No matter the genre, well-crafted body horror strikes a nerve—or all 7 trillion of them at once. Some special effects are used to show gruesome body modifications you’d never imagine, while others take your worst nightmares and slap them right on screen. Others aren’t exactly gory, but so vivid and uncomfortable you can’t help but squirm anyway.
For a truly cringe-worthy movie night, queue up one of these body horror films or video games.
Note: This post contains spoilers.
- Body Horror Moments in Film
- Body Horror Video Games
Body Horror Moments in Film
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee
To be fair, Stanley Kubrick never shies away from making his audiences uncomfortable, but A Clockwork Orange takes things to a whole new level.
Watching the senseless violence carried out by the main character is one thing, but later, when he is sent to be re-educated—forced to watch incessant videos with his eyelids pried—it’s enough to make anyone wince.
You can rent or purchase it on Amazon Prime.
The Fly (1986)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis
After a teleportation accident goes terribly wrong, scientist Seth Brundle discovers his DNA has merged with that of a fly.
While there’s no shortage of gruesome body horror moments in this cult classic, one of the most memorable is the bathroom scene when Brundle loses his fingernails. Jeff Goldblum’s stunning performance and the incredible practical special effects make this nightmarish scenario all the scarier.
You can stream The Fly on Amazon Prime.
Dead Ringers (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold
Cronenberg strikes again with this disturbing film about identical twins Elliot and Beverly, both played by Jeremy Irons, who work as gynecologists.
Elliot takes advantage of his clients by seducing them, then relinquishing the affair to his twin brother—with the ladies remaining none the wiser.
When one of the brothers begins to lose his mind, the results are enough to put most people off the doctor for quite some time. Though not exactly gory, the surgery scene elicits plenty of squeamishness and terror with skillful tone-setting and writing.
Cabin Fever (2002)
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
After a very sick man infects the local water supply with his flesh-eating illness, some out-of-towner teens on vacation contract the disease.
Body horror scenes abound, but one of the most difficult to stomach is when a girl attempts to shave her legs.
Stream Cabin Fever on Hulu.
The Human Centipede (2009)
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Director: Tom Six
Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams
No media on this list is recommended for the faint of heart, but this one certainly takes the cake in terms of shock value and an utterly repulsive concept.
Vacationing in Germany, two American women get a flat tire and knock on the door of a surgeon for help. He drugs and traps them then reveals his disgusting plan: to create a human centipede by sewing them, along with a third tourist, mouth-to-anus.
The Human Centipede may not have many redeeming qualities, but it is a fantastic example of body horror at its worst (or best, depending on how you want to look at it). Ranking the most horrific scene is tough, although the first feeding will definitely live in your head rent-free for a while—no matter how much you wish it didn’t.
You can watch this film on Amazon Prime.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya
This Spanish-language movie follows the work of a doctor whose wife was tragically burned in a car accident and left for dead. He’s developed a new type of synthetic skin that could be applied in cases of fire or severe injuries.
Though his cause starts off noble, Ledgard deteriorates into madness. He insists on carrying out his experiments on an unwilling participant in the basement of his home, where nothing is as it seems.
The Skin I Live In blends body horror with the twists and tension of a great psychological thriller. It’s difficult to tell at times what makes you more squeamish: the scenes themselves, or the unique and sickening concept each one slowly reveals.
This film is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Malcolm McDowell
The son of David Cronenberg, Brandon proves that he has his father’s taste for body horror with Antiviral.
Right from the start, the movie’s pretty sick. The protagonist works for a company that purchases the germs of ill celebrities. In order to feel closer to the stars they worship, fans pay handsomely for the chance to be infected.
Things start spiraling when the main character steals his company’s germs, incubates them in his own body, then sells them on the black market. Inevitably, one sale doesn’t go quite as planned.
The story gets worse when you find out people also pay for meat generated from celebrities’ cells—yes: to eat. It’s a twisted dystopia, one that’s made all the more horrific when you realize it’s not too far from reality.
You can stream Antiviral on Amazon Prime.
Body Horror Video Games
The Last Of Us (2013)
Developer: Naughty Dog Studios
Starring: Ashley Johnson (Voice), Troy Baker (Voice)
Consoles: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
The Last Of Us has won many awards, along with its sequel. A horrific infection has mutated most of the world’s population. The Cordyceps fungus gives them almost plant-like qualities and turns them into monsters, known as Clickers to the remaining humans.
The worst part is that this fungus actually exists in real life, although it only infects insects…for now.
Darkest Dungeon (2016)
Steam Rating: 9/10
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Starring: Wayne June (Voice)
Consoles: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
In this turn-based RPG, you recruit wandering adventurers in the hopes of finally eradicating the evil monsters lurking underneath your family’s estate.
Though the premise is simple, the monster designs are wonderfully complex and draw inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft at his finest. Some of the seemingly-human monsters suddenly transform into hideous beasts in a cartoonish—yet exceptionally gross—art style.
Whether fantastical in nature or as common as one’s teeth falling out, skillful body horror moments can stick with you long after you forget the rest of the plot.
It’s not enough to be gross: these scenes have to disturb the audience in a visceral way, and leave them so uncomfortable they can’t help but watch, wonder, and wince.