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Body horror, biological horror, organic horror or visceral horror is horror fiction in which the horror is principally derived from the unnatural graphic transformation, degeneration or destruction of the physical body.[1] Such works may deal with decay, disease, deformity, parasitism, mutation or mutilation. Other types of body horror include unnatural movements or the anatomically incorrect placement of limbs to create "monsters" from human body parts. David Cronenberg, Frank Henenlotter, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon, Lloyd Kaufman, and Clive Barker are notable directors of this genre. The term body horror was coined with the "Body Horror" theme issue of the University of Glasgow film journal Screen (vol. 27, no. 1, January–February 1986), which contains several essays on the subject.

Notable films and television series

Film/TV series Year Notes
Akira 1988
Alien franchise 1979–present [2]
Altered States 1980
American Mary 2012 [3]
The Howling 1981
An American Werewolf in London 1981
Annihilation 2018
Antiviral 2012 [3]
Antlers 2021
Are We Not Cats 2016
Art of the Devil 2004 as well as its 2005 and 2008 sequels.
Audition 1999
The Autopsy of Jane Doe 2016
The Hidden 1987
Baby Blood 1990
Bad Taste 1987
Baskin 2015
The Beach House 2019 [4]
The Beast Within 1982
Beetlejuice 1988
Bite 2015
Black Swan 2010
Blade 1998 as well as its 2002 sequel Blade II.
The Blob 1958 including its 1972 sequel Beware! The Blob and 1988 remake The Blob.
Blue My Mind 2017 [5]
Body Melt 1993
Book of Blood 2009
Jason Goes to Hell 1993
The Brain 1988
The Kiss 1988
Brain Damage 1988 [4]
Braindead 1992
Cabin Fever 2002
Candyman 1992
Carnosaur 1993
Carriers 2009
Closet Monster 2015 After witnessing a gay bashing death in which the victim was impaled through the stomach with a metal rod, a closeted gay teenager hallucinates metal rods threatening to poke out of his own body whenever he confronts his own sexuality.[6]
Clown 2014
Contracted 2013 and Contracted: Phase II, released in 2015.
Crimes of the Future 2022
Cronos 1993
Deadgirl 2008
Deadpool 2016 Based on the comic book character of the same name. When Wade Wilson has cancer, he undergoes an experiment that leaves him covered in burn-like scars.
Dead Ringers 1988 [3]
Demon Seed 1977
Devilman 1972–1973
Devilman Crybaby 2018
District 9 2009
Dread 2009
Eraserhead 1977 [5]
Event Horizon 1997
Evil Dead franchise 1981–present
Excision (film) 2012
eXistenZ 1999
Phantoms 1998
The Faculty 1998
The X-Files 1993
The Outer Limits 1963 and the 1995 remake.
The Fly 1958 and its 1959 and 1965 sequels, the 1986 remake, and the 1989 sequel to the remake.[7]
Freaked 1993
Friend of the World 2020 [8]
From Beyond 1986 [5]
Dreamcatcher 2003
Get Out 2017
Ginger Snaps 2000
Gozu 2003
The Green Inferno 2013
The Hands of Orlac 1960
Hellraiser franchise 1987–present
Horns 2013
Horrors of Spider Island 1960
Hostel 2005 and its 2007 and 2011 sequels.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) 2009 and its 2011 and 2015 sequels.
Ichi the Killer 2001
Idle Hands 1999
In My Skin 2002
The Incredible Melting Man 1977 [2]
Infection 2004 [4]
Inseminoid 1980
It Follows 2014
Invader Zim 2001–06
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 as well as the 1956 original, Body Snatchers, and The Invasion.
Jacob's Ladder 1990
Kamillions 1989
Killer Condom 1996
The Killing of a Sacred Deer 2017
The Kindred 1987
Kuso 2017
Leviathan 1989
Life 2017
Lifeforce 1985
Made In Abyss 2017 Later episodes contain graphic depictions of transformation/mutation due to the "curse of the abyss."
Manborg 2011
Marianne 2011
Martyrs 2008 [3]
May 2002
Meatball Machine 2005
Mimic 1997
Naked Lunch 1991
Naked Blood 1991
Neon Genesis Evangelion 1995–96
The Nest 1988
A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise 1984–present
Night of the Creeps 1986
Nope 2022
Old 2021 based on the graphic novel Sandcastle
One-Eyed Monster 2008 This crossover spoofs the films Jaws and The Thing.
Overlord 2018
Parasyte 2014
Phantoms 1998
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead 2006
Possession 1981
Possessor 2020 [3]
Planet Terror 2007
Prince of Darkness 1987
Prophecy 1979
PG: Psycho Goreman 2020
The Quatermass Xperiment 1955 based on the 1953 BBC Television serial The Quatermass Experiment
Fiend Without a Face 1958
The H-Man 1958
X the Unknown 1956
Raw 2016
Rabid 1977 as well its 2019 remake.
Re-Animator 1985 and its 1990 and 2003 sequels.[2]
The Relic 1997
Repo! The Genetic Opera 2008
Repo Men 2010
Return of the Living Dead 3 1993
RoboCop 1987
Rosemary's Baby 1968 [5]
The Ruins 2008
Saw 2004 and its sequels from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2017, as well as its 2021 sequel spinoff
Scanners 1981 [5]
Shanks 1974
The Shining 1980
Shivers 1975
The Skin I Live In 2011 [3]
Slither 2006
Slugs 1988
Society 1989 [5]
Species 1995 as well as its 1998, 2004 and 2007 sequels
Splice 2009
Splinter 2008
Spookies 1986
Spring 2014
Squirm 1976
Sssssss 1973
Starry Eyes 2014
The Stepford Wives 1975 and its 2004 remake.
Strangeland 1998
Street Trash 1987
The Stuff 1985
Suspiria 2018
Swallow 2019 [4]
Sweet Home 1989
Taxidermia 2006 [9]
Titane 2021
Teeth 2007 [4]
The Terminator 1984
Tetsuo: The Iron Man 1989 [5] and its 1992 and 2010 sequels.
Thanatomorphose 2012
The Thing 1982 and its 2011 prequel[2]
Thinner 1996
Tokyo Ghoul 2011–14
Tokyo Gore Police 2008
The Toxic Avenger 1984 and the two 1989 sequels as well as its 2000 sequel
Tusk 2014
Under the Skin 2013
The Untamed 2016
Upgrade 2018
Venom 2018 Based on the Marvel character of the same name.
The Victim 2011 [3]
Videodrome 1983 [7]
Virus 1999
The Void 2016 [4]
The Wasp Woman 1959
Wishmaster 1997
Xtro 1982
Parasite 3D 1982
Galaxy of Terror 1981
Forbidden World 1982
The Deadly Spawn 1983
Deadly Friend 1986
Alien 2: On Earth 1980
Color Out of Space 2019
The Curse 1987
The Fury 1978

Notable writers

In his introduction to The Mammoth Book of Body Horror, the film director Stuart Gordon says that "Body Horror has been with us since long before there were movies". According to the summary of this anthology, the important writers of Body Horror are :

But others names could be quoted, according to Xavier Aldana Reyes in his book Body Gothic :

Notable graphic novels

Novel Year Description
The Visible Man (2000 AD) 1978–2012 wherein a man suffers a nuclear waste accident, making his internal organs visible.
Akira 1982–90 cyperpunk manga series by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also provided the script for the anime film of the same name, based on the manga
Parasyte 1988–95 wherein human bodies are taken over by parasitic extraterrestrial organisms.
The Invisibles 1994–2000 wherein the human converts of an invading interdimensional force are selected for "modification".
Ed the Happy Clown 1983–2006 wherein the titular character endures having the tip of his penis replaced with the head of Ronald Reagan.
Ruins 1995 wherein the Marvel universe goes horribly wrong, most notably Bruce Banner turning into a pile of tumors (and yet he's still alive).
Black Hole 1995–2005 wherein a sexually transmitted disease gives teenagers in a small town grotesque mutations.
Uzumaki 1998–99 wherein humans distort into spirals.
Saya no Uta 2003–13 wherein the main character Fuminori has agnosia as known as "meat-vision".
Extremis 2005 wherein a virus makes the body re-interpret itself as an open wound, thus forming a scab cocoon around the body.
Animal Man 2011–14 The New 52 ongoing; Animal Man features many body horror elements including grotesque mutations, disease and decomposition of animals, plants and humans alike.
Dorohedoro 2000–18 People are alive due to magic after decapitation, fungi grow from people's bodies, etc.
Hino Horror 1983–2004 Later adapted into the Guinea Pig film series; features transformations and mutilation.
Made in Abyss 2012–present A massive pit causes numerous ailments for returning explorers, depending on depth. Past a certain point, grotesque transformations/mutations or agonizing death are all but certain.
Druuna 1985–present An infectious disease called "the Evil" lets peoples' bodies mutate into various forms which are not necessarily recognisable as humanoid.

Use in video games

In recent years, the subjects of human experimentation, medical research, and infection have played large roles in video games whose plots are heavily influenced by themes common in body horror.

Video Game Year Description
Amnesia: The Dark Descent & Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs 2010 & 2013 The gatherer enemies are deformed human-like monsters; their eyelids are cut off and their bottom jaw is mutilated and stretched down and attached to their chests leaving their mouths permanently open.
BioShock series 2007–2014 Both BioShock and BioShock 2 consist of enemies called Splicers, who were once normal humans that were heavily mutated and driven insane from a drug called ADAM, which they used to re-write their genetic codes to develop "psychic" powers such as telekinesis and pyrokinesis. The game also contains the iconic Big Daddy, which is a man whose skin has been removed, and whose organs have been grafted to the inside of a modified deep-sea diving suit. BioShock Infinite uses a similar premise, although in this case series of compounds called Vigors grant the player extraordinary abilities; however, unlike ADAM they are consumed orally rather than injected. In this game, the Big Daddy has been replaced by the Handyman, a human whose spinal cord, head, and heart have been connected to a steampunk robotic frame with minor effects like psychological trauma.
Bloodborne 2015
Corpse Party series 1996–2021
Dead Space series 2008–present The primary enemies of the series are called Necromorphs, which are mutated humans with protruding appendages, open wounds, and rotting flesh.
Fallout series 1997–present The fallout games take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and as such, many of the enemies and species have physical deformities from the radiation.
Half-Life series 1998–2007 Parasitic monsters known as Headcrabs attach themselves to heads of people and cause them to develop mutations such as elongated claws and gaping jaws in their chests.
Inside 2016 An indie puzzle platformer developed by Playdead. Inside tells the story about a young boy as he struggles against evil forces trying to take over the world. The boy infiltrates a massive facility where scientists perform mind-control and underwater experiments on human bodies.
Lisa: The Painful 2014
The Last of Us Part II 2020

An action adventure/survival horror game set in a post apocalyptic world ravaged by a mutated fungus, transforming humans into hostile creatures with horrific body disfigurements. One such specimen consists of several infected humans fused together by the fungus called the Rat King.

Outlast 2013 A first-person survival horror game in which an investigative journalist explores an asylum housing inmates displaying various degrees of bodily mutilation and/or mutation.
Parasite Eve series 1998–2010 The Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix) video game based on the 1996 Japanese SF horror novel of the same title, was released in 1998. The premise of both the novel and "cinematic RPG" being that the mitochondria, organelles from early aerobic bacteria that formed a symbiotic partnership with cells of most present-day multicellular eukaryotes, e.g. humans, are able to retain their separate identity as independent organisms in the form of cellular parasites. A dispersed intelligence, known as Eve, was able to take over the consciousness of certain individuals to make them reproduce and form an ultimate organism that will bring the downfall of humanity and other creatures alike. She can also turn organisms into monstrous beings.
Resident Evil series 1996–present A pharmaceutical company uses a mutagenic T-Virus in order to produce monsters to sell as weapons. The most basic were zombie versions of whatever organism was infected or giant versions of insects. There are also human/insect and human/reptilian hybrids, malformed super-soldiers called "Tyrants", and various other mutants. Later games introduce, for example, more viruses, parasites like Las Plagas (an ancient parasite which take over nervous systems), and a superfungus called a Mold.
Scorn 2022 A first-person biopunk survival horror adventure game developed by Ebb Software.
Soma 2015 A SF survival horror game developed by Frictional Games.
Struggling 2020 In this game, the player controls Troy, a fleshy creature that resembles two cojoined heads with a pair of long arms, which are used to drag through levels. During the game the player faces other similarly bizarre creatures known as "abomination gods" which serve as the main bosses of the game. The game as a whole has a body horror theme but it goes with a more comical approach and has an atypical cartoon art style.
The Thing 2002 A sequel to the 1982 film The Thing, player follows Captain Blake, a member of a U.S. Special Forces team sent to the Antarctic outpost featured in the film to determine what has happened to the research crew. The enemies encountered come in three main forms. "Scuttlers" are small Things formed from the limbs and appendages of infected personnel. "Walkers" are larger and much stronger than Scuttlers, and finally the Bosses are larger and much more powerful than Walkers.

Use in tabletop gaming

Traditional Game Year Description
Magic: The Gathering 1993–present The basis of Phyrexia, an antagonist faction composed of assimilatory biomechanical undead. The Scars of Mirrodin block in particular focuses on this theme, in which assimilation and infection are emphasised upon, and Phyrexia has branched into all colours of mana, introducing new forms of mutilation.

In the Shadows Over Innistrad block, the gothic horror inspired setting of Innistrad undergoes a transformation; at first marked by subtle mutations in both the human and the already-monstrous living residents, it gruesomely distorts many of the plane's inhabitants in the image of the invading cosmic being, Emrakul.

Warhammer 1983–present Mutation and bodily modification are emphasised upon in the Chaos factions.
Kingdom Death: Monster 2012–present Monsters contain extensive incorporation of human body parts.

See also


  1. ^ Definition of "body horror". Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved November 01, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Horror Film History — Horror Films in the 1980s". Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Jason Faulkner, "25 body horror movies that make our bones hurt". SyFy Wire, January 25, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Adam Symchuk, "10 Films That Explore The World of Body Horror". Screenrant, September 15, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Meagan Navarro, "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: An Intro to Body Horror!". Bloody Disgusting, December 6., 2018.
  6. ^ Kyle Turner, "Trapped in the Closet: “Closet Monster” and Queer Body Horror". Movie Mezzanine, September 21, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Thill, Scott (2009-01-04). "Cronenberg Drifts From Tech Horror, but Shocks Remain". Archived from the original on 2011-12-19. Retrieved 2009-09-09.
  8. ^ Parker, Sean (2022-05-10). "Friend of the World: The Divine Comedy of Body Horror". Horror Obsessive. Retrieved 2023-04-09.
  9. ^ "Taxidermia Review – Read Variety's Analysis Of The Movie Taxidermia". 2006-02-05. Retrieved 2009-09-09.