Most horror fans know plenty about the genre known as body horror: this branch of fright films is characterized by the graphic destruction of the body. Sometimes caused by disease or mutilation, while other times the result of a parasite, horror masters like David Cronenberg and Clive Barker have become known for their commitment to discovering new and awful ways to destroy the human body. However, there is another genre in the horror world that falls somewhere in between straight body horror and the more generic medical horror: that is genetic horror!
These films aren't about a simple virus or parasite, oh no! Genetic horror deals with the awful physical and psychological repercussions of altering one's own biological makeup right down to the DNA. These films may deal with cloning, or experiments in genetic mutation. One even goes so far as to deal with huge questions of time travel and genetics. These films aren't simple or even necessarily terribly enjoyable, but they are brave in that they often force us to question our own morality; specifically, just how far would you be willing to go to bring your greatest love back from the dead? Or maybe to rid the world of awful diseases? Learn the secrets of the universe?
This is my list of what I consider the five best genetic horror films in recent history, with a few honorable mentions thrown in at the end for some movies that just skirt the line between body and genetic horror. Guard your DNA, kiddies...
The Fly (1986)
I chose to highlight Cronenberg's remake of the original film because I think it was far more visually horrifying in its depiction of genetic mutation. When scientist Seth Brundle's experiments with genetic teleportation go horribly wrong, he finds that his genes have been cross-contaminated with those of a fly. As the two DNAs begin to merge more and more closely, the question becomes, what makes a man? Is it is mind or his genetics?
Womb (which is also known as Clone) is by far the most complex genetic drama/horror film I have ever seen. In fact, it's only really a horror film if your moral tolerance for really hard questions is low. Eva Green plays Rebecca, a young woman who watches as her life-long love (played by Matt Smith) is run down and killed by a passing van. But rather than let go, she chooses to have his genetic material cloned, gives birth to the clone, and then raise it as her child... until he is no longer a child and has grown back into the man she lost. But what makes a mother? Is it just the process of giving birth, of sharing your womb with a fetus? Or is it sharing maternal DNA? Regardless of what you think of Rebecca's choices, the main question Womb asks is... how far would YOU go to be reunited with the love of your live?
I was very firmly in a minority that didn't enjoy Splice. I thought it was awkward, unpleasant, and rapey/incesty. But in terms of genetic horror, it is about as perfect as a film can get. Not only was the creation Dren a beautiful genetic amalgam of human and animal, but Splice really drove home the dangers of operating outside the system with reckless abandon for the consequences. I may not love Splice, but I respect the hell out of it.
Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
Tokyo Gore Police is one of those films that I recommend to people with the expectation that 2/3 of them will be cursing my name when it's over. However, I think it is easily one of the sickest and most fascinating examples of genetic horror to come out in years. In a world where masochism is a hobby and weapons can be genetically fused with the body, only a few people are brave enough to fight against the powers that be. TGP has some of the most outlandish and memorable FX I've seen in my life, which makes it so absolutely awesome.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
Brit Marling is a tricky one. Of the two movies I've seen that she has written, I left both swearing like a sailor, primarily because she doesn't believe in traditional endings. However, I have also always ended up appreciating what an enigmatic story teller she is, and that is never truer than it is with Sound of My Voice. This film, on the surface about documentarians exploring a cult with a charismatic, time-traveling leader, is about so much more. I believe the genetic element comes in depending on your interpretation of the film (I won't be sharing mine because I don't want to ruin your experience), but Sound of My Voice is definitely not a film for people who like their movies tied up with a neat little bow. So, fair warning.
Honorable Mentions: The Thing (1982), District 9 (2009), & Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Do you have a favorite genetic horror film that I left off the list? Let me know in the comments section!