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SYFY WIRE Alex Garland

5 creepy AF body horror movies to watch after you see 'Men'

Alex Garland's latest, Men, isn't the first film to use body horror to explore a cerebral theme.

By Tara Bennett
A still from A24's Men (2022)

If there are any absolutes when it comes to Alex Garland projects, it's that he's going to overwhelm you with some very visceral and existential ideas, with accompanying visuals that will remain etched into your brain pan for the rest of your days. Men is his latest which stars Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear in a menacingly intimate story of grief and toxic masculinity set in contemporary rural England. Garland is also a master of telling stories with a slow build that often lead into a jarring finales, and Men follows that template.

**Spoilers for Men ahead.**

In the final act, Garland has Buckley's Harper witness the visceral "birth" of her various male tormentors (all played by Kinnear) that she's been forced to interact with during her retreat. An existential moment made real, Harper exists in a terrifying liminal space silently observing each male iteration vaginally birth (or what passes for it) one another in an increasingly pathetic display of their self induced pain and malignant impulse to metastasize. The sequence is gross and mesmerizing, thought-provoking and over-the-top. And it got us thinking about other filmmakers who love to use the visual shock value of body horror to provoke audiences to think more deeply about their themes and challenging theories.

If you have a queasy countenance or go green at the thought of a lot of blood, you might want to bow out now. Otherwise, SYFY WIRE presents five heady yet gory films that make fine companion watches to Men.

eXistenZ (1999)

Director David Cronenberg remains one of the contemporary greats of existential horror. He has no filter when it comes to provoking conversation from what are often graphic displays of body horror. Any foray into his catalog will have you questioning your life choices, but eXistenZ is arguably one of his most accessible films. It's set within the world of near future game development and features a great cast including Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Cronenberg explores the nexus of humanity and technology via "bio-ports" which gamers elect to have surgically grafted into their spines. As it happens, two monopoly gaming companies are threatened by a fanatical group who don't want reality to be absorbed into the virtual world. It's a concept that we're still struggling with to this day, but the movie takes it to extremes introducing diseases and violence into the ports which puts the fragility of our bodies into bleak relief.

The Thing (1982)

Another master of horror, John Carpenter turned paranoia and the frailty of our flesh into the ultimate body horror classic, The Thing. An adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s novella, Who Goes There? and remake of a much-less-gross 1951 movie, Carpenter made it into a contemporary story about a handful of disparate men holed up in an isolated Antarctica research station. Unknowingly, they allow an alien parasite into the compound which then methodically attempts to infect every person. As the men suss out what's happening, they turn on one another, fearful of being the next victim. As if the paranoia and suspense weren't effective enough, Carpenter hired special effects artist Rob Bottin to bring to life some of the most terrifying monstrosities ever committed to film. As the parasite morphs with its host, the film explicitly reveals the Frankensteined creatures that are meant to rival the grotesque impulses of self-preservation the men will inflict on one another to stay alive. A fantastic cast of character actors from Kurt Russell to Keith David and Wilford Brimley bring grounded reality to these blue collar men who spiral into hell.

Eraserhead (1977)

Director David Lynch doesn't mess around when it comes to taking the most surreal and disturbing images that his imagination can conjure, and then translating them with fealty to live action. Eraserhead is like a fever dream with Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) at its center. An existential mediation on sex, birth and human connection, Lynch doesn't provide any kind of definitive narrative which leaves the audience to navigate the bizarre visuals that make up Henry's strange existence raising a serpent baby. From the bloody chicken dinner to the skinless kid, there's a lot to shock but there's also a few dissertations worth of potent imagery and incredible sound design woven together to make a film that over time has gone from cult to just classic.

Clown (2014)

Most people know director Jon Watts from his MCU Spider-Man trilogy but way back in the day, he got a lot of attention for his disturbing horror film, Clown. It centers on the throwaway decision of good dad, Kent McCoy (Andy Powers), rescuing his son's birthday party when the entertainment doesn't show up. Putting on a clown costume he's got in the basement, Kent charms the kids and then exhaustedly falls asleep with the suit and makeup still on. The next morning, he can't seem to take any of it off. Discovering that it's the repository for an Icelandic demon called the "Clöyne," Kent finds himself slowly subsumed by the monster within. Desperate to escape, there are a lot of bloody attempts to escape his nightmare until he's informed that only eating five children will free him from the suit. Clown is a controversial piece, with critics split about its execution, but it's an unexpected exploration of the easy "clowns are terrifying" trope mixed with some really sinister implications about parenting and fatherhood.

>Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)

A double shot from director Shinya Tsukamoto, the Tetsuo films explore similar themes of humans upgrading their flesh with tech augmentations. If you're looking for the sleek mech visualizations of RoboCop or Terminator 2, move on. These films won't be for you. Framed with a surrealist sensibility, the characters in the films are metal fetishist's who witness their bodies, and lives, slowly get infected by metal overtaking their personhood. Filled to the brim with sexual, technological and post-apocalyptic metaphors, Tsukamoto uses a lot of graphic violence to make the transformations brutal, instead of the actual slow march that humanity trods towards with our reliance on phones, tablets and computers. Plus, you can't get more on the nose than the penis monster at the end of the first film... unless you're Jeff Bezos.