The body horror genre is something that fans of the overall horror movie genre are highly familiar with. However, for people unfamiliar with this kind of thing, the body horror subgenre is made up of movies where the main plot centres on the degeneration of the human body. Many of these films use practical effects in addition to digital effects in a show of graphically depicted destruction that will make your stomach turn. These are very different from your average slasher movie and are genuinely terrifying. And many of these movies have grown in popularity in recent years, making for some cult classics among horror fans. So, if you are in the mood for a good scare, here are some of the best body horror movies.
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Below is a list of the fourteen best body horror movies. The list will not be ranked and will be listed according to the year it was released (so oldest to newest). Each film will feature body horror elements, whether it be someone racking up a body count or occurring to the main characters’ own bodies. But a warning is in order as these are not suitable for anyone with a weak stomach or who is sensitive to gore. So be prepared for some of the best makeup, special effects, and sound effects that make some scenes seem a bit too real.
Disclaimer: There are slight spoilers for some of the films included on this list. However, only the general plot will be revealed (so no plot twists or significant reveals will be mentioned).
14. The Fly (1986)
As one of the oldest films on this list, its main feature is an eccentric scientist who begins morphing into a fly following a science experiment gone wrong. Written and directed by David Cronenberg, it proved to be his most significant commercial success, grossing over $60 million at the box office. The film stars Jeff Goldblum, who was praised for his performance as the mad scientist Seth Brundle. In addition, the Fly featured some of the best practical effects that still hold up today, making for a great cult classic and probably the most popular film on this list.
The film won an Academy Award for best makeup and was based on a short film by the same name. There are some truly disturbing sequences in the film, making for one of the best movies in the body horror subgenre to date.
13. Guinea Pig 5: Mermaid in a Manhole (1988)
This is just one film in a series of six movies known as Guinea Pig which is based on the work of manga artist Hideshi Hino. The manga author also directed two of the films in the series. Guinea Pig is a controversial set of films for its intense displays of violence and gore. One of the films, Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985), was withdrawn from the market after being reported to the authorities. American actor, Charlie Sheen, found the film so gruesome that he thought he was watching the actual murder of a woman.
However, it is the fifth film (some believe it is the sixth/fourth film) in the series that features some of the best examples of body horror seen in cinema. The plot follows an artist who is estranged from his wife as he ventures into the sewers beneath Okinawa. It is here where he meets a mermaid he met once as a child, who is stuck after the river has disappeared. She is covered in sores and boils, clearly sick. The artist offers her help and takes her home, where he keeps her in a bathtub and feeds her fish. However, a disgustingly impressive display of a skin sickness that infests her body ensues. Worms and puss begin oozing from her boils as the artist continues to paint her.
There is a good reason this film series is so controversial, and this movie proves it quite well. The artist finally relents when the mermaid begs him to kill her and dismembers her body. And while that may sound like the entire plot, it gets worse. Don’t worry. This is on the list of best body horror movies for a reason, after all.
12. Cabin Fever (2002)
While this film has a 2016 remake, the two films are identical save for a few dialogue changes. It makes sense to include the original, as there is no huge difference. That being said, the movie begins as your average early 2000s horror film with a group of rowdy college students heading up into the woods for a getaway. They drink, party, skinny dip and participate in some questionable activities. As a horror comedy, it has a lighter tone than other films on the list but does not hold back on the body horror factor.
The best part of the film is when the group of kids discover that there is a mysterious skin disease spreading around. It causes the host’s body to fall apart, resulting in their skin peeling in a gruesome and graphic display. So if you are interested in seeing human bodies falling apart in the scariest manner possible, then be sure to check this film out. And just as a fun fact: the movie is based on a real-life story.
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11. Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
If you are interested in seeing some incredibly bizarre body transformations, this gory and perverse film is perfect. Written and directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura, the film follows a vengeful police officer in a chaotic and futuristic Japan named Ruka (played by Eihi Shiina). Tokyo is overrun by a virus created by a mad scientist known only as the Key Man. The virus allows its host to sprout weapons from any injury they may receive. These creatures are known as ‘Engineers’, and the police force is privatised to deal with them by assigning hunters to the monsters.
Ruka is a hunter on the force trying to find the person who murdered her father. And what ensues is a chaotic display of uncomfortable, erotic, and plain disgusting action sequences. The film uses special effects done by the director of the title, with production for the movie wrapping after two weeks. The number of effects and gore included really speaks volumes about how talented the team behind the movie was. This fever dream is a must-see for horror fans.
10. Martyrs (2008)
It is a curious thing as to what was going through Pascal Laugier’s mind as he wrote and directed this absolute nightmare fuel of a film. What makes this film so scary is that everything that happens within the runtime is all a causation of human actions. None of the gore and violence is caused by a virus or mutation. The film opens with a scene of a young girl escaping a slaughterhouse where she has been tortured for years. She is placed in an orphanage where it is discovered that her name is Lucie Jurin, and she befriends Anna Assaoui, another orphan. Lucie wants revenge on the people that kidnapped and tortured her. All the while, she is being tormented by a demonic entity.
Fast forward fifteen years, and Lucie is now a young woman as she breaks into the house of a happy family. She kills all of them with a shotgun as she believes they are responsible for her traumatic experience. Anna arrives to stop her and is horrified by what she finds but ends up helping her friend regardless. Remember that this is not even the film’s first half, but revealing more would be a spoiler. What is important to remember is that you will be subjected to the most sickening sequence of violence, body horror and psychological horror you will ever see. This film will keep you awake at night, years after the fact. Only check this movie out if you have a strong stomach as audiences walked out of the Marché du Film screening of the film due to its disturbing content.
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9. District 9 (2009)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp as his feature film debut, this is certainly not a horror film. In fact, it is a sci-fi action film that was a collaborative production between New Zealand, the United States, and South Africa. This film made it onto this list because it includes some of the best body horror sequences to date. In addition, the film comprises heavy themes such as xenophobia and social segregation and is told through a found footage medium. An alien spaceship hovers over Joburg, South Africa, in 1982. Twenty years later, the government moved the aliens into a camp as they were dying and malnourished on the ship.
Inspired by District 6 and Apartheid era, the film follows an alien as he attempts to escape the camp and return to his home planet with his child. He crosses paths with Wikus van de Merwe, who has fuel for the alien spaceship sprayed in his face. He slowly turns into an alien, shudderingly documenting everything as the film reaches its close. Again, it may not be a horror film, but it does feature some pretty gross scenes.
8. Antichrist (2009)
Written and directed by Lars von Trier, this film embodies the struggles Lars went through during an intense depressive episode in 2006. Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the movie impresses with a sickening display of sexual violence, mental disorders, and sadomasochism. The two actors play an unnamed couple whose child, Nic, accidentally falls to his death from his parent’s bedroom window while engaging in intercourse. This sends the couple into a spiral of grief, and they take a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods.
What follows is a display of bizarre occurrences, with the husband experiencing visions and his wife becoming increasingly sexually violent. The movie is shot beautifully but is contrasted by the brutal and gruesome scenes presented to audiences. There are two particular graphic displays of genital mutilation that will have your stomach turning. Interestingly, the film only features the two actors for most of the runtime, and the isolating feeling adds to the already intense atmosphere.
7. Under the Skin (2013)
Directed by Jonathan Glazer and written by Glazer and Walter Campbell, this is another film that is more science fiction than horror. But again, this film perfectly falls into the category of the body horror subgenre with its rather unsettling nature. The film stars Scarlett Johansson, who plays the role of an alien woman on planet earth who preys on men. Although it is difficult to explain the plot further than that, it takes a dark turn when the female alien begins to gain empathy through her experiences with humans. She has an identity crisis, leading to a sequence of some unsettling body horror.
The movie received backlash as critics felt that Johansson is presented as a sexual object throughout and is not seen as more than a body. Despite the writer and director’s claims that the film is about a human experience, critics still gave it a hard no due to its gender-political message.
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6. Contracted (2013)
This body horror film is a new take on what it means to contract an STD and is a good reminder of why protection is so essential regarding sex. Written and directed by Eric England, it follows the story of a recovered drug addict named Samantha (played by Najarra Townsend). She is at a party when a man approaches her and openly flirts. Samantha informs him that she is a lesbian, but he drugs her drink before taking her to his car and raping her. The following day, she does not remember the occurrence and thinks she has a hangover.
Later at work, she begins heavily bleeding from her vagina and experiences sensory sensitivity symptoms. Upon visiting her gynaecologist, she is told she may have contracted an STD from heterosexual intercourse, which she insists cannot be possible. She has a groin rash that eventually leads to an array of disgusting symptoms. One such symptom is maggots that begin falling out of her groin area without her noticing. Finally, her body begins to decay in the most unsettling and stomach-churning sequences to date. As one of the best body horror movies to date, do not eat while watching this, as it is incredibly bothersome.
5. Tusk (2014)
This horror comedy was written and directed by Kevin Smith and stars Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, an arrogant podcaster who travels to Canada with his best friend for an interview. Upon arriving, he discovers that the person he was to interview has passed away. However, he is determined to make the most of his trip and tries to find another story. He happens upon a flyer of someone offering a guest room in his home and guaranteed exciting stories. Wallace arrives at the person’s home and discovers it to be a wheel-chair-ridden man named Howard Howe.
Wallace is drugged and awakes the next day, tied up to a chair with his leg amputated. Howard explains that he will create a replica suit of his pet walrus, Mr Tusk, and fit Wallace into it. What follows is a crazy sequence of events wherein the podcaster is mutilated and humiliated, forced to wear the walrus suit as he slowly loses his humanity. The suit is made of human skin, and Howard is believed to be a serial killer. Wallace is subjected to intense psychological and sexual abuse by the man in an alarming manner. It really is hard to see the comedy in this film.
4. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
This supernatural horror serves as one of the best horror films to date. And on top of that, it contains some excellent body horror elements. The movie was directed by André Øvredal and served as his first English-language film. It stars Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox, who play father-and-son coroners that have to perform an autopsy on an unidentified woman’s body. Their morgue is underneath their home, making for a genuinely suffocating watch. As the film progresses, the coroners begin experiencing supernatural phenomena so creepy it will keep you awake for hours.
However, the body horror comes in as they peel away layer after layer of the Jane Doe and slowly realise something is wrong. Her body contains some disturbing things that were better left untouched. This movie is one of the best body horror movies and overall horror movies to date.
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3. Raw (2016)
This French body horror movie contains some of the most gruesome displays of cannibalism. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, it may be the first of her films on this list, but certainly not the last. It stars Garance Marillier as Justine and Ella Rumpf as her sister, Alexia, as they come to terms with their taste for human flesh. The film achieved critical acclaim for its coming-of-age tale of two sisters that have to figure out how to control their hunger.
The movie opens with Justine as she is going away to veterinary school, which her sister is already attending. She arrives and meets her roommate, Adrien, who tells her he is gay. They all are forced to participate in some extremely degrading hazing rituals, and one in particular forces Justine, a vegetarian, to eat a raw kidney. She develops a rash and begins to crave meat. From here on out, Justine engages in bizarre activities, including her and Adrien hooking up despite his sexuality. Justine descends into insanity alongside her sister as they feast on human flesh, eventually leading to Adrien’s death. This is a highly well-done film wherein you can really feel the angst of the main characters.
2. Suspiria (2018)
This supernatural horror film’s main focus may not be body horror, but it does feature one of the most disturbing body disfigurations imaginable. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it sees Dakota Johnson as Susana, the main character, who attends a prestigious dance academy. It also features Tilda Swinton in three different roles, and Swinton does such a good job that you would never be able to tell without reading up on it first. Susana discovers that a coven of witches runs the dance academy through the disappearance of some students.
The entire film feels like a fever dream, including some beautiful dance choreographies and disturbing scenes to contrast. In addition, there are subtle body horror elements, but nothing can prepare you for the nightmare fuel presented near the end.
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1. Titane (2021)
Another critically acclaimed film written and directed by Julia Ducournau is one of the best body horror movies on this list. Starring Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in her feature film debut, the actress did an outstanding job. Alexia had a titanium plate implanted into her head as a child, which led to her odd obsession with vehicles. Fast forward to when she is an adult, Alexia now works as a showgirl at motor shows and showcases the scar on her head in a flamboyant style.
She is harassed by one of her fans after the show and brutally murders him after he tries to force himself on her. After this, in one of the strangest sequences possible, she engages in intercourse with one of the show cars that seemingly turned itself on. After this, she attends a gathering where she attempts intercourse with her co-worker, Justine, but fails when engine oil (?) is secreted from her vagina. Finally, she murders everyone in the house before fleeing.
Again, this is probably the film’s first twenty or thirty minutes as the plot thickens considerably. The body horror comes in when Alexia discovers that she is pregnant from the show car (or at least it is implied that it is the show car). Thus begins the journey of some truly disturbing scenes as the baby grows inside her.
What is the most disturbing body horror movie you have ever seen?