Tainted Love: The Best Venereal Horror Movies

Horror movies prey upon our fears, whether directly (being chased by an axe-wielding maniac) or indirectly (like The Shining‘s representation of alcoholism and obsession). David Cronenberg said, “I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontation,” and as the Godfather of Body Horror he knows a thing or two about slimy, icky messes that can turn your stomach. Everyone brings their personal history into a film, which may be why the visceral thrills of the horror genre often appeal most to young people – they’ve yet to experience many of life’s true horrors. The masters of the genre know how to exploit these fears to great effect, and in honour of Valentine’s Day here are 5 examples of The Best Venereal Horror Movies:

Shivers Movie

5. Shivers (1975) Dir: David Cronenberg

Cronenberg’s button-pushing was evident from the start with his full-length feature film Shivers. Many of the Canadian director’s obsessions were already in place: mutation of the body, venereal diseases, parasites, and a clinical eye towards copious nudity and gory violence. Taking place in a Quebec apartment complex, it details the story of a mad doctor who’s unleashed a sexually transmitted parasite in the hopes of re-connecting humanity to its baser instincts. Notable for inserting overt social commentary into low-budget horror and enraging Canadian taxpayers (who partially funded it through tax dollars from a nascent Telefilm Canada), Shivers announced a major talent who later fulfilled that early promise.

Starry Eyes Movie

4. Starry Eyes (2014) Dirs: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starry Eyes begins as an unremarkable mumblecore story about striving young actors in L.A. and then takes a turn towards the revolting after establishing its characters. Alex Essoe gives a committed performance as Sarah, a keen young woman with an unrelenting ambition to be a movie star. Once she submits to the proverbial “casting couch” by sleeping with a high-powered producer her body begins to rebel and break down in truly disturbing ways. A trenchant critique of the shallowness of Hollywood that casts decision makers as literal Satanists, Starry Eyes has dark fun with the casting couch trope and features enough dripping black goo, writhing maggots, and general grossness in its third act to earn its place on this list. (full review here)

Teeth Movie

3. Teeth (2007) Dir: Mitchell Lichtenstein

The feminist parable Teeth explores a most peculiar folk tale, that of the “vagina dentata“. Jess Weixler stars as Dawn, an abstinent teen hiding a dark secret. It’s an over-the-top dark comedy that posits most male characters as debased abusers and even has some latent sex shaming amidst its mixed messages. But set aside all that and it does speak to a certain level of empowerment and pride over one’s own body, and has some truly shocking imagery to go along with it. At the very least it’s a good jump off point for some heated discussion about gender roles. Goofy, gory and certainly one-of-a-kind, Teeth will make you wince in pain as Dawn single-handedly makes eunuchs out of half the men in her town.

Cabin Fever Movie

2. Cabin Fever (2002) Dir: Eli Roth

Eli Roth’s debut Cabin Fever rode a wave of hype and delivered heartily with novel shocks and gore wrapped up in a film that was a clear ode to horror’s transgressive past. The germ of the idea came from Roth’s own experience with a flesh eating-type disease he contracted, lending a queasy hint of realism to the movie’s illicit thrills. Combining the basic cabin-in-the-woods premise with a communicable disease that disintegrates the body in horrific ways, Cabin Woods makes the most of its small budget and crams in enough odd characters, disturbing practical effects, and just plain weirdness (Pancakes! Dr. Mambo!) to make it a midnight movie classic. And like the best horror movies, it touches upon enough fears (STDs, backwoods hicks, contaminated drinking water) to make viewers wary of many worthwhile pursuits (sex, camping, drinking water to stay alive).

The Fly Movie

1. The Fly (1986) Dir: David Cronenberg

The Fly is ostensibly about genetic mutation and science gone mad, boasting some of the most purely disturbing images in this or any other genre. Cronenberg’s remake of the 1958 film also features a healthy dose of sexual dysfunction and was notable upon its release for a prolonged abortion sequence that infuriated censors. Jeff Goldblum stars as Seth Brundle, a scientist working on a matter teleporter who inadvertently combines his DNA with that of a common housefly. As his humanity falls away (literally – nails peel off, hair falls out, and much, much worse), he becomes the “Brundlefly”, a grotesque hybrid of man and insect; a monster created by his own hubris. The end sequence has the most wowing effects and will haunt all those who see it, but the mid-film abortion sequence was ground breaking for 1986 and preyed upon fears of parasitic entities with great effect, and was helped immeasurably by a genuinely great actress (Geena Davis) as Seth’s girlfriend. Those fears would come to pass in the Cronenberg-less (and lesser overall) sequel The Fly II which opened with a terrifying birth scene. As the ultimate in Venereal Horror and a masterpiece in any estimation, Cronenberg’s The Fly succeeds in getting under your skin and staying there, like an unwanted infection.

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