Messaging the Monstrous

Body Horror

Jul 31–Aug 6, 2022


Grave (Raw). 2016. France/Belgium. Written and directed by Julia Ducournau. Courtesy of Photofest
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

Threats to the body are a basic element of the horror movie in general, and for many a hardcore fan the gorier and more imaginative the special effects employed to spill blood, the better. With body horror, filmmakers make our physical vulnerability their theme, taking the hyper-graphic spectacle of bodily harm to psychologically unnerving conclusions. Seen by some critics as a postmodern evolution of classical horror motifs, the sub-genre was pioneered by Canadian director David Cronenberg in the 1970s, followed over the ensuing decades by important works from Clive Barker, Frank Henenlotter, Takashi Miike, Eli Roth, and Shinya Tsukamoto.

The clearly metaphorical nature of the gruesome transformations that afflict bodies in Shivers (1975), The Fly (1986), Hellraiser (1987), Brain Damage (1988), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), and Audition (1999) provide keys to interpreting their anatomical horrors beyond mere spectacle. The painful realism that characterizes the new wave of extreme body horror from France, by filmmakers like Marina de Van (In My Skin, 2002) and Julia Ducournau (Raw, 2017), makes for some of the harshest fantasy the genre has offered since the US classics The Last House on the Left (1972) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978). This is work that tests audiences’ limits and attests to the damaging degree of wear and tear afflicting the body politic today.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, and Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, with Caryn Coleman, guest curator.

  • This film series is part of Horror: Messaging the Monstrous.
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