One consequence of doing so finds them seeing monsters from other dimensions. One scientist is taken into the other world and comes back as a monster that can change its shape and begins to prey on the other scientists at the lab. Severe deformities, mutations, and other elements of body horror ensure From Beyond remains in your brain days after you watch it, especially when you see the 'taken' scientist assume his new form.
Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers follows a pair of identical twin gynecologists who work at a clinic that treats various different fertility problems. Both twins tend to seduce the women who come to work at their practice, and as such are pretty unsavory individuals. Things go awry when one twin, Beverly, begins having delusions of "mutant women" with bizarre genitalia, commissioning special instruments to work on them with. What follows is an uncomfortable mixture of medical torture and bizarre interactions between doctor and patient that may scar you for life, especially if you frequent the gynecologist.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's famous sci-fi tale of a parasitic lifeforms that imitates other organisms is one of the greats, and if you haven't seen it you should absolutely remedy that. It has several instances of some pretty gnarly transformations between humans and animals alike as dog heads split apart, humans are incinerated after transforming into bizarre beings, and more. If a human corpse with two faces sounds like something that might pique your interest, The Thing should be the next body horror flick you watch.
Martyrs is a movie all about what the title implies: creating "martyrs," or individuals tortured until they can no longer stand the pain, glimpsing into the afterlife for a brief moment. Women are kidnapped for these insidious purposes, and a good portion of the movie is spent demonstrating the kind of torture they must go through before they can 'see' the afterlife. One woman ends up with a metallic headset shielding her vision stapled to her head. Another, by the movie's end, is flayed entirely. It's all in a bid to see what happens when humans transcend, but unfortunately there isn't anything of a happy ending for anyone.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
The Skin I Live In is the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard, that has created an artificial skin that is resistant to damage like burns and insect bites. Unfortunately, he also happens to be very, very insane. Without spoiling the whole film, one of the lead characters is forced to be someone they're not and live in a body that isn't the gender they feel they should be. This film doesn't rely on special effects to make its body horror known, just the simple suggestion of being trapped in a body in which we don't feel like we belong.
Based on Clive Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser involves pleasure-seeker Frank discovering a puzzle box that when solved opens the door to another dimension. In Frank's mother's house, he opens the portal, and the demonic Cenobites rip him to pieces with chains. Even in pieces, though, Frank lives. When his brother Larry and his family move into the old house, a drop of blood in the room in which Frank was ripped apart begins the process of his resurrection. Slowly, as he obtains more blood, we see his organs and skin begin to return. The Cenobites themselves are sadomasochists that have flayed and mutilated themselves in the pursuit of "pleasure," and this film is just the beginning of a series that is filled with hellish and fascinating creatures.
Cabin Fever (2002)
Cabin Fever is a comedy of errors, but with a flesh-eating virus. A group of college students -- Burt, Jeff, Marcy, Paul, and Karen -- go on a vacation to a cabin in the woods for spring break. Unfortunately for them, a deadly infection has taken hold of a hermit that lives in the same forest. After Burt accidentally shoots the man, he shows up at their cabin, and through a series of events, they're exposed to the illness. What follows is bloody vomiting, skin sluffing off, and the worst communication between a group of people I have ever seen. Not to be missed is the scene where Marcy takes a bath and while shaving her legs, she starts to peel her skin off as well.
This heady movie involves an immensely popular subject: video games. In the world of eXistenZ, game consoles are biologically-engineered constructs called game pods. Players have bio-sports embedded in their spines that link to UmbyCords to allow them to play the game. The conflict here is between the companies that make these games and a group of individuals calling themselves "realists" that believe the bending of reality by these game designers is unnatural and must be stopped. The movie follows game designer Allegra Geller as she goes on the run from the realists on the eve of releasing her latest game, eXistenZ. Not only does the movie have the body horror inherent in biotechnological devices (like an organic firearm that shoots teeth), but it also has a bit of an Inception vibe as Allegra goes further into virtual reality in an attempt to escape her assassins.
American Mary (2012)
Mary Mason desperately wants to be a surgeon, but medical school is expensive. After an interview at a strip club, the owner asks her to perform illegal surgery to save a man's life. The denizens of the club take notice and Mary is introduced to the world of extreme body modification. What ensues is a soap opera of bizarre surgeries, with Mary eventually leaving medical school to become an unlicensed surgeon full-time. Whether it's a woman who wants her nipples and labia removed to become a human doll, or twins who want their left arms exchanged and horns implanted in their heads, Mary is willing to do any surgery if you've got the cash. American Mary is a look at the extreme body modification community through the lens of a horror movie, and one of the reasons it's so frightening is because that somewhere out there this is likely someone's reality.
David Cronenberg's Scanners isn't as full throttle as The Brood and The Fly, but its version of telepathy is the kind of violent tool that you always imagined Betazeds would really use if Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn't so family-friendly. The titular scanners are very powerful psychics with the abilities of telekinesis, mind-control, and telepathy. A private security firm, ConSec, attempts to demonstrate with one of their scanners in a reveal on-stage. However, when they call on a volunteer, they end up being a more powerful scanner. The result is one of the most iconic head explosions in movie history when the ConSec scanner is overpowered by the volunteer. The volunteer runs from the ConSec facility and the plot develops into an enthralling ride concerning genetic experimentation and the evolution of man. Some great makeup effects and a fun mystery make this horror classic a must-see.
Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
In near future Tokyo, a scientist called Key Man creates a virus that causes humans to mutate into monstrosities called Engineers. If an Engineer is injured, genetic mutations that sprout out of the wound can be used as weapons and are pretty disgusting. Ruka is assisting the Tokyo police in tracking down Engineers, and the film follows her trip to find who killed her father. It's a typical Japanese plot with a very atypical visual style and execution. Tokyo Gore Police is body horror taken to the extreme and characters like Alligator Crotch Girl, Man with Brain on the Outside of his Head and Eyestalks, and Snail Stripper — I'm not sure if they have real names — are a delight to the eyes. That is, as long as you love gross aberrations.
Slither was the directorial debut for James Gunn — yes, Guardian's of the Galaxy James Gunn. It had heavy hitters like Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and Elizabeth Banks, but was a box office stinker. Fortunately, time has been kind, and Slither has become a cult classic. The movie plays out like an updated 1950s B-movie. A meteorite carrying a sentient parasite crashes into small-town South Carolina, which infects a local car salesman, Grant. As the parasite takes hold, Grant starts to change physically, and eventually he infects a lonely woman who becomes a bloated ball of flesh, filled to the brim with his slug-like offspring. Eventually, almost the whole town is absorbed into Grant, who at this point is a pulsating mound of flesh and partially recognizable bodies that have formed a hive mind. The aberration of the human body in Slither is mind-blowing, and it gives a much-needed update to a classic sci-fi trope.
After a young man is kidnapped and trapped by a crazy old doctor and then subjected to bizarre and humiliating forms of torture, he learns the true meaning of revenge. At first he’s subjected to small changes, ones that don’t make much of a difference in the long run, like clothing or nail polish. Soon, the man’s reproductive organs are removed as he’s formed into a woman against his will. It’s a harrowing show of what people can do when pushed too far, and like another title on this list (The Skin I Live In), it demonstrates the exquisite horror of being forced to live in a body you don’t identify with.