Horror By the Sub-Genres: SURGICAL/MEDICAL HORROR
Though the study and practice of medicine has been around since the beginnings of human civilization, it is only within the past 150 years that the medical field has made its most groundbreaking and world-changing discoveries and advancements. We’ve learned what germs are, what they do, and how to destroy them; we’ve discovered DNA sequencing and the secrets of genetic coding; and we’ve advanced the act of surgery, once a desperate battlefield choice likely to kill the patient, to an outpatient procedure that people can volunteer for when they don’t like the shape of their noses. That magical future world we once read about in “Buck Rogers” and saw on “Disney’s Tomorrowland” TV show, the world where lasers and pills cure terrible diseases, where robots and machine parts keep human bodies alive long past their probable life expectancy, is already upon us.
And yet… we still hate going to the hospital. The astronomical costs, the secret language spoken between medical professionals, the impersonal treatment of the most intimate problems; healing is hard work. Humanity’s instinct to survive at all costs is nearly matched by its discomfort with pain and suffering, and our modern medicine is as good at prolonging the slow descent to death as it is at actually curing disease. Two hundred years ago, sickness happened quickly and life ended abruptly, but now we can drag out the length of time it takes to die in order to give ourselves time to panic, suffer, and waste away. The thought of that suffering is what nightmares are made of.
That is all before the discussion of the doctors themselves even begins. There is an inherent suspicion and mistrust in humanity towards doctors, and perhaps understandably so. Since the beginning of medicine, we have always questioned their methods and explanations, and they have often been wrong, in the cases of lobotomies, leeching, and even spiritual repentance. But even in the cases when their diagnoses are sound, the options are still not desirable: chemotherapy, surgery, a lifetime on prescription medication. The child in us still doubts that eating your vegetables, along with an apple a day, will keep you safely out of his reach. But we want to live, and so we follow their instructions, often blindly, faith in a self-made god who can make mistakes as easily as we can.
The sub-genre has been thriving for a long time, often in the guise of the “Mad Scientist” tale, dating all the way back to the original Universal classic “Frankenstein”. It eventually split from the science gone wrong genre with classic films from the 70’s through to the 90’s, from early entries like Michael Crichton’s medical thriller “Coma” and the more gory eighties entry “Blue Monkey” to the tongue-in-cheek sadism of “Dr. Giggles”. Here are four recommendations for further exploration into the sub-genre.
THE CLASSIC- Eyes Without a Face
The classic French film about a brilliant surgeon who kidnaps young women in order to try and create a suitable replacement face for his permanently scarred daughter, this film by director Georges Franju is a surprisingly graphic film in its surgical authenticity, made all the more surprising in that it was made under a strict government body known for their censorship of ideas and images.
THE MODERN- Dead Ringers
A perfect combination of director David Cronenberg’s early obsessions with the horrors of the human body and his later meditations on the dissolution of the human mind, “Dead Ringers” tells the story of twin gynecologists whose relationship with the same woman causes one of them to start unraveling mentally, and blurs the line between their two identities.
THE OBSCURE- The Ambulance
From writer/director Larry Cohen, who never fails to create something as original as it is bizarre, comes this jet-black horror-comedy about a man in New York who becomes obsessed with finding out why people who get into a certain ominous ambulance are never heard from again.
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THE REINVENTION- The Human Centipede
The rare arthouse horror film that found an audience outside the typical gorehound audience despite its disturbing subject matter, there is little left to say about director Tom Six’s film that has not been said by critics and fans worldwide. Followed by one sequel and with another on its way, the central concept of a deranged man sewing human beings together to make them a single creature seems to have drawn in just as many curious viewers as it has repulsed.
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