The World Made Flesh: Sex and Identity in the Films of David Cronenberg

The Brood  illustrated by  Christianne Benedict .

The Brood illustrated by Christianne Benedict.

Back when it was in theaters in 2005, I had a disagreement with a friend of mine about David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. My friend thought the film was good, but he wished that Cronenberg would go back to making the kinds of horror movies he made at the start of his career. This is not an uncommon opinion among horror fans. My position is that Cronenberg never really stopped making those kinds of films, that A History of Violence is completely of a piece with a film like, say, Scanners or Dead Ringers. It’s only the skin of the genre that has changed. When I started enumerating the elements A History of Violence had in common with those films, my friend conceded my point. It is, after all, a film about brothers in conflict, in which the older brother tries to kill the younger brother. It is a film in which two separate and distinct personas inhabit one body, and in which the drama attempts to reconcile or merge those two personas into one, into a new equilibrium. You might recognize these elements from Scanners, in which Cameron Vale eventually merges his own consciousness with the body of his older brother, Darryl Revok, or in The Fly, where Seth Brundle must contend with the presence of an insect’s consciousness intruding on his own; or even in Videodrome, in which Max Renn’s own consciousness is over-written first by the Videodrome signal and then by Bianca O’Blivion’s countermeasure. A History of Violence is the same kind of thing, reframed as film noir. One thing I didn’t discuss with my friend was the way the film delineates the different personalities of Tom Stall, small-town businessman and loving husband and father, and Joey Cusack, gangland thug and murderer. You can see the difference in the sex scenes, of which there are two. In the first, Tom is an accommodating, even passive lover. He goes down on his wife rather than penetrate her. He lets her initiate everything. In the second, Joey practically rapes Tom’s wife on the stairs, leaving bruises that she’ll have to explain to her doctor, probably. In the methodology of the film, the identity of the persona looking out from Tom/Joey’s eyes is determined by how they have sex.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing in Cronenberg.

There’s a scene in Shivers, Cronenberg’s 1975 commercial debut, where Lynn Lowery’s Nurse Forsythe delivers a monologue to the camera while under the influence of that film’s sex parasites:

“I had a very disturbing dream last night. In this dream I found myself making love to a strange man. Only I'm having trouble you see, because he's old...and dying...and he smells bad, and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual. You know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him, and we make love beautifully.”

This might as well be a thesis statement for the rest of the director’s output. A manifesto, if you will. In one degree or another, Cronenberg’s films have been exploring sex and identity ever since. Or, rather, they’ve been exploring sex as identity. This is a logical end result of the philosophical underpinnings of Cronenberg’s ideas. Cronenberg has described himself as a pure existentialist. He does not believe in a supernatural world. He believes that the mind is a natural process generated by the body, and that the mind and the body are inseparable. And, as laid out in Nurse Forsyth’s monologue, he believes that bodies are inherently sexual. Therefore minds are sexual. In the context of Shivers, this is the blood parasites talking. But in talking about the film later, the director notes that in making the film, he was trying to take on the point of view of the disease, speculating about what the disease needs in opposition to what human beings need. The point of view of the disease in Shivers is that organisms are sex and sex is manifested as organisms. Sex is the mechanism for mutation. Sex is the mechanism for evolution. Sex is what life is. It’s what we are.

This is a key to understanding most of the director’s films. It may even be the key to all of them.

For example: Fast Company is a film that has traditionally existed as an outlier in Cronenberg’s portfolio. It’s a standard race car exploitation film made in the style of American International drive-in movies and starring drive-in movie actors like William Smith, John Saxon, and Claudia Jennings. As a formal piece of cinema, it has more in common with The Great Texas Dynamite Chase or Eat My Dust than it does with Shivers or Rabid. Critic and Cronenberg skeptic Robin Wood once suggested that Fast Company is a touchstone that indicates that Cronenberg’s usual style of clinical theatricality is a deliberate artistic choice, and he was certainly right about that. If Cronenberg’s major films contain an instantly recognizable private universe—and they do—then Fast Company surely exists somewhere outside of it. And yet…

While it doesn’t have the weird theatrical abstraction one finds in his signature work, Fast Company does have one or two ideas that recur in later films. He would revisit the methods he used to film the drag racers—the actual cars—in both Crash and Cosmopolis, treating them as fetish objects, shiny and chrome, as his camera glides around them. Moreover, there’s a scene in Fast Company that explores the erotic possibilities of motor oil. The characters involved are race car drivers. Their sexual behavior, then, is an extension of who they are. There’s another example of this in Dead Ringers: When Elliot Mantle first has sex with Claire Niveau, she’s tied to the bed with surgical tubing held in place with hemostats. When she comes, she says, “Doctor, you’ve cured me.” Again, his sexual behavior is an extension of who he is. Dead Ringers takes this a step further than Fast Company, because the Mantles are not only doctors, they are gynecologists and mad scientists. Their attraction to Claire Niveau is sparked by the unusual nature of her sexual organs—her uterus has three entrances.

Given that Cronenberg presents minds and bodies as inextricably entangled, it follows that when you change the body, you change the mind and vice versa. This is the foundation of Cronenberg’s first decade of films, in which the equilibrium of mind and body is fragile. Knocking this equilibrium out of balance is usually what initiates the plot and the drama. This initially manifests itself in the body: in the pulsing of the skin in Shivers where the sex parasites move beneath it, in Rose’s phallic new appendage for sucking blood in Rabid, in Nola Carveth’s external birth sacs and cloned children in The Brood, in the hole in Darryl Revok’s head in Scanners and in that film’s notorious exploding head, and so on. Cronenberg’s films up until The Fly gave the director a reputation for gory horror movie set-pieces featuring gooey special effects. This is the era in which Videodrome announced the “New Flesh.” It was during this time period that Cronenberg earned his reputation as the king of so-called “body horror.” “Body horror” is a category in which the horror elicited by a film arises from the fragility of bodies, of the betrayal of bodies in the face of disease or alien parasites or what have you. In Cronenberg, however, the betrayal of the body comes from within, from the mind, usually. It’s not for nothing that Shivers’ alternate title is They Came from Within. The purpose of these special effects is perhaps less obvious in individual films, but when taken as a whole, Cronenberg’s characters tend to develop (or install) new organs that are sexual in nature (this tendency continues into the director’s later, less gooey films, too, if you count, say, Eric Packer’s asymmetrical prostate in Cosmopolis). It should be noted that Cronenberg doesn’t necessarily differentiate between sex and reproduction, though one of the central questions in his filmography is what sex is actually for when it is no longer needed for reproduction.

Nola Carveth in The Brood is the poster child for minds changing bodies. Dr. Raglan’s “Psychoplasmic” therapy—a weird parody of EST and Primal Scream and other then-fashionable 1970s self-help fads—encourages his patients to materialize their psychic traumas as neoplasms on their bodies. One of his patients manifests a grotesque tumor on his throat. Nola Carveth, the estranged wife of the film’s hero, gives shape to her own rage in the form of murderous clones, birthed parthenogenetically from external sacs on her body. Nola’s sexuality has removed itself from “normal” reproductive sex and her identity has reformulated as a mother for monsters from the id. Her rage is her sexuality. Her rage is her identity.

Nola’s usurpation of the reproductive capacity of men is an affront to Frank Carveth, who murders her in order to reclaim the daughter he himself has fathered and reassert his own identity, his own masculinity, his own sexual presence in the world. This is a common characteristic of Cronenberg’s heroes, whose place in the world is usually knocked out from under them by a confrontation with the monstrous feminine.

Debbie Harry as Nikki Brand in  Videodrome .

Debbie Harry as Nikki Brand in Videodrome.

I don’t remember the first time I noticed that Nikki Brand, the talk radio host in Videodrome, enacted her name on her body during the film’s sex scenes, but it’s what sent me down the rabbit hole of sex and identity in Cronenberg’s films. Names are sometimes important in Cronenberg, which is why they are sometimes odd enough to call attention to themselves. Sometimes they are games the director is playing to amuse himself: the owner of the art gallery in Scanners is “Arnold Crostic,” which suggests his function in the plot as something to be read or a puzzle to be deciphered (A. Crostic or acrostic). Videodrome’s Brian O’blivion should be recognizable as an anagram for the film’s ultimate view of the world as video hallucination. But Nikki Brand is different. Nikki’s penchant for cutting herself during sex (“nicking” herself) and burning herself with cigarettes (“branding” herself) is a clue that her body and her identity are one, and that her interest in masochistic sex is a key element in that identity. More, it’s a signpost for the director’s other films, suggesting that critical viewers should pay attention.

Other character enacting their identity on their body include Vaughn in Crash, whose surgical tattoos are an expression of the sexual pleasure he derives from automotive trauma, and Nikolai in Eastern Promises. In order to create the identity of a Russian gangster, Nikolai also covers his body with tattoos, including the stars that are indicative of his status in the underworld. This becomes a statement of masculinity in that film’s notorious nude fight scene in which Nikolai’s manhood and identity are conflated in the image of Viggo Mortensen’s fully naked body.

Jeremy Irons & Jeremy Irons as Beverly & Elliot Mantle in  Dead Ringers .

Jeremy Irons & Jeremy Irons as Beverly & Elliot Mantle in Dead Ringers.

The Mantle twins in Dead Ringers are study in the way Cronenberg sometimes names his characters. The film delineates the identities of the Mantles in subtle ways, not least of which is found in the way Jeremy Irons holds his body when playing one or the other of them, but their names are a significant tell: Beverly and Elliot. One feminine, one masculine. The nature of their personalities is contained in their names. Like Tom Stall in A History of Violence, Beverly is a conscientious, accommodating lover. Like Joey Cusak, Elliot is a more brutal lover, a rapist even. The way they each have sex is how Claire Niveau figures out that they are both fucking her. “Beverly’s the sweet one, and you’re the shit,” she tells Elliot. The bifurcation of the Mantles’ personalities into masculine and feminine is a product of the New Flesh as a transgender ideation (Rose’s new sex organ in Rabid is phallic, the new orifices in Videodrome and eXistenZ are yonic, Nola Carveth’s new flesh assumes the reproductive capacity of male and female, etc.). This is an idea the director finds fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. At the end of the film, after the Mantles have brought their personae into “equilibrium”, Beverly slurs Elliot’s name into “Elly,” making it not just feminine, but a diminutive of “Elle,” which literally means “girl.”

Cronenberg is less able to use names he inherits from his source material when adapting the work of others, but even in these films, the names sometimes describe behavior. The Dead Zone is perhaps Cronenberg’s least Cronenbergian film. At sometime in pre-production, the director attempted to change the name of the film’s hero from “Johnny Smith” to something more to his own liking. He was convinced to leave the name alone. This is serendipity, because “Johnny Smith” is an everyman, a man whose fervent hope is anonymous normality. He longs for a lost love, and a family of his own. When he finally consummates his love for Sarah Bracknell, the woman he loses to a five year coma, it’s almost chaste and the film turns its gaze away. “Johnny Smith” is as vanilla as they come. But The Dead Zone itself is not devoid of the director’s sexual gaze. This is overt in the behavior of the Castle Rock Killer, Frank Dodd, who is compelled to kill by sexual pathology (elided in the movie, explicit in the book). When he kills himself after Johnny discovers his identity, he’s naked, but for his police pancho, suggesting that he’s both sexually damaged and tied to his identity as a sheriff's deputy. His death is a sexual act. The Dead Zone elides Dodd’s sexual abuse at the hands of his mother. In the book, it’s memorably grotesque as Dodd’s mother punishes him by putting a clothespin at the end of his penis to prevent him from masturbating, but the movie keeps this off screen and out of the text of the film. Johnny knows, though, because he touches her hand when he and Bannerman show up to arrest him. “You knew!” he tells her, and he probably saw the rest. Dodd’s sexual ideation is violent, his identity is as a killer of women and as a cop, both derived from his sexual trauma. His death eroticizes both of them. Dodd’s mother is a precursor to Spider’s mother in Spider, who inflicts such a sexual trauma on her son that at some point, hers is the face worn by all women. Trauma becomes reality.

Johnny Smith’s psychic power is acquired through trauma (change the body, change the mind) and its use is filmed as traumatic. When taken in the context of the Cronenberg’s other films, it becomes sexual, too. It requires contact for Johnny’s nervous system to connect with the life of others. This is another long-running theme of the director’s films. As long ago as his 1966 short film, Transfer, the director had the intermingling of minds in the forefront of his cinema. “Communication is the original sin!” that film’s deranged psychiatrist shouts at his patient. “Do you know what it means to have other minds dragging their dirty feet across your own mind?” Cronenberg elaborates on this with Stereo, in which a group of people submit to experimental brain surgery which extends the electrical fields of their own minds permitting them to act as telepaths, but robbing them of their ability to speak or function as anything other than a gestalt consciousness. (The experiment in Stereo is performed by the Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry, and the pharmaceutical governors of the experiment are aphrodisiacs). Cronenberg later defines telepathy in Scanners as the joining together of two nervous systems, and permits Cameron Vale to join himself to a computer, thus suggesting the conjoining of biology and technology. Scanners are manufactured in the film through the administration of a pre-natal drug, and Kim Obrist finds herself getting scanned by an unborn baby at one point. Basically it all goes back to sex. Johnny Smith may not have a conventional sex life in The Dead Zone, but his connection to others through touch is sexual. Johnny doesn’t enjoy this much. For all their erotic obsessions, Cronenberg’s films have a tendency to be anti-erotic, and I suppose “Johnny Smith” the everyman might be a stand-in for an audience squicked out by his own biology. Cronenberg, it should be noted, is not averse to metanarratives in his films; just look at the conflation of Rose in Rabid with the actress who plays her. Marilyn Chambers was notorious for her roles in porn, and the filmmakers bake that sexuality into that film’s very identity. The actress herself is sex.

As an aside, The Dead Zone has more or less the same plot as Videodrome, in which a man has his brain altered (by tv signal and head trauma respectively), granting him psychic visions that compel him to become a political assassin. There’s a variant of this plot in eXistenZ, as well, and in Cosmopolis. But this is off in the weeds.

Ted Pikul (Jude Law) shares an intimate connection with Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her Metaflesh Game Pod in  eXistenz.

Ted Pikul (Jude Law) shares an intimate connection with Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her Metaflesh Game Pod in eXistenz.

The living end of the sexual connection of nervous systems can be found in eXistenZ. Its biological game pods are plugged into “ports” that have been installed at the base of the spine of its players. The opening shots of the game pods—they’re called “Metaflesh Game Pods”, so the naming is significant, natch—is hilariously on point, because they look like mutant sex toys and the fingers of the players are working the controllers look like they’re trying to stimulate a lover’s nipples. The game in eXistenZ is an MMORPG, so the players of the game, plugged into each other through a sexual interface, create a mass shared hallucination of reality, becoming another gestalt consciousness through sex like the telepaths in Stereo and Kim Obrist’s group of telepathic rebels in Scanners. eXistenZ even has one of the drawbacks of sex, in so far as it can be infected with communicable diseases—envisioned by the film as a literal infection of Allegra Geller’s game pod. When the narrative of the film moves out into its shell-narrative, the game pods in that reality become technological (the main narrative of eXistenZ has a noticeable lack of technology, or, rather, non-biological technology). The characters are still constructing a shared reality by conjoining their nervous systems, but the interface is electronic rather than protoplasmic. The film is suggesting that there’s no practical difference. We are a race of cyborgs, after all.

Spelling out stereotypes in  M.Butterfly .

Spelling out stereotypes in M.Butterfly.

The idea that identity conjures reality is central the plot of M. Butterfly, which in its theatrical state as David Henry Hwang’s play is about the fetishization of Asian women by Western white men, but which in Cronenberg’s hands becomes a meditation on identity as defined by sexual roles. René Gallimard, that film’s French diplomat in China during the 1950s, is ignorant of the nature of Peking Opera, and so sees only the construct of femininity created by Song Liling, the spy sent to betray him. Song is as much a construct of Gallimard’s imagination as she is of Chinese Intelligence or of Song themselves. Song prefers anal sex with Gallimard (there’s a LOT of rear entry sex in Cronenberg, by the way), which Gallimard interprets as a secret Chinese method of love making. He deludes himself into believing that Song is anatomically female. Some critics at the time felt that actor John Lone was too “masculine” to convince anyone that Song was female, but that’s beside the point. Gallimard is a slave to his fetish. His sexual desire for an Asian woman creates a reality in his head. As a personal aside, this behavior should be instantly recognizable to many transgender women (of which I am one) as the behavior of the “tranny chaser,” who like Gallimard, often prefer trans women for their purported hyperfemininity. The florid descriptions with which Gallimard declares his desire for Song Liling are typical. When that reality is shattered, after Gallimard is confronted by the physical reality of Song’s anatomical sex in the back of the police wagon after having been arrested for espionage, the planks of Gallimard’s reality are pulled out from underneath him. At the end of the movie, he attempts to reassert his reality by repeating his name—affirming his identity and, thus, his reality—as he commits suicide.

Peter Weller as haunted writer Bill Lee in Cronenberg’s  Naked Lunch  (1991).

Peter Weller as haunted writer Bill Lee in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991).

Both Naked Lunch and Crash feature avatars of their respective authors as protagonists. In both films, reality is suspect. Naked Lunch is a meta-adaptation about William Burroughs himself more than it is an adaptation of the unfilmable source text(s). It’s largely about addiction and the recurrence of trauma as drivers of creativity, but it’s also a sexual ideation that conflates addiction with sexual desire. At least part of the film’s representative of Burroughs’s homosexuality finds the author’s avatar, Bill Lee, sucking additive substances from the phallic protuberances on the heads of mugwumps. The film is haunted by Joan Lee, the wife Bill Lee accidentally kills at the beginning and at the end of the film, and in Joan Frost represents guilt as sexual obsession. Lee conjures the reality of Interzone from queerness, guilt, and addiction, and all of it is a hall of mirrors. All of it is Bill Lee’s sexual trauma woven into a paranoid fantasy world where escape turns out not to be possible. When Lee attempts to escape, he takes Joan Frost with him and proves his identity by shooting her the way he shot his wife, but by then, the two Joans have already merged in his mind. His identity is as the killer of his wife, not anything else, and all of his fantasies and his sexual identity all derive from this.

Judy Davis as Joan Lee (and later, her doppelgänger Joan Frost) in Cronenberg’s  Naked Lunch  (1991).

Judy Davis as Joan Lee (and later, her doppelgänger Joan Frost) in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991).

Crash also follows a writer trapped by his sexuality. In classic Cronenberg fashion, a physical trauma results in an altered perception of reality, as James Ballard begins to notice that traffic is heavier than it used to be before his crash, and that he has become intensely aroused by the thought of car crashes. He’s not alone. He joins a band of similar crash survivors who get off on restaging famous car crashes, sometimes (as in the case of Jane Mansfield’s death) resulting in their own deaths. The traumas done to their bodies become their sexualities, and the film famously explores the erotic possibilities of an open wound. The film also sexualizes medical technologies used to treat trauma. Gabrielle’s leg brace and crutches are filmed like fetish gear. When the film shoots women in cars, it dresses them in garters and stockings in the manner of fetish art a la John Willie or Gene Bilbrew. Moreover, the way it dresses characters in not-quite fetish fashions has the perverse effect of identifying them with cars (as opposed to the identification of the drivers in Fast Company as car drivers). The filmmakers film characters and cars in the same manner throughout, and almost all of the sex depicted in the film is rear entry, like a car crash, suggesting that the cars themselves aren’t their identities, but that the crash is their identity. The question, asked by some critics at the time of who in their right mind gets off on car crashes almost misses the point. There are two answers to that question. One is: you’ve obviously never been to a demolition derby or seen a car calendar with a fetishy pin-up draped across gleaming chrome vehicles. The other is: well, nobody, really. The film isn’t necessarily about car crashes per se so much as it’s about the nature of paraphiliac sexuality. Getting off on car crashes is a stand in for any fetish you like. The characters in Crash are driven by sexual compulsion, and that compulsion is ultimately destructive. At the end of the film, Ballard and his wife, Catherine, are still pursuing the next sexual high. When both of them wind up on an embankment after crashing their cars, Catherine murmurs, “I think I’m alright” as they fuck, to which Ballard responds, “Maybe next time, darling.” The consummation is death. It reminds me a bit of the end of The Story of O, in which O expresses a desire to die as part of her sexuality.

Crash  illustrated by Christianne Benedict.

Crash illustrated by Christianne Benedict.

The automobile as an extension of sexuality recurs in Cosmopolis, in which Eric Packer’s stretch limo is a phallic symbol. Most of the film takes place inside it. Packer is in a self-destructive spiral because his wife in a political marriage designed to unite fortunes won’t fuck him. She is, in fact, the only woman he knows who won’t fuck him because he has no power over her. Like the victims in Crash, he doesn’t feel anything except his sexual obsession, and because he’s a billionaire master of the universe, the stock market rises and falls with his cock. His sexual hangups create the reality around him and that reality is crumbling.

I suppose it was inevitable that Cronenberg would make a movie about Freud and Jung eventually. The interest in psychiatrists was there from the outset, after all, and his films have always been an examination of Freud’s definition of the id as a place where eros and thanatos vie for supremacy. In A Dangerous Method, Jung begins the film as a clinical presence, aloof, analytical, until his worldview is knocked askew by a confrontation with a monstrous femininity. Sabina Spielrein, Jung’s patient, is raw id, a woman who contorts her body while in the throes of “hysteria” in the classical meaning of that word: a psychosis common to women, a condition whose name—names are important, remember—derives from the Greek word for womb. Spielrein’s “treatment,” her talking cure, includes bouts of kinky sex with Jung administering the spankings. The experience changes Jung and instead of pursuing psychoanalysis as a science—as Freud demands—he pursues it as a mystic or as a philosopher. His reality has changed. So, too, has Sabina Spielrein’s reality. She sides with Freud and becomes a psychoanalyst herself and focuses her practice on materiality rather than Jung’s more metaphysical theorizing. Sex, to these characters, is something to be studied as a physical phenomenon that impinges on the brain. To Jung, however, it rocks his epistemology.

Cronenberg’s most recent film, Maps to the Stars, turns his gaze to the monstrous feminine itself as the dominant element of the film, rather than as a trigger for his other concerns. Ostensibly about the way Hollywood uses people—particularly actresses as they age and child stars—this finds the director reasserting, once again, the primacy of sex as biology and identity. Both of the film’s central characters are women for a change, and he sets out almost immediately to debunk ideas of glamour. Both Agatha Weiss and Havanna Segrand are shown in ways that Hollywood actors almost never are. Agatha spots Havanna’s flawless white couch with her period. Havanna wipes her crotch after enthusiastic sex with Jerome the chauffeur (in yet another stretch limo, no less). Women are biological entities, this film tells us. Havanna, an aging actress no longer getting prime roles, has rolled her career and sexuality into a toxic identity that needs love and sex in return as validation. Agatha, by contrast, is the mad daughter of a pop psychiatrist, whose reality is the only one of the film’s realities to which the audience is never privy. She wears fetishy shoulder-length gloves to cover burn scars and late in the film, after being rejected by her embarrassed father and betrayed by Havanna, becomes another of the director’s avatars of rage. Her desire for belonging would be recognizable to Seth Brundle, who wanted to merge with Veronica Quaif and their unborn child, or by the Mantle twins, who like Agatha and her child-star brother, Benjy, descend into death with drugs. Cronenberg’s characters pursue their desires to their logical conclusion, and Agatha is no different.

Many of Cronenberg’s protagonists end up as suicides. The sex drive is also the death drive, if you believe Freud’s definition of the id. It’s not for nothing that Candace Carweth attends “Krell Elementary School” in The Brood, named for the alien race that gave birth to monsters from the id in Forbidden Planet. So, too, is the sex drive the death drive in Cronenberg. And even dying, as Nurse Forsythe says, is erotic.


Although I haven’t provided specific citations, many of the ideas expressed here are influenced by the following sources:

“Cronenberg as Scientist: Antiessentialism, Sex as Remixing, and the View from Nowhere,” by Peter Ludlow, “Deception and Disorder: Unravelling Cronenberg’s Divided Minds” by Simon Riches, and “Self-Creation, Identity, and Authenticity: A Study of A History of Violence” by David Mosely, in The Philosophy of David Cronenberg, edited by Simon Riches, University of Kentucky Press, 2012.

“Traces of Horror: The Later Films of David Cronenberg” by William Beard, “The Physician as Mad Scientist: A Fear of Deviant Medical Practices in the Films of David Cronenberg” by James Burrell, and “Contagious Characters: Cronenberg’s Rabid, Demarbre’s Smash Cut, and the Re-framing of Porn Fame” by Sean Moreland, in The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul edited by Gina Freitag and Andre Loiselle. University of Toronto Press, 2015.

“Cronenberg: A Dissenting View” by Robin Wood, and “The Image as Virus: The Filming of Videodrome ” by Tim Lucas, in The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg, edited by Piers Handling. The Academy of Canadian Cinema, 1983.

The Politics of Insects: David Cronenberg’s Cinema of Confrontation by Scott Wilson; Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011.

Cronenberg on Cronenberg by Chris Rodley, Faber & Faber, 1996.

Nightmare Movies: A Critical Guide to Contemporary Horror Movies by Kim Newman, Harmony Books, 1989.

Cinesexuality by Patricia MacCormack, Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

Also: various DVD commentaries by the director himself. 


Christianne Benedict is a cartoonist and writer who lives with her partner in rural Missouri. She has been published by Indiewire and Filmmaker Magazine, but usually writes at her own blog at Her comics have appeared in anthologies from IDW, Prism Comics, and Stacked Deck Press. She used to post her comics on Tumblr before they turned into a bunch of puritanical poopy-heads. She occasionally screens for film festivals. She has a dog and several cats. Her safe word is "platypus." You can find her on twitter @doctor_morbius.