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The “body horror” genre in movies isn’t really for everyone. The movies tend to be gory and violent, dripping with liquids and more often than not, there will be a human body exploding somewhere along the way. These movies deal with issues of science gone wrong, parasitic invasions of our bodies, self-mutilation and transformation, and disease. Sometimes these changes are self-imposed, and the transformation is part of a will to seek revenge or evolve the human body into something better, or just different. As early as the 1950’s we have seen movies like THE FLY or THE BLOB show us, in frightening ways, how our bodies can be easily taken over through science or alien life forms. In the 1960’s, we saw movies like ROSEMARY’S BABY show us the horrors of the unknown growing inside of you, or Georges Franju’s terrifying EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which showcased the evils of science.  But the genre really didn’t start to pick up until the mid 70’s, with films like David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, RABID and William Sach’s THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN. The genre has since spread out to contemporary horror author’s like Clive Barker, and even the video game world has some decent entries (maybe Cronenberg saw that one coming after all).

As TIFF begins to showcase a retrospective of our Canadian body horror master, David Cronenberg, a sidebar program will also run which will showcase not only the best of the genre, but some lesser known films by directors that Cronenberg has influenced. Aptly named, Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror, gets it’s name from Cronenberg’s 1979 film, THE BROOD, and it all begins with Ken Russell’s brilliant 1980 film, ALTERED STATES.


William Hurt is ALTERED STATES

If you’ve never seen ALTERED STATES, or aren’t too familiar with the body horror genre, this is the most excellent starting point. Once you’ve seen the film, it’s easy to see why. In his debut role, William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, a brilliant scientist who begins to experiment with isolation tanks as a way of reaching a higher state of consciousness. He begins to have hallucinations but is craving something more, when he hears about a certain drug in Mexico that is used during traditional rituals and is reported to send its user into enhanced experiences. Blending both the mysterious Mexican drug and his isolation tank, Eddie begins to devolve into a primitive state of being, and begins to wonder if the hallucinations are following him out of the tank, or wether they are actually real.

Russell, who is known for his wildly controversial and highly sought after film, THE DEVILS, as well as The Who’s TOMMY, gives us, in what is my opinion, the single best film of his career with ALTERED STATES. It is a psychedelic trip of a movie with loads of bizarre visuals and a killer ape-creature, but the most odd part is that it never actually seems odd as a viewing experience. It is so well directed and the narrative is so strong that what we see, seems to make sense. But of course much of that is my bias towards William Hurt, his brilliant acting and his always fascinating delivery of his lines. This film is loud, bizarre and deserves to be seen on the big screen in all it’s audio-visual glory.

Other films screening in the series include TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, a late 80’s cyperpunk tale of revenge that I remember making its way into certain circles in the 90’s, mostly with the industrial and body modification communities. The music is heavy, the transformations are grotesque and it’s entirely weird; think David Lynch directing a Skinny Puppy music video.



One of the greatest treats in this series is Panos Cosmatos’ sci-fi thriller BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, which is one of the most visually stunning and perplexing Canadian indie films to ever come along. It follows the story of a young girl as she undergoes various treatments in the Arboria Institute where she lives. Audiences are treated to bewildering and beautiful visuals, accompanied by a pulsating electro soundtrack. It’s the type of movie that doesn’t make sense along the way, but the journey is absolutely worth it in every aspect. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, simply put, is a mind blowing film.

And one of the best cheesy 80’s films that is actually good, and not in the “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of way either, is Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY. Yuzna who is known for BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR and BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, directed this film back in 1989, about a young boy named Bill (Billy Warlock), who begins to have suspicions about the upper-crust California community he lives in. Chalk full of paranoia, incest, bodies melding together and talking heads in orifices, the final scene is one that viewers won’t soon forget.

Also screening is the completely weird, low-budget, Aussie horror film, BODY MELT, Brian De Palma’s SISTERS and of course, John Carpenter’s terrifying sci-fi creature feast, THE THING.

For full listings and information, visit


John Carpenter’s THE THING

Films in Psychoplasmic Panic! Cronenberg and the Rise of Body Horror.


Dir. Ken Russell

Saturday November 2 10:00 PM



Dir. Tetsuo Shinya Tsukamoto

Saturday November 9 10:00 PM



Dir. Panos Cosmatos

Sunday November 10 7:00 PM



Dir. Marina de Van

Saturday November 16 10:00 PM



Dir. Philip Brophy

Sunday November 17 7:15 PM



Dir. Andrzej Zulawski

Saturday November 23 10:00 PM



Dir. James Gunn

Saturday November 30 10:00 PM



Dir. Brian De Palma

Saturday December 7 10:00 PM



Dir. Brian Yuzna

Saturday December 14 10:00 PM



Dir. John Carpenter

Saturday December 21 10:00 PM

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