The horror genre is a vast necropolis of subgenres – anything you can think of, someone has probably taken and twisted out of shape in a horror story.
If you’re afraid of creatures that live in forests and black lagoons, there’s monster horror. If you’re afraid of psychos with chainsaws, then slasher horror is for you. And if you’re afraid of your body being invaded by beings or slowly mutating into something unrecognizable, there’s body horror.
Body horror has existed for two centuries, and it’s still a very tight niche because the content is meant to be gory and disturbing.
This subgenre intentionally showcases graphic, psychologically disturbing violations of the human body – mutilations, mutations, transformations, invasions, and anything else you can think of that would distort the human form in terrible ways.
These are the scariest horror stories for adults; children are usually kept sheltered from body horror, and with good reason.
But what is it? Where did it come from?
Let’s take a look.
What Is Body Horror?
Body horror is a subgenre of horror in which the human body is twisted and deformed. These deformities can be the result of genetic mutations, terrible diseases, parasites, or being inflicted by either an antagonist or the victim themselves.
They do not come from immediate violence, however – this detail differentiates it from similar subgenres such as slasher and splatter horror that also make up a large portion of the scariest horror stories for adults.
It falls into the category of “gross genres”, also known as “genres of excess”, where it shares the space with melodrama and pornography.
These genres are meant to invoke specific and intense emotional reactions from audiences; melodrama evokes sympathy, pornography evokes sexual arousal, and body horror evokes disgust and paranoia.
Origins of Body Horror
The term body horror was initially coined by Phillip Brophy in his 1989 article Horrality: The Textuality of the Contemporary Horror Film, where he was trying to describe a specific subgenre of the scariest horror stories for adults that emerged in the 1950s during a short golden age for contemporary horror.
However, the genre has roots in early Gothic literature, and its ancestors include such big names as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. The genre proceeded to explode in the 1980s with a corresponding uptake in practical effects – advances in movie makeup allowed more disgusting, terrifying concepts to be fully realized and explored.
The concepts of the genre often denote the idea that, sometimes, death is better than some of the other things that could happen.
After watching or reading some of these stories, you’ll definitely long for psycho killers and malevolent spirits.
Types of Body Horror
Body horror in action tends to fill a niche; there’s only a small subset of viewers that are willing or able to handle the content.
As a result, a lot of the works described as body horror have cult followings, rather than mass acceptance.
But even in a genre that remains limited due to censorship and public opinion – they remain to be the scariest horror stories for adults.
Many body horror stories involve the twisting and mutating of a body without obvious outside cause – these narratives prey on body image and anxieties tied to control.
The Fly is a perfect example of this concept; this short story by George Langelaan – which was later made into two films, one in 1958 and one in 1986 – follows a scientist whose molecular structure becomes integrated with a fly’s due to a failed experiment with a molecular transporter.
His slow, agonizing transformation and apparent loss of control over his own body as he morphs into a nightmarish fly-human hybrid has set the standard for transformative biological horror, and the narrative has been echoed in countless films and books to date.
Invasive body horror, on the other hand, makes it very clear what’s changing your body – the entity living inside of you.
The chest bursters from the Alien franchise are an A+ example of this. Another entity called a facehugger leaps from its pod, latches to a host’s face, and impregnates them with an alien larvae, which matures for a while before bursting from the host’s chest in a display that has been echoed in horror and comedy films alike for decades.
Another form of this trope are stories of women who become pregnant with something alien or evil, like the plotline of Rosemary’s Baby. These particular stories prey on anxieties tied to motherhood and agency, but they’ll terrify the men in the audience just as much as the women.
Viral horror is a play on the invasive horror trope, but it plays more to the fears of infectious disease and health crises.
Most zombie films fall somewhat into body horror, simply because the human form is twisted and mutilated due to decomposition.
Zombie horror with extra gore involved is even more so – The Evil Dead is a great example. However, zombies tend to toe the line between body horror and monster horror, and thus are much more common than their other body horror fellows.
The Scariest Horror Stories for Adults
The genre of body horror continues to expand and evolve through the years, and even the older installments continue to have a cult following.
It’s made its way into video games and TV, far beyond its literary and film predecessors in their production of the scariest horror stories for adults.
You never know what terrible things will be lurking around the corner.
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