If you’re a Canadian author David Cronenberg, a provider of sweaty body horror, psychosexual titillation and all sorts of other subversive content, it’s hard to imagine a better pre-release hype around your new film than many reports of disgusting audiences fleeing screenings. Of course, this was the Cannes Film Festival, where people enjoy coming out of movies for almost any provocation. And the movie, Crimes of the Futureonce extensively reviewed, proved to be not quite as disgusting as those early reports described, despite its graphic depiction of organ removal surgery as a live distraction.
However, the fact remains that few living producers could arouse such pre-release controversy. Even after not making a feature film since 2014 – and not one in this vein for several decades – people knew exactly what they were getting into with a David Cronenberg film. (The Terrible Mutants in the animated comedy series Rick and Morty are called Cronenbergs if that gives you any indication of the associations evoked by the man.) Celebrating the master’s return to the grandly unhealthy, we list his best films according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Exploding heads! Well, one exploding head anyway. At least that’s what people usually remember ScannersCronenberg’s first major hit in the United States (it grossed more than $ 14 million on a $ 3.5 million budget) after a decade of making films and television for Canadian audiences, including early body horror films such as Tremors and Rabies.
The film shares its basic condition X-men, The Boys, and any number of other science fiction stories about bad companies that try to control and arm “special” people – in this case individuals who possess both telepathy and telekinesis (the ability to move objects with the mind). This is not surprising, as Cronenberg read comics as a child. Critics found the film unevenbut appreciated the director’s research on issues of social control and human biological development that he would develop during his career.
One of four films Cronenberg made in the 1990s (following Naked Lunch, M. Papilioand the infamous Crash about people who get excited about car accidents), existZ was the last film in which the director would explore topics of body horror and biotechnology (here including “organic pistols” that look like pieces of KFC extra-curly chicken) until Crimes of the Future. Cronenberg also found an opportunity to push his concerns about corporate media control and loss of individual subjectivity into the realm of virtual reality.
existZ stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as a VR game designer who, with the help of a publicist (absurdly young-looking Jude Law), enters her game in the hopes of saving it from sabotage. The film shares some narrative similarities to The Matrix, also released in 1999, especially in the use of “bio-ports” to connect people to the virtual world and the blurring of fantasy with reality. Although it is not far from compatible with the amazing aesthetics of The Matrixcritics have found its exploration of classical science fiction topics equally thoughtful, if not more so.
Along with Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2014), Cronenberg did Dangerous Method while straining when he seemed to have left behind the graphic body horror material of his first few decades, and even the more standard violence of his twin noir crime movies, History of Violence and Eastern Promises (both lined up below).
His preoccupation with psychosexual drama (in films such as Crash and Dead Bells) remained, however, in this periodical film starring Keira Knightley as a woman who suffers from “hysteria” and is ignited by pushing. Who better to unpack all this for her than eminent doctors Freud and Jung, who – as played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, respectively – were obviously much happier than history has ever taught us! Some critics found the film a bit dry by Cronenberg’s standards, although many touted the performances as model, especially Knightley’s.
Videodrome stars James Woods in gonz mode (wait, is there any other James Woods mode?) as the head of a Toronto UHF station who agrees to broadcast snuff before attempting to trace the film’s mysterious origins. The film is a commentary on the damaging power of television and was among the early Cronenberg films to establish the director as an enthusiastic performer of body horror fantasies.
Although securing decent reviews, especially for the special effects, Videodrome there was a bomb in theaters. How could it not be that during the movie era this prized shallow show? But, along with Scanners, it is one of the films that secured Cronenberg’s reputation as a cult author. Based on its status as the early work of a master, as well as the vision warning material about how we consume and interact with mediaIt is much better remembered now than much of the discarded 1983 dreck.
Jeremy Irons famously thanked Cronenberg when he won an Oscar for that Reversal of Fortune two years after the release of Dead Bells, as if to say, “this is the movie I should win” (he wasn’t even nominated). It is difficult to argue the point. Nearly 35 years later, his dual role as twin gynecologists, spiraling into drug addiction and madness, stands as one of the great feats of film acting. It’s not just that Irons makes Elliot and Beverly Mantel as compelling as they are separate characters – Elliot is imperious, calm and sociable, while Bev is fickle, volatile and tender – but how involved he is in presenting their behavior in all its frightening disgust.
The film indicates that the twins may have been connected at some point, and although they were physically separated, they never detached from each other psychologically. When they finally start that process, it tears them apart again. Irons ’cold, clinical accuracy is matched by Cronenberg’s approach to the direction that holds the horror at arm’s length as long as possible before completely surrendering to it.
With Araneo, Cronenberg revisited the realm of the psychological thriller he had mastered in films like Dead Bells and Naked Lunch tell the story of a schizophrenic man, Dennis “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes), who is released from a London insane asylum halfway. There, his mental condition deteriorates rapidly again, triggering his fall into a well of traumatic childhood memories that include his murderous father (Gabriel Byrne).
Araneo was well reviewed after his release – Film Comment even called it one of the best movies of all time – with critics touting Fiennes’ performance, even while finding the film a bit slow overall. Unfortunately, the movie is not currently available for streaming and it is difficult to find DVD versions as well, as no Blu-Ray release has been released yet. Considering that it is considered among the best work of both Fiennes and Cronenberg (and a work of love for which they earned no salary), it seems likely that the film will find its way back to viewers soon.
Cronenberg won excellent reviews for this expedition into the crime genre that would begin his transition to a more conventional fare (at least for him) over the next decade and a half. The movie stars Viggo Mortensen as a small family man, Tom Stall, whose quick thinking during a robbery gets him national attention as a hero. Unfortunately, his new visibility brings some bad guys to town who think he used to belong to a Philadelphia mob family. Tom must avoid this threat by keeping the secrets of his past from his ignorant family.
Critics have valued Cronenberg’s tense direction, as well as his thoughtful exploration of how people are simultaneously repulsed by, and attracted to, violence. Reviewers also praised the performances of Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris, and especially William Hurt, who won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor with just over 8 minutes of screen time.
This could be called “History of Violence, Russian Edition.” Mortensen stars again, this time as Nikolai, a low-level driver for the Russian mob in London who tries to help a midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), locate the family of a baby whose teenage mother died giving birth to her. As Anna’s investigation takes her deeper into Nikolai’s criminal world, he must decide whether his loyalties lie with her or his bosses: The deadly head of the Russian family (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his weeping son (Vincent Cassel, in a classical sociopathic regime). ).
Critics have praised Cronenberg’s fluid filmmaking and beautiful cinematography, which evokes rain-slippery London streets and the richly polished back rooms and restaurants where the mob operates. Mortensen received an Oscar nomination this time for Best Actor, as the film became known for its classic fight scene between naked men in a bathroom – the bronze flesh and purple blood in stark contrast to the bathroom’s bright white marble.
Cronenberg was given the task of directing the adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller after the success of Scanners, although it is a much less funky image. In fact, considering the genealogy of strange work together here – Cronenberg, King and Christopher Walken – The Dead Zone is a very serious picture. Walken poses as a man, Johnny, who wakes up after five years in a coma only to discover that he has developed the ability to see people’s past and future. Now, of course, everyone wants a piece of him, including a local cop (Tom Skerritt), who needs help finding a serial killer. When Johnny comes into the orbit of a crooked politician (Martin Sheen, doing his best Nixon impersonation), he has to decide how far he wants to go to protect a potentially disastrous future.
Critics appreciated the story, Cronenberg’s unobtrusive direction, and Walken’s strong central performance, even if they were a little surprised that this film is sweeter than weird.
The Fly is still probably Cronenberg’s most famous film, one of the rare remakes that overshadowed the reputation of the original, a 1958 cooling with Vincent Price. Of course, this is mostly related to the special effects that remain among the most stomach-churning and inventive in all of horror cinema. As with John Carpenter’s The thingthis kind of crazy man-engineered prosthetic goop just can’t be reproduced with digital FX.
The movie stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who invents a teleportation device. When he tests it on himself, it seems to be a success, but only later does he realize that a fly has buzzed into the chamber with him. The following complications … well, even people who haven’t seen the movie probably know the dirty makeup that turns a man into a fly. Critics praised The Fly as one of the most successful visceral and elementary of Cronenberg’s body horror scenarios and hailed Goldblum’s performance alongside that of Geena Davis as a benevolent journalist and love interest. The Fly remains the most, um, buzzing achievement of Cronenberg.