Copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
Body horror is a subtype of the horror genre that is based upon the fear that something may be amiss with one’s body or with some portion of one’s body. Such horror often produces fear or revulsion concerning various anatomical parts, especially those that are deformed, diseased, crippled, amputated, torn off, eaten, or otherwise injured or removed. The late 1950’s and early 1960’s featured what could be considered a precursor to this sub-genre. In these early body horror films, the body parts--heads, hands, and eyes--are given unnatural lives of their own, as the result of alien intervention or the use of human technology. As bad as the current crop of body horror films sometimes are, their precursors are worse still--so bad, they’re good.
What makes a movie so bad, it’s good? Clichés. Predicable (or incomprehensible) plots. Overacting. Unintentional humor. Cheap sets. Horrible costumes. Tawdry special effects. Terrible music. Ludicrous incidents (snakes in a toilet, human communication with animals, attacks by giant bug-eyed monsters). An all-too-earnest tone. Gaffs and goofs. Situations that invite sarcasm and parody. Melodrama instead of drama. Incompetent protagonists. Campy villains. Corny dialogue. In short, despite their sheer stupidity (or maybe because of it), such movies are entertaining. In a few rare instances, they may also not only teach one how not to make a movie (or how not to write such a story), but they also may prefigure a sub-genre, such as body horror, that is yet to come, as do The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, The Crawling Hand, and The Crawling Eye.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die ( 1962) features Dr. Bill Cortner’s attempt to keep his fiancée, Jan Compton, alive after she’s decapitated in a car crash. Using the latest in 1962 technology (a fluid-filled tray), the scientist manages to revive her head and keep it alive while he seeks a suitably shapely body to attach to it. He finds a woman with a beautiful anatomy but a scarred face. Promising to remove the scar free of charge, the doctor lures her to his house, gives her a drink that renders her unconscious, and takes her to his downstairs lab to decapitate her and attach her body to Jan’s head. However, Jan does not want to live in such a manner, and, using telepathic powers she’s acquired as a result of having been marinated in the fluid-filled tray, she commands a mutant in her ex-future hubby’s lab to kill the mad scientist, and, after the ogre carries the unconscious damsel in distress to safety, the lab, the house, the scientist, and Jan’s head are incinerated in the fire that the mutant starts. Note: The Brain That Wouldn't Die is in the public domain and may be downloaded, free, at Internet Archives.
In The Crawling Hand: Five Fingers of Death (1963), a space capsule is blown up as it orbits the earth. Among the resulting debris that falls to earth is the arm of the astronaut who’d been aboard the capsule. While it had still been part of the astronaut aboard the capsule, it (and the rest of the astronaut as well, one may presume) was possessed by an alien life form. When the arm recovers, perhaps guided (or misguided) by the alien, it starts life anew as The Crawling Hand, murdering a young man whose mind it possesses.
In The Crawling Eye (also known as The Tollenberg Terror) (1958), extraterrestrials invade a remote Swiss resort near the Tollenberg Mountains, decapitating some people and transforming others into zombies. Traveling under the cover of a strange, ground-bound, radioactive cloud, the cloaked invaders maintain telepathic communication with their victims. Humanity’s could-be savior is a young psychic, Anne Pilgrim, who travels through Europe with her older sister Sarah, performing a mind-reading act. However, there’s another possible hero in the mix in the person of the alcoholic United Nations troubleshooter Alan Brooks.
A more recent horror movies that features an animated body part is more daring. Teeth doesn’t present viewers with a crawling eye, a crawling hand, or even a brain that won’t die. The monster in this movie is a vagina dentata --or, in plain English, a vagina with teeth. Women may feel empowered by this latest twist on body horror, but castration anxiety is likely to make men avoid the film--and its monster--at all costs. Besides, with a plot like that, it has to be a chick flick.