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Pioneering Visceral Horror since They Came From Within

The introduction to the manic, sometimes terrifying world of David Cronenberg begins with 1975′s They Came From Within, which features parasites transmitted by venereal disease, illuminating the fear of AIDS epidemic and sexuality terror of the time, whilst mirroring the transformation of an ‘old’ or ‘established’ societal norm through the metaphoric breakdown of the society within the apartment building. We’re changing and evolving every day, Cronenberg reminds the viewer, and not always for better.

Rabid (1977) is more gruesome in matter, providing a straight up horror premise in the form of an injured young girl given an orifice on her arm with a deadly stinger after an experimental medical practice goes wrong. However, the plot plays out with more focus on the chaotic outbreak caused by the orifice than the horror of the abomination itself. It’s a ridiculous concept, yes, but Cronenberg isn’t playing it for laughs – he’s conducting a social experiment, theorising about the terror and paranoia of disease in contemporary society.

Scanners (1981) is where we begin to see a shift away from the early ‘gore’ horror sensibility and into a more psychological ideology. Falling into the category of science-fiction rather than horror, Scanners deals with the concept of telepathy again not as a novelty to string a plot around, but as a centrepiece for sociological theory. Cronenberg is interested in how we view violence and gore, but he’s also interested in why we choose to view it at all – the longstanding fascination with unpleasant acts and the role of violence in creating society is something dealt with again and again in his films. As with the majority of his horror films, psychical abominations are never the stuff of fantasy but a direct result of scientific or technological experimentation gone wrong. The ‘Scanners’ of the film are not super humans with powerful strengths, merely the by-products of genetic engineering. Though this trope has now been well worn in the science fiction and horror genres, Cronenberg was already theorizing the technological age in the 1970s, before much of the computer and engineering systems we now have to inspire ideas and conspiracy theories even existed.