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7. The Brood (1979)

“Reprehensible trash,” sneered Roger Ebert in his review. Rage, cycles of abuse, and parenthood are intertwined in what is widely known as the director’s most personal film, rooted as it is in the end of his first marriage and a custody battle for his daughter. The Brood lacks the composed distance of some of the other films under consideration here, as it trades cool for viscera. Messily stirring up images of a broken mother (echoed in Maps to the Stars) and the monstrous “children” that trauma can bear, The Brood is an emotional horror film with blood and guts spawned of deep fears we all share. If we accept the personal relation to his own life as the guiding principle, however, Cronenberg does finally turn his observational eye back on himself, as the film’s conclusion ultimately calls the outcome of his own actions into question.

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6. The Fly (1986)

David Cronenberg’s most consistently unnerving tendency is not related to gore or body horror. It’s not the collision between old and new forms of humanity. It’s that ability to look at the most disturbing shifts in condition with an eye that is dispassionate — or, worse, curious and accepting. We see it at the end of Shivers and Videodrome; the evolution in Rabid, and perhaps most specifically, the the progression from Seth Brundle to Brundlefly in The Fly. Brundlefly is not a creature of malice, but a thing of instinct, even purity. Seth Brundle looks at his transformation as a scientist would appraise a subject; that subject just happens to be himself. Cronenberg watches it all go down with only the occasionally puffy score from Howard Shore to indicate that his pulse is rising above normal.

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5. Dead Ringers (1988)
From here on out we’re deep in the weeds. While not as overtly wild as some of Cronenberg’s other films, Dead Ringers is plenty lurid, with its image of deranged gynecologists who perform operations clad in red surgical robes. (And it has the benefit of being heavily inspired by real events.) Once again, the closer he gets to “reality,” the weirder some of Cronenberg’s films seem. Dead Ringers is a rorschach blot of a split brain, with the twin characters played by Irons working out their struggle for dominance and independence. Additionally, it offers an unflinching consideration of just how far we’ll go to maintain a connection with someone, and is also a horrifying image of the way in which some men relate to women.

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