Body horror

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Body horror or biological horror is a subgenre of horror which intentionally showcases graphic or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body.[1] These violations may manifest through aberrant sex, mutations, mutilation, zombification, gratuitous violence, disease, or unnatural movements of the body that hinge upon primal fear of the uncanny valley. Body horror was a description originally applied to an emerging subgenre of American horror films, but has roots in early Gothic literature and has expanded to include other media.[2]

Characteristics[edit]

Body horror falls into one of three "gross" genres or "genres of excess" which also includes pornography and melodrama.[3] According to film scholar Linda Williams, the success of these body genres "is often measured by the degree to which the audience sensation mimics what is seen on the screen".[3] For example, an audience may experience feelings of terror through horror, sympathy through melodrama, or sexual arousal through pornography. Body horror specifically focuses on the limits and transformative capabilities of the human body.[4]

Body horror often overlaps with, but is distinct from, other horror subgenres. For example, while elements of mutilation may be present in body horror, other similar subgenres such as slasher, splatter, or monster horror may also share this trope, but differ in message and intent.[5] A common difference in the body horror genre is that violations or distortions of the body are rarely the result of immediate or initial violence. Instead, they are generally marked by a loss of conscious control over the body through mutation, disease, or other tropes involving uncontrolled transformation.[6] The genre can invoke intense feelings of physical and psychological disgust, or squick, and play upon anxieties of physical vulnerability.[7] In addition to common tropes used within the broader horror genre, some tropes specific to the body horror subgenre may include:[8]

  • Invasion
  • Contagion
  • Mutation
  • Transformation
  • Disease

History[edit]

The terminology "body horror" was first used by Phillip Brophy in his 1989 article "Horrality: The Textuality of the Contemporary Horror Film."[9] He coined this term to describe an emerging subgenre which occurred during a short golden period for contemporary horror film.[10] Although Brophy coined the term to specifically describe a trend within cinema, film director Stuart Gordon notes that the body horror trope had existed prior to its adaptation to the screen, most notably within fictional writing.[11] [4]

Fiction[edit]

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is an early example of the body horror subgenre within fictional writing. The success of gothic horror in the 19th century in combination with the birth of science fiction as a literary form is thought to be the origin of body horror as a literary genre.[2] According to Halberstam: "By focusing on the body as a locus of fear, Shelley's novel suggests that it is people (or at least bodies) who terrify people... the landscape of fear is replaced by sutured skin."[2]

Film[edit]

Like fiction, the body horror genre existed within film prior to a formalized definition of the subgenre coined in the 1980s. Many early examples of the body horror genre arose out of 1950s American horror cinema including The Blob and The Fly, both of which would go on to set the standard for the genre after their remakes in the late 80s.[12] Many contemporary films of the horror genre (those produced after 1968), including body horror, are considered to be postmodern in contrast to classical horror.[13] Because of this, delineations between the genres are difficult to define, since postmodernism is concerned with blurring boundaries between categories.

The body horror genre is widely represented throughout Japanese horror and within contemporary media, such as anime.[14] Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 film Akira is an early example of body horror within anime. The film utilizes the genre to explore "notion of the adolescent body as a site of metamorphosis, a metamorphosis that can appear monstrous both to the figure undergoing it and to the outside world."[15]

Comics and graphic novels[edit]

Many manga authors, or mangaka, such as Junji Ito, specialize in writing within the horror genre and utilize body horror tropes in combination with narrative storytelling devices of Japanese horror.[16] Highly influenced by H.P Lovecraft, Ito's manga depict obscene body horror through both aesthetic and narrative in order to invoke feelings of abject terror.[1] In contrast, Canadian cartoonist Michael DeForge incorporates recurring body horror aspects within his work through less graphic aesthetic and narrative styles.[17]

Influences[edit]

Films and media that fall under the body horror subgenre reflect a specific corporeal societal anxiety and may provide social commentary about history and influence contemporary culture.[18]

Controversy and censorship[edit]

Since the 18th century, the horror genre has been popular among readers but dismissed as controversial by critics who saw the genre and its thematic elements threatening or dangerous to society.[19]

Owing to the use of graphic and gratuitous violence or themes that may be considered taboo, horror media that fall within the body horror genre are often censored or banned across a variety of countries.[20] For example, the Human Centipede films have been referred to as "torture porn" and widely criticized to include overly "exploitative, gratuitous portrayals of destructive sexual perversion. That assessment was concretized when several countries – including the UK and Australia – officially banned the sequel in its uncut form."[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Cruz, R. A. L. (2012). "Mutations and Metamorphoses: Body Horror is Biological Horror". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 40 (4): 160–168. doi:10.1080/01956051.2012.654521. 
  2. ^ a b c Halberstam, J. (1995). Skin shows: Gothic horror and the technology of monsters. Duke University Press.
  3. ^ a b Williams, L. (1991). "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess". Film Quarterly. 44 (4): 2–13. doi:10.2307/1212758. 
  4. ^ a b Cardin, Matt. (2017). Horror Literature Through History: an Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears [2 Volumes]. Santa Barbara, California : Greenwood.
  5. ^ Reyes, X. A. (2016). Horror Film and Affect: Towards a Corporeal Model of Viewership (Vol. 47), p. 16. Routledge.
  6. ^ Hutchings, Peter. (2009). The A–Z of Horror Cinema. A–Z Guides 100. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
  7. ^ "The Future of Body Horror: Can Our Art Keep up with Our Suffering?". The Rumpus.net. 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2018-03-15. 
  8. ^ "Body Horror - TV Tropes". tvtropes.org. Retrieved 2018-04-01. 
  9. ^ Brophy, P. (1986). "Horrality— The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films". Screen. 27 (1): 2–13. doi:10.1093/screen/27.1.2. 
  10. ^ Brophy, Philip. "die body crap cut me up smiling". Philipbrophy.com. Retrieved from http://www.philipbrophy.com/projects/rstff/Horrality_H.html
  11. ^ Kane, Paul and Marie O'Regan (2012). The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. Philadelphia: Running Press. 
  12. ^ "A Quick History of Body Horror in Cinema". Gehenna & Hinnom Books. 2017-04-07. Retrieved 2018-03-12. 
  13. ^ Pinedo, I (1996). "Recreational terror: Postmodern elements of the contemporary horror film". Journal of Film and Video. 48 (1–2): 17–31. JSTOR 20688091. 
  14. ^ Gateward, F. (2002). Bubblegum and heavy metal. Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood, (29)269, p. 283.
  15. ^ Napier, S. J. (2001). Akira and Ranma 1/2: The Monstrous Adolescent. In Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke (pp. 39–62). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  16. ^ Bush, L. (2001). Asian Horror Encyclopedia: Asian Horror Culture in Literature, Manga, and Folklore. iUniverse.
  17. ^ Jones, T. (2014). "Aw Dude, Gross": The Mundane Body Horror of Michael DeForge.
  18. ^ Dewan, Shaila K. (2000-10-14). "Do Horror Films Filter The Horrors of History?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-15. 
  19. ^ Cooper, L. A. (2010). Gothic Realities: The Impact of Horror Fiction on Modern Culture. McFarland.
  20. ^ "Banned and Brutal: 14 Beyond-Controversial Horror Movies". Rolling Stone. 
  21. ^ Jones, S. (2013). No pain, no gain: strategic repulsion and The Human Centipede. Cine-Excess Special Issue: Cult Controversies.