Master of Body Horror David Cronenberg is one of the most creative directors working today. For more than five decades, he’s been crafting intelligent, boundary-pushing thrillers like Videodrome and Spider. His most dramatic features, especially A history of violence and Eastern promises, are also excellent and see him bring his pointed observations to issues of violence and morality in the modern world. Cronenberg is obsessed with mortality, identity, and the human condition, and he explores these themes mercilessly in his work.
Cronenberg was a massive influence on future generations of filmmakers, but he was also once a budding storyteller drawing inspiration from other directors. In interviews, Cronenberg mentioned many movies that influenced him or that he enjoyed. Most of them are dark, experimental (often science fiction) tales that have much in common with his work, but a few can be somewhat surprising.
“Strange Days” (1995)
Ralph Fiennes stars in this sci-fi thriller as Lenny, a former cop turned black market tech dealer. One of the most popular devices allows people to record their memories and feelings for others to experience. Lenny comes across a recording of a young woman named Iris (Brigitte Baku) showing her being attacked and murdered, so he sets out to track down her killers.
strange dayswas led by Catherine Bigelow and co-authored by james cameron. Yet despite that star power, it was a major box office flop, grossing just $8 million against a budget of $42 million. He has since gained a small cult following. Without being a masterpiece, strange days is an intriguing 90s vision of a dystopian future.
“Altered States” (1980)
Researcher Edward Jessup (Guillaume Blessé) studies altered states through experiments involving sensory deprivation reservoirs and hallucinogens. He begins to have bizarre visions, which he suspects are primary memories. His experiments transform him more and more until he eventually evolves into an ape-like proto-human, with dire consequences.
During a visit to the JM video club in Paris, Cronenberg said he liked Modified states because it was made by an unusual combination of people he wouldn’t have expected to be working on a sci-fi project, specifically women in love director Ken Russell and screenwriter Paddy Chayefskywho wrote Sidney Lumetit is Network.
“Winter Kept Us Warm” (1965)
This romantic drama is set at the University of Toronto in the 1960s. It follows the friendship between two students, Doug (John Labow) and Peter (Henri Tarvain), which begins to turn into a romance. But the situation gets complicated, especially because they both have girlfriends. Screenwriter and director David Sector conveys these themes with a script that suggests and gestures rather than directly showing.
Secter does a great job crafting a sweet love story, despite the ultra-low budget. Winter kept us warm was a milestone for Canadian cinema, as it was one of the first Canadian films to garner significant international attention. “I was amazed. Shocked. Elated”, Cronenberg said of his first time watching the film. “‘It was an incredible experience.’
Raw is the first film of Julia Ducournauwho won the Palme d’or last year with his film Titanium. Raw is a coming-of-age psychological horror about Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman who begins studies in an elite veterinary school, where the seniors scramble the first years. There, vegetarian Justine is forced to dine on raw rabbit kidneys and develops a taste for flesh that quickly spirals out of control.
Raw received critical acclaim but failed to reach as many viewers as it deserves. Cronenberg was a huge fan and contacted Ducournau to congratulate her. “She was very fierce, fearless and inventive”, Cronenberg said of his work on the film. Ducournau must have been shocked, because she’s also a self-proclaimed stan of Cronenberg, specifically his Jeremy Irons– featured movie Dead ringtones.
Relativity is an experimental short film by a visual artist Ed Emshwiller, famous for his science fiction illustrations between the 1950s and 1970s. It’s a spooky exploration of life, death, perception and sexuality, with plenty of compelling visuals. In particular, it features many slow-motion shots of the human body. Cronenberg called him a “a pretty amazing intellectual thing” and “incredibly fluid and abstract”.
Cronenberg also said that Relativity, directed by an illustrator, made him realize that he didn’t need to go to film school to be a director. “You could make a movie yourself just because you wanted to make a movie” he said.
‘Scorpion Rising’ (1963)
Scorpio Rise is an avant-garde short film from the director Kenneth Anger. It follows a gang of Nazi bikers and cuts various scenes of violence, sadism and the occult. The film eschews dialogue and relies on a rock ‘n roll soundtrack featuring many stars of this period, from Ray Charles at Elvis Presley.
Cronenberg called the film a “landmark”. “I loved his cheerfulness, his excess”, he said. Scorpio Rise was also praised by the directors Gaspar Noe and Nicolas Winding Refn. Same Martin Scorsese cited him as an influence, prompting Anger to joke “Scorsese learned the soundtracks from me.”
“And God Created Woman” (1956)
This established French romance Brigitte Bardot as an international sex symbol. Set in St Tropez, it follows Juliette (Bardot) as she falls in love with a man but becomes engaged to his brother. It hasn’t aged well in any way, and it’s a bit melodramatic at times, but the performances of the protagonists are always memorable.
Cronenberg had said he used to watch Brigitte Bardot movies when he was thirteen while visiting his uncle in New York since you had to be sixteen to watch them in his native Canada. “I was totally in love with her” he said.
Schmeerguntz is an experimental short film that questions modern domestic life and the false reality of advertising. It contrasts real life images of daily life at home with idealized and retouched images of families in the media. It is an editing film that uses quick editing to cut between the original footage shot by the directors Gunvor Nelson and Dorothee Wiley and archival extracts.
“Schmeerguntz it was the rudest movie you could imagine”, Cronenberg told New York Magazine. “Just gross everyday stuff, diapers, cleaning the drain, cleaning the toilet.” No wonder he liked it, then.
“The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957)
Scott (Grant Williams) is exposed to a mysterious fog while sailing. Soon, it starts to shrink, with no remedy in sight. When Scott grows to the size of a child, his secret comes out and gets national attention. But it does not stop there. He is getting smaller and smaller, to the point that he can live in a dollhouse and is at risk of being mutilated by the family cat.
The special effects are quaint by today’s standards, but this ’50s sci-fi classic nails many of the scares, the giant spider, in particular. It was the first true on-screen execution of this effect and set a pattern that continues to be emulated or parodied in the 21st century with films like Alexander Payneit is Downsizing.
son of Cronenberg Brandon Cronenberg made this dark sci-fi about a technology that allows people to possess other people’s bodies. A dark society uses this technology to inhabit unsuspecting people and coerce them into committing assassinations. One of these mind-invading assassins, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), finds himself struggling with a host who refuses to fully submit.
Brandon incorporates many of his father’s themes and tropes: futuristic settings, mind control, dangerous new inventions, and even collaborating with Cronenberg. Jennifer Jason Leigh. Possessor is the young Cronenberg’s third feature film and marks him as a talent to watch.
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