We have a couple of films on this list that fall into the category of: “Area Man Doubles Down on Decision And Lives to Regret It While Turning Into A Horrible Monster.” And we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t mention Stan Winston’s sole directorial effort (we chose to ignore the existence of A Gnome Named Gnorm). On paper, Pumpkinhead should not rip as hard as it does. The film tells of a rural single dad named Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), who, after a tragic accident, entreats the local swamp witch to raise the demon known as “Pumpkinhead” to exact his revenge. While the monstrous creature massacres the horrified offending party, Harley discovers that the demon-rousing ritual came at a steep, fleshy, price.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, AMC+ Amazon Channel, Shudder, Pluto TV, Shudder Amazon Channel
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)
Hey, did you watch 1987’s Withnail & I and think: gosh, if only this were ickier and more unhinged somehow. Well, good news: Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant’s follow-up is the cinematic equivalent of an anxiety attack on acid. When a cynical advertising executive named Denis Bagley (Grant) encounters a creative block at work, his stress takes the shape of an enormous boil on his shoulder … which reveals itself to be sentient. Betrayed by his own mind and body in a time of crisis, Bagley literally tears himself apart in an effort to salvage some sanity out of his cataclysmic mental break. Insidious mentally-linked mutations and a genius wrestling with the fleshy manifestation of his professional life? This is a double-headed double bill sure to satisfy the sickest of puppies.
Available on The Criterion Channel
Society is most well known for a truly off the rails climax. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say the finale was inspired by director Brian Yuzna‘s nightmares and brought to life by special effects artist Screaming Mad George, who’s known for surrealist gore. But aside from one of the vilest and most exhilarating third acts ever committed to celluloid, Society is also a biting and hilarious satire. Centering on the elites of Beverly Hills, the film follows Billy Warlock’s Bill, a teenager who suspects that there’s something strange about his parents and their friends. But even he has no idea about what’s truly in store.
Available on AMC+ Amazon Channel, Tubi, Kanopy, DirecTV, Shudder, Night Fright Plus, Shudder Amazon Channel, Flix Fling, ARROW
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
There are basically one of two ways that people are likely to respond to Shinya Tsukamoto‘s Tetsuo: The Iron Man. The first is complete and utter confusion. And to be sure, the film’s breakneck pace and surreal imagery are not what we would call straightforward. But the second reaction — and the one that we’re willing to bet Cronenberg fans will have — is one of pure and utter joy. There are a number of films to draw on for comparison, including Crash (the good one) and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. But Tetsuo is also a wholly original beast. It’s hard to put the film into words, but its “narrative” follows a Japanese couple whose world is turned upside down after an accident involving a metal fetishist. Do we need to say any more?
Available on Kanopy and ARROW
How to Survive a Plague (2012)
In the director’s commentary for The Fly, Cronenberg makes mention of the idea that the film is a metaphor for AIDS. The epidemic was at its peak when The Fly premiered in 1986, and the film’s images of Brundle rapidly wasting away seem to draw a clear, unambiguous parallel. But, per the commentary track, Cronenberg insists that the broader metaphor is, instead, about the more universal idea of aging, disease, and the inevitability that we’re all going to deteriorate and die someday.
Whether or not AIDS was the film’s central idea, the basic premise of two lovers, one of whom contracts a fatal wasting disease, draws comparisons. Whereas The Fly dabbles in intimate metaphor (peripheral or otherwise), David France’s 2012 documentary How To Survive a Plague tells the story straight, with a mind to the activism that ultimately turned AIDS from a death sentence into something much more manageable.
Available on AMC+ and DirectTV
Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)
As mentioned previously, per Cronenberg, the intended metaphorical thrust of The Fly was towards the horrid, dysmorphic reality that we will all have to watch the ones we love decay and die. Dick Johnson Is Dead is an open-hearted reckoning with that reality, as told by director Kristen Johnson, as she documents her father’s progressive slip into dementia. Throughout the film, Kristen stages a slew of her father’s death scenes, intermingling heartbreaking transparency with an admirable (and perhaps equally heartbreaking) sense of playfulness. If The Fly was made in response to a pervasive Western fear of death and decrepitude, Dick Johnson Is Dead is a reminder that staring death in the face can sometimes lessen its sting.
Available on Netflix
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
While The Fly is most famous as a sci-fi body horror movie, the underlying thread is a relationship drama that locks focus on the process of watching someone you love destroy themselves. And if you’re into that, let us introduce you to Charlie Kaufman. The writer/director’s 2020 drama follows a couple (Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons) on their way to meet his parents. But all is not what it seems. As relationship tensions start to rub up against personal identity, things start to get a little weird. But for all the film’s oddities, it is genuinely moving and while it’s not a horror movie, it will surely scare you.
Available on Netflix
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