Cronenberg and Body Horror

Cronenberg and Body Horror

Why computers will never be able to replicate prop-based viscera

I get really disappointed whenever I see a project like A Dangerous Method come out with David Cronenberg's name attached to it because it means the man is spending his time trying to make Keira Knightley's Russian accent sound passable instead of constructing new nightmares with which to blow my brains out. Sure, some of his straight drama is pretty good--Eastern Promises wasn't at all bad, and I've heard good things about A History of Violence--but if you're the type of director whose visual work within the horror sphere is matched only by John Carpenter and a few other freaks, why would you do any other kind of movie?

I recently watched Videodrome for the first time. While I found its philosophies a bit muddy and its concerns a little dated, I was still riveted by just how good the surrealist sequences looked. In 1983, Cronenberg and company were able to animate monstrosities more grotesque than anything that's ever been rendered by a computer. It's perfect body horror; mundane objects become throbbing, oozing sexual apparatuses. The human body becomes the most horrifying sight of all. 

I've just learned that Universal Studios now owns the rights to remake Videodrome. The project seems to be stalled at present, and I seriously hope it never unsticks from the floor of film limbo, because I just know that there's going to be CGI all over that useless piece of fan fiction. There's no artistic need to remake a perfect Cronenberg film, no need to drag it screaming into the 21st century when it's a firmly situated work of early '80s cinema. And most importantly, body horror just can't be done with computers.

It can't be done because there's still no way to trick the human eye into believing completely that a virtual object is real. CGI is all well and good if you accept its limits, but try to force it into a dark, serious film and you end up with cartoon smears on top of perfectly good footage. There's a reason that movies like Pan's Labyrinth, for all their dependence on computers for digital editing and the like, still build their monsters in the real world. You can't get fake light to reflect off an object that doesn't exist in such a way that creates a visceral experience for the viewer. If you're going the visceral route--if you want the kind of horror that your audience can feel in their guts--you have to sculpt it from real matter. Nothing else can give you that visual weight that '80s body horror perfected.