6 of the most mind-bending David Cronenberg movies

David Cronenberg made crazy his calling-card through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s – before establishing himself with more accessible, high-profile thrillers in recent times.

With offbeat Hollywood satire Maps To The Stars hitting cinemas next week, Mark Butler celebrates the iconic Canadian director’s most unhinged previous work.

[Telly Addict: James Woods in Videodrome]

Shivers (1975)

One of Cronenberg’s very earliest creations (working title: ‘Orgy of the Blood Parasites), Shivers is a cult body horror classic about human-invading creatures that induce contagious nymphomania. And it’s every bit as much fun as that sounds.

Disturbing, violent and darkly amusing in equal measure, it’s a fiendish spin on both the zombie and epidemic sub-genres that’s both gross and weirdly sexual at the same time. If the Psycho shower scene shocked you, then a certain bathroom sequence here will give you nightmares.

Videodrome (1983)

Furthering the blend between sci-fi, body horror and fevered sexuality – and introducing the ‘breakdown of reality’ theme that has come to define the director’s most seminal work – James Wood stars as a morally dubious TV executive who becomes more and more deranged following exposure to bizarre, and violent, late-night broadcasts.

Prescient in its striking themes and deliciously surreal, Blondie’s Debbie Harry is also along for a wild ride that sees Woods develop a seeping, vagina-like VHS slot in his stomach – and get his hands on the world’s weirdest gun.

Dead Ringers (1988)

Jeremy Irons is on sparkling form in Cronenberg’s sinister, acclaimed masterpiece, playing twin gynaecologists who share sexual liaisons with unwitting patients.

Featuring yet more startlingly violent, erotic and outlandish imagery – and boasting an extraordinary dual performance from Irons as the arrogant Elliot and shy, emotionally disturbed Beverly – it’s unforgettable once viewed.

Naked Lunch (1991)

They said William S Burroughs’ deliriously warped novel was unfilmable. But they didn’t count on Cronenberg.

Peter Weller plays an increasingly disturbed pest control worker whose hallucinations take in surreal espionage, an organic, bug-like typewriter that secretes strange liquid, and a bizarre alternate reality known as Interzone. Packed full of jaw-dropping physical effects and off-the-wall exchanges – including a hilarious monologue about a talking anus – it’s a full-blown acid trip of a movie.

eXistenZ (1999)

Videodrome for the video game age, Cronenberg once again delves into the realm of bio-mechanical madness as we enter the eponymous virtual reality experience – in a startling near-future where people plug interactive technology directly into their bodies.

The question of what is real and what is not comes to the fore as Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh thwart assassins, search for answers, and visit an array of weird and wonderful locations. Visually sublime and utterly intriguing, it’s arguably his most underrated film.

Spider (2002)

Poignant, unsettling and home to an absolutely staggering lead performance from Ralph Fiennes, Spider is the story of a mentally ill man doomed to re-live the horrors of his past – while struggling to adjust to life outside the asylum.

There’s fine support from Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson as we as an audience gradually piece together the secrets of the protagonist’s tragic childhood and shattered psyche. Haunting in the best possible way, it forms a phenomenal bridge between Cronenberg’s formative weirdness and his more accessible recent work.

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