Cronenberg from A to Z: A Dictionary of Body Horror

Very few directors, only some very great ones, have succeeded in making their surname, turned into an adjective, capable of defining a form of cinematographic expression: Fellinian, Almodovarian, Lynchian and, of course, Cronenbergian, the latter alluding to that cinema of the called New Flesh, where the human body deforms, mutates or hybridizes with non-organic elements. Physical transformation, infection, disease and technology, brought together in a dark amalgam that Cronenberg handled profusely from 1970 for three decades until, coinciding with the 21st century, he decided to expand his radius of action to an exploration of human nature more psychological than physiological.

Naked lunch.

With the recently released Crimes of the Future, his first film in eight years, the Canadian director (brand new Donostia Award in San Sebastián) has returned to the disturbing images of body horror so characteristic of his cinema, which we will try to describe, in dictionary form, through its concepts and key names:


Naked lunch, the. A lover of challenges, Cronenberg adapted in 1991 an inadaptable novel by William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch, about the ravings of a writer who lives in a nightmare called Interzone. Superb musical score by Howard Shore and saxophonist Ornette Coleman for a viscous film, absolutely interior, a true borderline experience.


Biology. Biology, understood as the science that studies everything related to life and the organic, is the guiding thread of Cronenberg’s cinematography. The organic, in fact, in an inseparable link with the inorganic or the mechanical, composing a biology of terror where viruses and tumors roam (They Came from Inside…, Chromosome 3) or where a video image (Videodrome) or a thought (Scanners) can kill.

The death of David Cronenberg.

Surgery. “Surgery is the new sex,” says one of the characters in Crimes of the Future. A recognized addict to medicine and technology, Cronenberg has wielded scalpels and scalpels in his films in a physical way, slitting abdomens and extracting organs, as well as symbolic, scrutinizing the entrails of the human soul. In May, the director sold an NFT of a photo of his kidney stone for $30,000.

Eastern Memories.

Death of david cronenberg, the. In this 2021 short film, just 57 seconds long, Cronenberg comes across his own corpse, bedridden in a small attic. Dressed in a bathrobe, the director tenderly kisses his dead face and snuggles up to him, embracing inevitable mortality as only he could.


Existenz. Released in the United States just a week after The Matrix, Cronenberg’s look at virtual reality was not quite convincing at the time, but the passage of time has put it where it deserved. Here, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law enter a video game through an organic console that merges with the user through, long live Cronenberg, an umbilical cord.

Chromosome 3.

Freud. A dangerous method is a praise of the word filmed from the dispute / dialectic between Sigmund Freud, his disciple Carl Jung, a woman locked in her mental turbulence and a patient with a libertine air. Sex and psychoanalysis, the ideal material with which the Canadian director explores physical relationships and the ins and outs of the mind.

Crimes of the future.

Twins. Physically identical twins, but very different when they think, act and plot. Both gynaecologists, which allows for a disturbing sampler of the objects they use in their consultations. Inseparable are the two twin brothers from the homonymous film, obsessed by the same woman. Jeremy Irons owes a lot to Cronenberg for choosing him.

History of violence, one. For its director it was a western rather than a thriller, because it talks about the myths and rituals in which the United States was forged, and because it is the story of a bad man who decided to be good and hang up his guns, leave death behind, like so many antiheroes of Western cinema. Only three scenes of violence, but of unparalleled expressiveness.

Irwin, mark. The viral light and dirty metallic color of Cronenberg’s early films was provided by cinematographer Mark Irwin, from Scanners to The Fly. Indispensable at that time. They would later part ways with him, although Irwin continued to be linked to the genre with Psycho 2, Terror Has No Form, Fright Night 2, Robocop 2 and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

Kafka. The film that best harmonizes with The Metamorphosis, the famous novel by Franz Kafka, is The Fly, which is in turn the remake of a small classic from the fantastic B series of the 50s. The Canadian approached this film from his perspective on the transformations of the flesh filtered by the delusions of Kafka’s insect man.

LITERATURE. In 2016 he published his first novel, Consumados (Anagram), defined by someone as a “delicious and unexpected buffet for fans of Burroughs, Ballard and DeLillo”, with many of the tics of his cinema: sex, violence, illness or the technology.

MORTENSEN, VIGGO. The actor returns to Cronenberg’s fold with Crimes of the Future, after having been the most common male face in his cinema in the first decade of this century. They got on well in A Tale of Violence and Eastern Promises, with Mortensen exploiting his darkest side, and he later tackled the character of Freud in A Dangerous Method.

NEW MEAT. Many filmmakers, writers, graphic artists or comic authors (such as Charles Burns) have explored the monstrous organisms, sometimes so close, of the New Flesh, but it is the director of eXistenZ who has best developed the aesthetic and political theories of this trend . One cannot speak of Nueva Carne without immediately citing Cronenberg.

Chinese pear. Cronenberg surprised in 1993 with M. Butterfly, a strange romance based on real events that, however, hid many of its constants behind its luxurious clothes: identity, sexual ambiguity or metamorphosis. The film told the story of a French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) who fell in love with a Chinese opera singer (John Lone) who was actually a man. The illusion of love, or disappointment, in Cronenberg code.

Pattinson, Robert. While Kristen Stewart began a new path away from the memory of Twilight under the orders of Assayas or Larraín, her co-star, Robert Pattinson, did the same under the guidance of Cronenberg, who gave him a very different image in Cosmopolis and Maps to the stars. Without this process, he might not have become the new Batman.

rabid. The most virulent of his early works. A young woman -the porn actress Marilyn Chambers- suffers a motorcycle accident and undergoes an operation in a revolutionary cosmetic surgery center. The next day, an anxious phallic appendage emerges from her armpit. The New Flesh, vampirism, cosmetic surgery and mutation, all for the price of a single film (from 1977).

Stereo. Cronenberg’s first feature film, Stereo (1969), already points out some of the concerns that would later mark his career. Brain surgery, telepathic communication, sexual relations and drugs trace this story, as avant-garde as it is confusing, set in an unspecified future, shot in aesthetic black and white and without direct sound, only with voiceovers.

Titan. Julie Ducournau’s film, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2021, is probably the one that has best known how to delve into New Flesh theories in the 21st century. In her second feature film, the French director offered a daring exploration of body terror, full of meat, metal, oil and deformation, worthy of that insatiable mechanical libido that emanated from the classic Cronenbergian Crash.

Universe (dystopian). Cronenberg’s cinema is dystopian to the extent that he has imagined the (dark) destiny of human beings through technological evolution, the impact of the image, biological mutation or disease. Crimes of the future is, in this sense, pure dystopia in which the human being generates new organs and feels no pain, and whose survival as a species will be thanks to the consumption of their own plastic waste.

VIDEODROME. One of the key titles of Cronenberg’s career: a disturbing reflection on the power of television and, by extension, of the video image in which he elaborates his concept of the New Flesh. In the film, James Woods is the director of a television network who accesses a strange UHF signal whose viewing will make him a being defined as “the world of video made flesh”.

Wimmer, doctor. A fan of cameos, Cronenberg has also played leading roles. One of them was Dr. Aloysius Bartholomew Wimmer, impaled by the psychopath from the Friday the 13th saga in Jason X. He also appeared in Clive Barker’s Night Races and in a funny role in two episodes of the Alias ​​series, inventing a substitute for bacon .

DEAD ZONE, LA. Cronenberg versus King. A story of mental powers and political plots that bear little resemblance to Carrie, Cujo, Christine, The Shining and other adaptations made in the same era of Stephen King novels. The dead zone is colder, cerebral, consistent with the portrait of an individual who cannot control what he sees today and tomorrow.

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