7 toe-curling body horror movies (that aren’t Saw)

As ‘Titane’ hits theatres, watch these seven films at home for a similarly gut-churning thrill.

by Douglas Greenwood
30 September 2021, 8:00am

Still from Rabid.

It’s such a particular kind of visceral thrill seeing your worst bodily nightmares projected onto a movie screen. It can be something as gory as a gigantic gunshot wound to the gut or as simple as a hangnail being tugged too far — when horror veers over into the physical, it can feel like plummeting off the highest peak of a rollercoaster.

Fans of that kind of toe-curling entertainment are in luck: French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s latest project Titane is about to hit US theatres after picking up the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. It was a strange one to win the usually uptight top prize: without spoiling anything, it involves a stripper, a souped-up car, a fire chief with a missing son and a strange pregnancy. It’s a revelatory, high octane masterpiece of cult filmmaking that puts you through it, mainly because of the way it stretches, slices, batters and bursts the skin of its protagonists.

For those who find such experiences exhilarating, there are a number of films like it that will similarly mess you up once you’ve seen them. Here are seven of our top picks.

1. Raw (2015)

Before Julia Ducournau went high concept with Titane, her more grounded, but still unsettling debut feature put her on the map as one to watch. Raw tells the story of a teenage girl going off to college to study veterinary science. She is a staunch vegetarian — hence her chosen career path — but upon tasting raw meat as part of a college initiation, soon develops a rancid, cannibalistic taste for flesh. Julia’s knowledge of the simple things that give human beings the ick is unparalleled. Prepare to feel queasy.

2. Teeth (2007)

The late 00s were a golden age for cult movies coming out of Sundance Film Festival, and it felt like the whole world was paying attention to Teeth at that time. A film that prompted high school hearsay and critical adoration alike, Mitchell Lichtenstein’s directorial debut told the story of high schooler Dawn who, upon being assaulted by a boy in her purity circle, discovers she has ‘vagina dentata’, otherwise known as a vagina with teeth. What happens next you can probably guess: seeking her revenge on the patriarchy, Dawn begins severing male appendages with just a clench of her pelvic floor muscles.

3. Ginger Snaps (2000)

The teen horror resurgence, led by the likes of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, owes a lot of its guts and progressiveness to Ginger Snaps. The Canadian movie follows a pair of sisters obsessed with the idea of a suicide pact. When Ginger, the eldest, is bit by a werewolf on the first night of her period, what ensues is a wild metaphor for the process of puberty told through the lens of a girl growing a tail and developing a thirst for blood. Go off!

4. The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

An infamous cult film, The Incredible Melting Man will instil fear in anyone who has a phobia of space travel. The titular man goes to space to visit Saturn. He’s exposed to a high level of radiation on the journey, thus leading him to develop a thirst for murder and flesh in order to survive, thus causing him to melt. Sounds like a bad fucking day. The movie was originally intended to be humorous, but got chopped up in the editing suite to become more of a horror. Despite the negative reviews, audiences rocked up in their droves to see this, making it a commercial hit.

5. Possession (1981)

Anyone who spent the early 2010s enjoying the pre-messed up Crystal Castles era might remember that the video for the band’s single “Plague” was lifted directly from a psychotic breakdown experienced in the violent, messed up supernatural horror Possession. Released in 1981 and set in West Berlin, it tells the hallucinatory story of a spy returning home to his wife Anna, who delivers the news that she wants a divorce. Overcome by anger at her leaving, he does what all straight men do (trash!): hires a private investigator to track Anna’s every move, assuming that she’s cheating, and swiftly moves on to their son’s school teacher. But the teacher’s resemblance to the woman he just left is uncanny, and soon, feeling the beady eyes of the investigator following her, Anna descends into a violent and thrashing bout of madness.

6. It Follows (2014)

One of the rare low-budget horrors to go onto make decent money at the box office, David Robert Mitchell’s Cannes premiering It Follows is a supernatural horror that allegorically unpacks — if some interpretations are to be believed — the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Jay, played by Maika Monroe, is a teenage girl with a new boyfriend, Hugh. Their typically American high schooler way of hooking up — in the backseat of his car — goes awry when Hugh drugs her and binds her to a wheelchair, telling her that she’s now the carrier of a stalker-ish curse that she needs to pass on to someone else in order to get rid of it herself: a murderous STD that’s manifesting in the form of strange women following her. Come for the immediate scares, leave still processing a thought provoking, cautionary tale.

7. Rabid (1977)

David Cronenberg — widely considered the king of body horror — lay the groundwork for so many of the weird, psychosexual, flesh-eating stories here with his 1977 indie flick, Rabid. Picture this: a motorcyclist goes under the knife after a violent motorcycle accident, awaking to find she’s suddenly grown a blood-sucking appendage under her armpit. To add insult to injury, said appendage only feels quenched by the blood of human beings, and once stung, those human beings transform into zombies. All the while, people are on the hunt for patient zero.

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