David Cronenberg is one of the lucky masters of horror to have found mainstream success and has even gained a few Oscar nominations in recent years. He has always been one of the most intellectual and sophisticated horror directors and yet his movies excel in the visceral experience that horror fans come to expect. He’s the thinking man’s splatter artist and even though he hasn’t made a horror film in many years, he will always be one of the best.
5. DEAD RINGERS-
A rarity for Cronenberg, at least in terms of his horror films, Dead Ringers is more psychological horror than body horror, although it could easily be labeled as that as well. The movie sees Jeremy Irons in a dual role as identical twin brothers who operate a gynecological practice. Elliot is the more sadistic and cynical of the two brothers, a womanizer who passes women off to Beverly when he gets bored with them—and the women have no idea. Beverly becomes emotionally attracted to a struggling actress though and begins a genuine relationship with her. The entire film passes off as mostly a power struggle for the two brothers for the actress Claire’s affections. More than that they define themselves by each other and even though they are separate entities they each struggle to become the dominant personality. It’s a subversive and deeply psychological film that operates on an emotional level in a way that not all Cronenberg movies do.
4. THE BROOD-
The Brood was a deeply personal film for Cronenberg, effectively about his own divorce and subsequent custody battle. There is a custody battle at the heart of The Brood but it is a very Cronenbergian one. The protagonist’s wife is in a very controversial and mysterious clinic in which it turns out that the patient’s rage and frustration can be physically personified. The wife is subconsciously creating monstrous versions of her own daughter who then hunt down and kill those who she believes are a threat to her marriage. There are some immensely disturbing sequences in what is otherwise a fairly quiet thriller that elevate it into what has gone on to finally find its audience and gain some recognition as a cult classic.
Shivers was Cronenberg’s first movie and right off the bat showcased not only what kind of director he was, but what kind of director he was going to be. There are traces of his whole career at work in this film. The plot is reasonably straightforward. It’s Night of the Living Dead for the sexual liberation movement. An isolated high-rise apartment building is home to an alien slug that can infect someone and make them violently sexual, which then passes from one person to the next, and the next, and so on. It’s played in many different ways, which makes sense as sexuality itself is so wide, and the lens its viewed through is both emotional and analytical at the same time.
Videodrome is about the CEO of a small cable company named Max Renn who taps into a new show that could really put his company on the map. It’s called “Videodrome” and it appears to be nothing more than snuff TV. People getting tortured, murdered, and probably for real. Investigation into the source of Videodrome only gets stranger and stranger. Exposure to the show causes hallucinations in Max of flesh merging with technology and television. It is not only a movie about our relationship with television but the effect of violent media on the individual—or at least the anticipated effect.
1. THE FLY-
Everything just seemed to work on The Fly. It was unusual territory for Cronenberg at first, a remake of a campy 1950’s monster movie, but he did it. And he not only made it his own, he made it his best. This is no longer a monster movie but is instead a depiction of a slow, creeping physical and mental transformation… or maybe deterioration. He turned a movie about a monster into a movie about disease. It was body horror at the height of AIDS paranoia and it shows. Not to mention the lead performance by Jeff Goldblum is astounding, even under pounds of makeup.