David Cronenberg, the Canadian horror director whose movies ruined me as a teenager, turns 80 years old today. That’s a lot of time devoted to creating subversive cinema, a milestone that should be acknowledged and celebrated.
It’s not Cronenberg’s fault I watched his early work way too young. When you’re going through puberty and beyond, and you’re constantly horny, the last thing you need to see is a Cronenberg movie. No other director has combined sex and violence together in such an uncomfortable manner. Cronenberg’s movies are disturbing, taking the human body and rendering it both vulnerable and pliable.
Cronenberg cast adult film star Marilyn Chambers as his lead in 1977’s Rabid. With long blonde hair and a charming smile, Chambers was a beautiful woman. Cronenberg decided to infect Chambers with a parasite that lived in her armpit which made her a blood-thirsty sex bomb. The more people she was intimate with, the faster the parasite spread until Toronto was teeming with weird horny zombie creatures. Rabid was a venereal disease public service announcement combined with vampirism, a heady mix. Pun intended.
They Came From Within also featured sex parasites, genetically modified creatures that spread throughout the residents of a modern apartment complex. Once infected, people became murderous nymphomaniacs. Adults, seniors, children, everyone became DTF and ready to assault everything that moved. It was free love turned robotic, primal urges turned loose with no social mores or morals to hold them back.
These were not the kind of movies one needed to be exposed to while discovering their own sexuality. They became warnings, traps, with scenes that would pop up in the imagination while other things were occurring. Yeah, that girl is cute and all, but what if that monster she has hidden under her shirt sleeve tries to drink my blood?
You couldn’t have kids, either, oh no. The Brood, released in 1979, took on the nuclear family unit with a group of red-hoodied albino monster children. In Cronenberg’s story, those children were the demented product of Samantha Eggar’s Id, roaming about Toronto with the intent to bite and tear. Even schools weren’t safe from the psychologically spawned creatures. In one scene, a teacher is bludgeoned to death while the normal children look on in horror. You’ve heard of the Terrible Twos? In The Brood, Cronenberg posed the question, “What if that phase never ended and the kids had weapons?”
Of course, Cronenberg directed other films. Scanners showed us the hidden dangers of migraine headaches. His remake of The Fly became a classic in its own right as Jeff Goldblum melted and gooped and transformed into a hideous insect monster right before our eyes. We haven’t even talked about Videodrome, Cronenberg’s classic exploration of sex, violence, and the growth of video technology. That movie requires an article all by itself.
I was all grown up at this point and felt good about my maturity level. Much like Dave Foley, I had a good attitude about menstruation. I felt I had a good understanding of relationships. Then Dead Ringers came out. Jeremy Irons played a dual role, twin gynecologists who were both attracted to the same woman. This movie taught me to shudder whenever I heard the word, “bifurcate.” It also increased my primal fears of medical tools. When Irons decided to have specialty instruments made for his practice, ones with sharp edges, blunt gears and teeth, I was scarred for life.
Come to think of it, a lot of Cronenberg movies planted indelible images in my brain. Not just nightmare fuel, mind you, but nightmare trees that grew strong and tall. That’s one hell of an accomplishment, scarring entire generations with art.
Happy 80th birthday, David Cronenberg. See what you’ve done to me. I sincerely hope you’re happy.