In the annals of horror cinema, few names have left an indelible mark as profoundly as David Cronenberg. Often hailed as the master of body horror, Cronenberg has pushed the boundaries of the genre with his unique brand of disturbing, visceral storytelling. His films explore themes of identity, transformation, and the limits of human perception, resulting in an unforgettable cinematic experience. As a fledgling, I accidentally watched my first Cronenberg at the age of five (The Brood) while staying at my aunt’s house. This is a story for another day, but I will say this: That experience left me with nightmares and a realization that I was an indestructible voyeur who could safely watch horror from a distance, and so deal with my fears in a cathartic manner. Cronenberg is, therefore, an important part of my genesis and evolution as a horror fan, hence this post. Join me as we delve into five fan-favorite David Cronenberg horror films – The Fly, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, and The Dead Zone – offering detailed synopses and explaining why each stands out as a masterpiece of horror. Let’s dive in!
The Fly (1986)
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
The Fly, arguably Cronenberg’s most famous work (and the Longbox of Darkness’ favorite horror flick of all time), stars Jeff Goldblum as eccentric scientist Seth Brundle, who inadvertently transforms himself into a grotesque human-fly hybrid after a teleportation experiment goes awry. Geena Davis delivers a powerful performance as Veronica, a journalist who falls for Brundle and becomes entangled in his tragic metamorphosis.
The Fly is a masterful blend of psychological and body horror, as Cronenberg delves into Brundle’s transformation’s emotional and physical consequences. The film’s gruesome special effects and Goldblum’s haunting performance create a deeply unsettling atmosphere that lingers long after the credits roll. The Fly stands out for its poignant exploration of human vulnerability and the consequences of playing God, making it a must-watch for any horror aficionado.
The Brood (1979)
“Go away! The patient is dangerous! She’s disturbed! She can be violent!”
LOD’s very first horror film! The bloody fingerprints of a rage-baby after a particularly gruesome murder scene involving a meat tenderizer in a kitchen still reverberate in my nightmares to this day. The Brood delves into the dark recesses of the human psyche as Cronenberg tells the story of a woman named Nola (Samantha Eggar), who undergoes a radical experimental therapy that unleashes her repressed rage in the form of murderous mutant offspring. Oliver Reed stars as Dr. Hal Raglan, the controversial therapist behind the dangerous treatment, while Art Hindle plays Nola’s estranged husband, who must protect their daughter from her deadly progeny.
The Brood’s chilling premise is matched by its unsettling visuals and atmospheric tension. Cronenberg’s masterful storytelling and Eggar’s chilling performance make this film a terrifying exploration of the mind’s capacity for darkness. The Brood is a favorite for its unflinching portrayal of psychological trauma and its disturbing consequences, leaving viewers with a lingering sense of unease.
“We’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do it to the whole world.”
Cue the exploding heads! In Scanners, Cronenberg introduces us to a world where individuals with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, known as “scanners,” are hunted by a sinister corporation seeking to harness their powers. The film follows Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a scanner on the run who is enlisted to stop a rogue scanner, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), from executing his malevolent plans.
Scanners stands out for its intense action sequences, groundbreaking special effects, and Michael Ironside’s menacing performance. The film’s iconic head-exploding scene remains one of the most shocking moments in horror history. Scanners is a thrilling and thought-provoking journey into psychic warfare, showcasing Cronenberg’s knack for creating captivating narratives with complex characters.
“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”
Videodrome is a surreal and disturbing tale of media manipulation and the blurring of reality and fantasy. The film follows Max Renn (James Woods), a sleazy cable-TV programmer who stumbles upon a mysterious broadcast signal called “Videodrome,” which features graphic violence and torture. As Renn becomes increasingly obsessed with the signal, he begins to experience hallucinations and body transformations, ultimately discovering a sinister conspiracy behind the broadcast.
Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a chilling commentary on the power of media and its potential to corrupt the mind. The film’s nightmarish visuals and unsettling narrative make it a classic example of Cronenberg’s trademark body horror, with Woods’ compelling performance adding to the film’s unnerving atmosphere. Videodrome is a favorite for its thought-provoking themes and ability to provoke a visceral reaction from viewers, making it a quintessential Cronenberg experience.
The Dead Zone (1983)
“The ice… is gonna… break!”
Based on the novel by Stephen King, The Dead Zone tells the story of Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a schoolteacher who awakens from a five-year coma with psychic abilities. Johnny can foresee a person’s future by touching them, and he struggles to understand the implications of his newfound powers. When he predicts a catastrophic event orchestrated by an ambitious politician (Martin Sheen), Johnny faces a moral dilemma: use his powers to prevent the tragedy or accept the consequences of interfering with fate.
The Dead Zone is a unique entry in Cronenberg’s filmography, blending supernatural thriller elements and psychological horror. Walken’s mesmerizing performance as the tormented protagonist and Cronenberg’s skillful adaptation of King’s novel makes The Dead Zone an engaging and suspenseful journey into the depths of human morality. The film’s exploration of destiny, free will, and personal responsibility make it a favorite among fans of both Cronenberg and King.
“Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” – David Cronenberg.
David Cronenberg’s unique brand of body horror (coupled with a hefty dose of psychological horror) has left an indelible mark on the genre, offering viewers a deeply unsettling and thought-provoking cinematic experience. From The Fly’s grotesque transformation to Videodrome’s nightmarish world, Cronenberg’s films continue to captivate and horrify audiences, solidifying his status as a master of horror.
Each of these five films – The Fly, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, and The Dead Zone – showcases Cronenberg’s exceptional storytelling, unforgettable visuals, and thought-provoking themes, making them essential viewing for horror fans and cinephiles alike. In the near future, keep a lookout for a follow-up to this post, where we’ll feature the films Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996), eXistenz (1999), A History of Violence (2005), and Crimes of the Future (2022).
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and sample some Cronenberg. That is, IF you have the stomach for it 😉