Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us C is for Cronenberg! Horror, by its very nature, is transgressive, and nobody does film transgression like Canada’s David Cronenberg. Since 1975, nearly every single film Cronenberg has written and/or directed has done everything in its power to push the viewer into the most uncomfortable psychic spaces, regardless of whether or not the films are overtly horror. But since this is the ABCs of Horror, let’s take a look at the examples of Cronenberg’s horror output that every fan of the genre should experience. Going back to the very beginning, Shivers was Cronenberg’s first feature film (released in the US as They Came from Within) and from its opening scene, the director established himself as a filmmaker more than willing to confront the viewer with scenes of sexualized violence designed to elicit uncomfortable reactions. In this film, a scientist develops an experimental parasite designed to combat humanity’s over-reliance on rationality and suppression of physical instincts. The film takes place in a sterile “modern” apartment complex — an isolated community that serves as a stand-in for the world at large. As the wormlike parasites spread their combination of violent hostility and sexual hunger, Cronenberg’s distant stylistic perspective allows the scene to play out without judgment. These aren’t the mindless zombies of Romero’s apocalypse and in the end, while sex-crazed, the infected are not seen as irrational monsters. If anything, they may be the cure to the mind-body split that Dr. Hobbes was trying to combat. It’s easy to see why this film disturbed and outraged audiences. 1977’s Rabid continued this trend, as Cronenberg cast porn star Marilyn Chambers as a woman critically injured in a motorcycle crash. Her treatment, another experimental medical procedure, saves her life, but with an unforeseen complication: a phallic organ with a stinger develops in her armpit. The stinger is designed to feed on the blood of victims while also erasing their memory of the assault. Eventually the victims transform into rabid zombies (sort of), plunging society into chaos. Is it any wonder that he was called the King of Venereal Horror? Cronenberg’s third horror film moved from the carnal to the more familial, but was no less horrifying and disturbing. The Brood (1979) was influenced by the director’s own custody battle over his daughter with his first wife, and tells the story of a series of murders apparently being committed by a group of children; hideous monster children. The success of his earlier films allowed Cronenberg the opportunity to work with a bigger name actor this time around, and Oliver Reed took on the role of Dr. Hal Raglan, a psychotherapist using an experimental treatment called “Psychoplasmics” (which, for the trivia-minded out there, was very nearly the name of this website while we were in the planning stages!), that helps patients let go of suppressed emotions through physiological changes to their bodies. One of his patients, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is going through a custody battle with her husband and there’s a strange connection between her treatment and the murders. That’s all I’ll say about that, but if you’ve not seen this film, just know that it features one of the most disturbing images in the history of modern horror. You have been warned. The Eighties saw a shift in subject matter for Cronenberg, beginning with 1981’s Scanners. This film was more science fiction than horror, focusing on rival groups of psychics and served as something of a precursor to other contemporary superhero films of a similar nature, like Push, Leaper, or even X-Men. Lacking the overt sexual content of his previous horror films, Scanners became Cronenberg’s most profitable film, and allowed him to stretch his creative legs for his next two films, both of which were released in 1983. First came Videodrome, Cronenberg’s most ambitious film yet. It starred James Woods and Deborah Harry with Woods playing the CEO of a small television station who stumbles across a pirate video signal broadcasting scenes of torture and murder. But that’s just scratching the surface. Videodrome becomes a hallucinatory tale of revolution and mind control, finding just the right balance between sexualized body horror and science fiction attempts to change the world. All with James Woods caught in the middle, slowly losing his mind. It’s a groundbreaking film on any number of levels, not least of which is the way that it plays with reality, shifting characters in and out of hallucinations until nobody is sure what’s real and what’s a dream. Disorientation is practically guaranteed while watching and the film almost feels like it is infecting the viewer, undermining reality and indoctrinating us into the politics of the characters. There’s a kind of dream logic at work in the film that helps to cement it as one of the greatest mind-fucks of modern horror cinema. Later that year, Cronenberg moved into a whole new realm of public awareness with his adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Dead Zone. This film was ambitious for Cronenberg in a very different way than Videodrome had been. Aside from the strange blip on his filmography that was 1979’s Fast Company (a straight action drama about drag racers!?!), The Dead Zone would be his most accessible film to that point. King’s novel was about a school teacher, played here by Christopher Walken, who is in a car accident and wakes five years later from his coma to discover that not only did the woman he love move on and start a family with another man, but when he touches someone, he now gets psychic glimpses into their pasts, presents, and futures. It’s a very straight-forward narrative, and Walken is excellent as Johnny Smith, working his way through depression, assisting the police in tracking down a murderer, and ultimately getting a glimpse of an apocalyptic future after shaking the hand of Senatorial candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen). While it wasn’t a huge hit, it was extremely well-received, and is without a doubt one of the best Stephen King film adaptations to this day. His next film, the last overt horror film on his resume and the last film in our discussion, seemed to have everything that made a Cronenberg film Cronenbergian: disgusting body transformations, sexual obsessions, mad science, violent murder, a doomed hero, and lost love. The Fly (1986) is a remake of the classic 1958 science fiction film starring Vincent Price as the scientist who swaps heads with a fly. Cronenberg’s take on the story, built on a spec script and produced by none other than Mel Brooks, cast Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, a scientist working on a way to transmit matter from one place to another. After teleporting himself (without realizing that a fly was along for the ride), he begins the slow transformation into a man-sized fly. The transformation scenes are revoltingly believable — brilliant triumphs of practical effects work — and Goldblum is perfectly cast as the oddball scientist who thinks he’s becoming a superman before things go very very wrong. Amazingly, The Fly was a perfect storm of inspiration and execution, becoming Cronenberg’s most critically acclaimed film and the biggest grossing film he’s directed to this day. The metaphorical heart of the film, dealing with disease, aging, and death, captured the imaginations of critics and audiences and the film was easily seen as a commentary on the AIDS crisis. This, combined with the tragic love story and the amazing effects make it one of the most impressive pieces of work in Cronenberg’s catalog. Cronenberg’s post-Fly films never quite veer back into pure horror the way he consistently did up to 1986, but that doesn’t mean that he abandoned challenging the comfort levels of his audience. Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), eXistenZ (1999), and Spider (2002) in particular are great examples of virtuoso filmmaking that refuses to compromise artistic vision. And even his most mainstream work, A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007), and Cosmopolis (2012) tell stories that while being more accessible to audiences are no less unflinching in their honesty and exploration of obsession, violence, and identity. Even when it’s not Schlocktober. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response 31 Days of Halloween 2015: Day 17 - The Brood - Psycho Drive-In October 17, 2015 […] Brood 1979, Canada. Written and directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Cindy […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.