Licking My Wounds—Body Horror Inside Out
Museum Brandhorst and FILMFEST MÜNCHEN are cooperating for the third time, this year on the occasion of the exhibition "Future Bodies from a Recent Past—Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s". The program is focusing on chancing images of the body - also in its monstrous forms: "Body Horror."
26. - 29. June 2022
Artist and writer Charlie Fox takes a rather intimate, haunted look at the genre in his program “Licking My Wounds—Body Horror Inside Out” along films and videos since the late 1980s, while the current cinema productions “A Banquet,” (directed by Ruth Paxton, UK 2021), “Dual,” (directed by Riley Stearns, USA 2022), and “Watcher” (directed by Chloe Okuno, USA 2022) will be screened in the main program of FILMFEST MÜNCHEN.
Licking My Wounds—Body Horror Inside Out by Charlie Fox
Everybody knows body horror inside out. If you’re reading this you probably went through puberty. You saw your body mutating into a monster in the bathroom mirror every morning. You got disfigured by explosions of hormones that altered your height, voice, and genitals. You used to be cute. You’ve been sick. You’ve read Kafka and Frankenstein and Alice in Wonderland. You might have been pregnant and had something growing inside you. You’ve felt rivers of snot, puke, blood, or cum flowing out of some deep, dark area inside you. Don’t let anybody see; pretend it’s not there. It’s repulsive but it’s fascinating: you can’t help it. Touch it. Shiver. Do it again.
Yup, body horror is where we go to deal with our fears about what can happen when the body goes wrong. It’s alive and well today. Technology is constantly mutating our relationship with our bodies. We’re acutely conscious of the evil possibilities of infection. Laws are being devised and/or dissolved everywhere forbidding personal rights and control over certain bodies. Body horror pukes these nightmarish anxieties back out in a slime-coated and fantastical way that’s simultaneously wildly fun and deeply haunting. I love the classics, too: early David Cronenberg (“The Brood” (1979), “Videodrome” (1983)) where the genre’s obsessions with sex and technology are synthesized; the freaky cyberpunk abjection of Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989); the contagious masterpiece called “The Thing” (1982), directed by John Carpenter. Watching them as a teenager, I felt like they were trippy allegorical tales about puberty. But the thought of resurrecting those movies turns me into a zombie.
The film program, “Licking My Wounds—Body Horror Inside Out” is spookier: it’s me freaking with the genre, trying to manifest its major fetishes in a woozy, dreamlike fashion, rather than aiming for the traditional dudely extremes of maximum gore. I wanted to show that what’s at the heart of the genre isn’t exclusively something that makes you dislocate your face with repulsion. It’s about discovering weird new feelings within the body which are illicit and thrilling; zoning out until you don’t feel like yourself anymore.
I wanted to show “Monsters Inc.” (2001), a heartbreaking body horror classic which, much like “Videodrome,” celebrates the idea that contagion can be good, and that our concepts of the beautiful and normal are always ripe for transformation, but these movies are great, too.
In the end, I couldn’t resist Cronenberg. “Dead Ringers” (1988) is chronically under-acknowledged. It’s a tragic tale of twin brother gynecologists whose psyches unravel as they fall in love with the same woman.” But you get Jeremy Irons (in a double performance!) at his vampiric and seductive best. The biomechanical medical instruments and blood-red robes make the surgery sequences feel like Francis Bacon paintings come to life. Like a lot of Cronenberg’s movies, “Dead Ringers” is an operatic love story about what happens when you fall for something dangerous, whether that’s narcotics or car crashes or somebody else’s flesh.
Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day” (2001) is a vampire romance, too. Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle stalk about Paris like hot wolves while horny gargoyles watch from the cathedrals. Everybody seems zonked on heavy tranquilizers. Body horror frequently deals with the hells and highs of sexual intimacy but nothing else does it with the same lucid dreamlike creepiness of this movie. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
“The Cell” (2000), directed by Tarsem Singh, may feel like a non sequitur, aggressively virtual since it’s chiefly set within the mind of a comatose serial killer. But what happens when malign thoughts achieve physical manifestations is basically the whole drama of body horror. Thanks to the costumes by the legendary Eiko Ishioka, the hyperreal psychedelic mindscape in which they unfurl, and the performance of Jennifer Lopez, “The Cell” may be one of the hottest films of all time. But this hotness is also diabolical and perverse. “The Cell” is creepy in an intensely physical way: the girl with bleached flesh covered in seething insects, the gorgeous horse split into sections, the climax where J Lo transforms into a combination of dominatrix, sphinx, and nun.
Ultimately, I think all these films are extremely beautiful, but it’s the kind of beauty that we don’t often talk about or acknowledge because it’s scary. That’s exactly why they’re cathartic and magical. Just let them eat you up
Eighty percent of Matthew Barney’s obsessions are fully formed in this video created when he was a mere faun of 19 or 20: goo, orifice fixation, medical procedures, non-human/inanimate entities considered as bodies. “SCABACTION” records the welding of a sculpture, some antics with Vaseline, and the removal of an ingrown hair which, depending on your personal level of squeamishness, will be ghastly or extremely satisfying. The title sounds like a putrid death metal band: perfect.
Director: Matthew Barney
Single-channel color video with stereo sound (7:55 minutes loop) and drawing installation (12 drawings: graphite, ink, steel, petroleum jelly on paper, prosthetic plastic, foam, self-lubricating plastic, nylon binding straps)
Collection of Pamela and C. Richard Kramlich
Birth, sex, and death are recurring themes in body horror. David Cronenberg superbly blends them into a tragic story of identical yet unequal twins (gynecologists even!) who are unable to break their obsessive psychosexual dependence on each other. A work of art ahead of its time, featuring a masterful Jeremy Irons.
Canada, USA 1988
Director: David Cronenberg
Written by David Cronenberg, Norman Snider
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas
A psychopathic serial killer preserves the bodies of his victims and turns them into his dolls. A child psychologist has only 48 hours to use a new method to get into the mind of the killer and save his next victim. For this thriller, Tarsem Singh brings together aspects of body and depraved mind, employing powerful visuals in the unmistakable aesthetic of the turn of the millennium.
USA, Germany 2000
Director: Tarsem Singh
Written by Mark Protosevich
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber
Trouble Every Day
An American couple is honeymooning in Paris. The man behaves strangely; he’s searching for Coré, who has long been unable to quell what he is struggling to repress. In Claire Denis’ early masterpiece, which after more than 20 years was shown in German cinemas for the first time in the spring of 2022, the carnal rises beyond the level of animal instinct to inevitable gory excess.
France, Germany, Japan 2001
Director: Claire Denis
Written by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas, Florence Loiret Caille Länge
101 min (German Subtitles)
A slimy, discombobulating, and weirdly cute fable about puberty from the perspective of a gloriously I-don’t-give-a-fuck teenage girl. Director Julia Ducournau subsequently bewitched everybody with the way more gnarly masterpieces “Raw” (2016) and “Titane” (2021). However, “Junior” almost belongs in the French school of harsh realist depictions of adolescence with its Jean-Pierre Léaud-level performance from Garance Marillier as the titular kid, until things start to mutate . . .
Director: Julia Ducornau
Written by Julia Ducornau
21 min (English Subtitles)
The nightmare of early-teen tribalism and confused mutant angst is re-enacted as an apocalyptic live-action role-play game in this music video for a dysphoric EDM anthem about ejaculation by Oneohtrix Point Never. (The man behind the Oneohtrix mask, Daniel Lopatin, co-directs with art’s overlord of tech-grotesquerie, Jon Rafman.) I texted Dan about the video. He said it represents the “cinema of pubescent transgression”— see also: Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995), Larry Peerce’s “Child of Rage” (1992), and Neil Jordan’s “A Company of Wolves” (1984).
England, USA 2015
Directors Jon Rafman & Daniel Lopatin
© Jon Rafman and Daniel Lopatin, courtesy Warp Records