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M.I.A.: Horror Director, David Cronenberg

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Aug 29, 2011 | 10:28am EDT

ALTTypically, MIA has been a showcase for artists who have faded from the public eye in one fashion or another. Usually that means said artist has not had a movie released theatrically in several years or have, in other instances, completely retired.

Today’s subject is MIA in a very different way because he has actually been working steady with movies released in theaters in both 2005 and 2007. So clearly he doesn’t fit the bill, right? Wrong.

Today we ask the very specific question: Where is David Cronenberg…the horror director?

Why We Love Him

If you count yourself an incurable horrorphile like me, David Cronenberg is not someone who needs much introduction. Much like Alfred Hitchcock, the man’s very name carries its own wealth of immediate associations and has become a part of the horror lexicon; not uncommon for someone to call a film Cronenbergian. Cronenberg’s style of horror film often involved drastic, terrifying physical changes or deformities in its characters. This inclination toward sticky, goopy, or otherwise twisted malady earned his cannon the label “body horror.”

Croenenberg’s early catalog reads like an “Essentials of Classic Horror" study guide. In 1975 Cronenberg gave us Shivers (a.k.a. They Came From Within) his somewhat satirical take on the concept of the zombie invasion. He followed it up with Rabid in 1977. These two films were wildly entertaining and showed traces of adept filmmaking, but when The Brood was released in 1979, it became clear that Cronenberg was not just another shock-peddling exploitation director. The Brood was a dark, unnerving horror film, but also a drama about the complexities of broken families. It was methodical in its pacing, shocking in its violence, and even managed to be heart-breaking; a rarity for the genre.

ALTBut the film that really put David Cronenberg on the map was 1981’s Scanners, a film in which a group of powerful telepaths have the ability to make peoples’ heads explode. Here again we have a film that could not be more exploitative in concept, but Cronenberg’s beautiful photography and the performances he was able to pull from his actors—particularly Michael Ironside—elevates the material to something far more substantial and wholly impressive. Then came a parade of greatness in the form of Videodrome, The Dead Zone, and The Fly; the latter arguably his masterpiece. All of these films have to do with heroes afflicted with some sort of physical torment. This is a guy who, over the course of a decade, cemented his legacy as one of the greatest horror directors of all time.

What Happened to Him?

As many creative types are wont to do, Cronenberg took steps to ensure that he would not be pigeonholed as just a horror guy. He made a string of films that stretched his artistic muscles starting with 1991’s Naked Lunch, an adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ drug-induced non-linear novel. He followed this with an exploration of the relationship between sex and near-death experiences in 1996’s Crash and the sci-fi film eXistenZ in 1999. These two films earned him a great deal of praise at the Cannes Film Festival. It was clear that he was just as proficient in any other genre as he was in horror.

Where’s He Been?

In 2005, Cronenberg teamed up with Viggo Mortensen to adapt the graphic novel A History of Violence. The movie tells the story of a terribly decent man from a small town whose dark and brutal past threatens to catch up with him after a rather shocking chance encounter. Another collaboration between Mortensen and Cronenberg would follow in 2007’s Russian crime drama Eastern Promises. These films were visually stunning and the stories were enthralling, but the severity of the violence contained within hinted back to Cronenberg’s early days as a horror master.

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What Now?

David Cronenberg is currently at work on a film entitled A Dangerous Method, a historical drama about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in the respective roles. I love these two actors and, as a psychology major, I am very interested in the subject matter. I also loved A History of Violence and Eastern Promise. Furthermore, I understand that no artist in any medium should ever be limited to one form.

However, as a horror fanatic, I am praying for the day that Cronenberg returns to the genre that made a legend. I’m sorry to say horror is not in the best state of affairs at present and could desperately use someone as masterful as Cronenberg to give it a much-needed kick in the ass.

Cronenberg’s absence from horror has been a long one, and I know I am not alone in my hope that we will get to see his triumphant return.

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