David Cronenberg: Visceral - CineMania - Home Of The B-Movie Fan

Go to content

Main menu:


David Cronenberg is a rare bird. A Canadian filmmaker, he’s shunned Hollywood for his entire 51-year career, opting instead to work on independent projects often financed by the Canadian Government, by way of Telefilm Canada. David Cronenberg is sort of the Dead Kennedys to John Carpenter’s The Ramones; he never truly sold out, but he also never fully got over with the masses. He occupies this strange space of being both very well-known and critically respected, while not having any true single legacy work.

While Carpenter will always have Halloween as his “Blitzkrieg Bop”, The Thing as his “I Wanna Be Sedated”, and They Live as his “The KKK Took My Baby Away”; David Cronenberg has a far less polished filmography. Cronenberg's early films, like Rabid (1977) or The Brood (1979), are dark & heavy masterpieces of horror-- though they didn’t influence the next decade as heavily as Carpenter’s films, or Romero’s, or even Ridley Scott’s for that matter. While these other guys were setting the tone for the 1980s and “packing the Fillmore” (so-to-speak) with their popcorn horror, David Cronenberg was a lone virtuoso choosing to rock CBGBs instead. I’m dropping this metaphor before it confuses somebody (me).
Cronenberg’s unique style has been described as “body horror”, but that doesn’t really do it for me. It’s reductive. His style can’t just be boiled down to “he puts weird prosthetics on people”. That’s like calling Guillermo Del Toro a director of “monster movies”-- it’s not wrong, but it’s not really accurate, either. What David Cronenberg does, better than anyone else, is build a world where everything is logical, no matter how unnatural it appears.

In his films, a mild-mannered cook at a small-town diner can be a master assassin. He leads you up a logic-ladder that ends with men controlling each other’s minds until their heads literally explode. He can convince you that a man really can turn into a human-fly hybrid, while making you cringe instead of laugh. He makes you believe that a gorgeous porn star has a little red blood-sucker tucked in her armpit.

Okay, so I giggled a little bit at that one.

The most interesting thing about David Cronenberg’s films, is that they never hesitate to make the audience feel uncomfortable. In an age where everyone is trying to find their “safe space” and avoid feeling triggered by upsetting media, I think it’s a valuable experiment to watch Cronenberg’s movies. His deliberate pace, odd electronic scores, and disturbing visuals (combined with an almost zen-like patience to drag out a scene) can really put you on edge.

If you’re only accustomed to today’s cookie-cutter Hollywood films and find everything oh-so-predictable, then I feverishly demand that you strap in for a Cronenberg classic, let’s say Videodrome (1983), and commit to finishing it in one sitting. I’m not a squeamish person by any means, having witnessed actual surgeries on both living people and cadavers, but even I can feel my stomach churn during some of David Cronenberg’s more visceral scenes. It’s not the gore, really, because gore flicks never look real enough to be disconcerting. It’s that his effects are so organic, even the non-bloody bits are disturbing.

I’m only a little upset about the gaping stomach-hole, but I’m VERY creeped out by James Woods’ hairy nipples.
David Cronenberg has said that his films should be seen “from the point of view of the disease”. Because he views a genetic mutation as an opportunity for personal transformation, he doesn’t feel the need to repeal it in the third act. Most movies will put their heroes in peril, only to save them at the last moment... but not Cronenberg. No, no, no! Cronenberg sees it for what it is: evolution.

It’s not always a physical transformation, either. In Crash (1996), the characters who have been injured in car crashes don’t try to restore their lives to normal. Instead, they view their trauma as a fertilizer for who they can become. They then repeat their trauma over and over again, seeking not just thrills-- but reformation. It’s this unique perspective shift that provides a valuable lesson for us today; we should not always be so interested in rewinding our lives to a more comfortable place, we should instead embrace the perils and pitfalls that have brought us to the precipice of mortality and allow those so-called weaknesses to become our strengths.

David Cronenberg’s films aren’t mindless enjoyment for the masses, but instead a form of therapy for the twisted and deranged.

As always, you can buy any of the films below from our Amazon Associate links. We’d really appreciate it as CineMania is a labor of love, with no ads whatsoever and completely free of all corporate interference and tyranny. Every click helps offset our server costs!

Stereo (1969)

Starring: Ronald Mlodzik, Paul Mulholland, Jack Messinger

Plot: Sometime in the future, the Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry is investigating the theories of parapsychologist Luther Stringfellow. Seven young adults volunteer to submit to a form of brain surgery that removes their power of speech but increases their power for telepathic communication.

 Stereo<br/>(1969) on IMDb

Crimes Of The Future (1970)

Starring: Ronald Mlodzik, Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty

Plot: Crimes of the Future details the wanderings of Tripod (Mlodzik), sometime director of a dermatological clinic called the House of Skin, who is searching for his mentor, the mad dermatologist Antoine Rouge.

 Crimes of the Future<br/>(1970) on IMDb

Shivers (1975)

Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry

Plot: The residents of a suburban high-rise apartment building are being infected by a strain of parasites that turn them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends out to infect others by the slightest sexual contact.

 Shivers<br/>(1975) on IMDb

FunFact: David Cronenberg secured funding for the film from the Canadian government by pretending he was writing a novel.
FunFact: The film takes place in the magical futuristic era of 1997.
FunFact: Every scene in the movie has something that is yellow and/or gold in it.

Rabid (1977)

Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver

Plot: A young woman develops a taste for human blood after undergoing experimental plastic surgery, and her victims turn into rabid, blood-thirsty zombies who proceed to infect others, which turns into a city-wide epidemic.

 Rabid<br/>(1977) on IMDb

The Brood (1979)

Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle

Plot: A man tries to uncover an unconventional psychologist's therapy techniques on his institutionalized wife, amidst a series of brutal murders.

 The Brood<br/>(1979) on IMDb

Fast Company (1979)

Starring: Claudia Jennings, John Saxon, William Smith

Plot: The famous drag racer Lonnie 'Lucky Man' Johnson is the star of the Fast Company, managed by the corrupt Phil Adamson. Lonnie is acting as the mentor to the promising funny car racer Billy 'The Kid Brocker.

 Fast Company<br/>(1979) on IMDb

FunFact: Sissy Spacek was David Cronenberg's first choice to play Rose. Ivan Reitman suggested porn star Marilyn Chambers because he wanted sex appeal.
FunFact: Samantha Eggar came up with the idea to lick the blood off of the newborn baby.
FunFact: The last film of Claudia Jennings. She died in a car crash the following year.

Scanners (1981)

Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O’Neill, Michael Ironside

Plot: A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.

 Scanners<br/>(1981) on IMDb

Videodrome (1983)

Starring: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Leslie Carlson

Plot: When he acquires a different kind of show for his station, a sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a terrifying new reality.

 Videodrome<br/>(1983) on IMDb

The Dead Zone (1983)

Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt

Plot: A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability.

 The Dead Zone<br/>(1983) on IMDb

FunFact: The effect for the exploding head scene was accomplished by filling a latex head of the actor with dog food, leftover lunch, fake blood and rabbit livers, and shooting it from behind with a 12-gauge shotgun.
FunFact: The majority of the trailer was created with a Commodore 64 computer.
FunFact: Director David Cronenberg fired a .357 Magnum loaded with blanks just off camera to make Smith's flinches seem more involuntary; this was Christopher Walken's own idea.

The Fly (1986)

Starring: Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, John Getz

Plot: A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.

 The Fly<br/>(1986) on IMDb

Dead Ringers (1988)

Starring: Jeremy Irons, Shirley Douglas, Heidi von Palleske

Plot: Twin gynecologists take full advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart, until their relationship begins to deteriorate over a woman.

 Dead Ringers<br/>(1988) on IMDb

Naked Lunch (1991)

Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm

Plot: After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally kills his wife, and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.

 Naked Lunch<br/>(1991) on IMDb

FunFact: The famous tagline, "Be afraid, be very afraid!", originated in this film as dialogue spoken by Geena Davis’ character.
FunFact: Robert De Niro turned down the Mantle twins roles because he felt uncomfortable playing a gynecologist.
FunFact: Peter Weller turned down the lead role in RoboCop 3 (1993) to appear in this film.

M. Butterfly (1993)

Starring: Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa

Plot: In 1960s China, French diplomat Rene Gallimard falls in love with an opera singer, Song Liling - but Song is not at all who Gallimard thinks.

 M. Butterfly<br/>(1993) on IMDb

Crash (1996)

Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas

Plot: After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.

 Crash<br/>(1996) on IMDb

eXistenZ (1999)

Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm

Plot: A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.

 eXistenZ<br/>(1999) on IMDb

FunFact: David Cronenberg loved the play so much that when he heard a movie was being made about it, he volunteered immediately to direct it.
FunFact: Director David Cronenberg claimed that the entire film was shot within a half hour of his house in Toronto, Canada.
FunFact: Two Producers of the film are Hungarians, so it is not by chance that the X and the Z of the word "eXistenZ" are capitalized, since the letters between them make the Hungarian word "isten," which means "god."

Spider (2002)

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

Plot: A mentally disturbed man takes residence in a halfway house. His mind gradually slips back into the realm created by his illness, where he replays a key part of his childhood.

 Spider<br/>(2002) on IMDb

A History Of Violence (2005)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris

Plot: A mild-mannered man becomes a local hero through an act of violence, which sets off repercussions that will shake his family to its very core.

 A History of Violence<br/>(2005) on IMDb

Eastern Promises (2007)

Starring: Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Plot: A Russian teenager living in London who dies during childbirth leaves clues to a midwife in her journal that could tie her child to a rape involving a violent Russian mob family.

 Eastern Promises<br/>(2007) on IMDb

FunFact: Director David Cronenberg deferred his own salary to make this film.
FunFact: Has the distinction of being the last major Hollywood movie to be released in the VHS format. However, since then, The House of the Devil was released on VHS in 2010.
FunFact: The film, shot in England, marked the first time director David Cronenberg shot a movie entirely outside of Canada.

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen

Plot: A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.

 A Dangerous Method<br/>(2011) on IMDb

Cosmopolis (2012)

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche

Plot: Riding across Manhattan in a stretch limo in order to get a haircut, a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager's day devolves into an odyssey with a cast of characters that start to tear his world apart.

 Cosmopolis<br/>(2012) on IMDb

Maps To The Stars (2014)

Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson

Plot: A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.

 Maps to the Stars<br/>(2014) on IMDb

FunFact: David Cronenberg (an atheist of Jewish heritage) said that he had to teach Viggo Mortensen to "walk like a Jew".
FunFact: Colin Farrell was originally cast but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with his movie Total Recall (2012). He was replaced by Robert Pattinson.
FunFact: In an almost 50-year career, this was the very 1st time that David Cronenberg ever filmed anything in the United States (his previous movies were mostly shot in Canada or the UK).
Are you fixing to pitch a bitch fit over what I had to say? Please let us know at: cinemaniac@cinemania.co
or Follow us on Twitter: @RealCinemania

No comments
Back to content | Back to main menu