They say you learn something new everyday, and I believe it’s true. I also believe that people can’t let something just exist without categorizing it. Case in point: about a year ago, I was in my local Barnes & Noble wandering aimlessly. I was hoping to stumble on a new book, new author, or new anything. At the time, their Fiction section began with a wall full of anthologies of different sorts. Among them was The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. I had no idea what “body horror was”, but I knew that Mammoth books generally don’t disappoint. I grabbed it (and let’s be honest, about 5 other books) and left. It sat on my shelf for awhile because I was extremely busy getting married and buying my first house with my new husband.
In any event, some months after we got married, I happened to be thumbing through the introduction to The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. I wasn’t sure what body horror was, or if I would like it. After all, I viscerally hate the Hostel series. I’m not typically the kind of person who enjoys watching people suffer in horrifyingly ingenious ways. SAW was interesting when it came out, predominately because it had a strong plot, and there was a good backstory to the villain. Hostel, on the other hand, is just plain upsetting. In any event, I set out to discover the meaning of body horror. The introduction to the Mammoth book assumes that you know what body horror is, which isn’t helpful at all. It did mention that John Carpenter’s The Thing was actually based on a short story. Incidentally, George Langelaan’s “The Fly” was first a story as well. Both are in the anthology (horray!) However, in writing this post, I wanted to make sure that I found a decent definition of body horror, and I’ve come up with this (with help from tvtropes.org):
body horror: involving horribly slow mutations of the body, with special attention to the face, drastic loss of personality is a bonus
Before reading the book, body horror seemed a manageable genre for me. After having read it, I think that “manageable” is a tenuous description. I handle body horror just barely better than I handle the likes of Hostel and SAW. Let’s take a tour through some of the anthology, shall we?
“Transformation” – Mary Shelley : I was pleasantly surprised. I wholly expected to see Frankenstein represented, but was glad to see that another of her works was chosen. This one focuses on a dwarf, who tricks an arrogant man out of his most prized posession: his body. The dwarf convinces the man to switch bodies, and all hell breaks loose.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe : I’m not sure that I see how this fits into body horror. The old man’s eye doesn’t make any kind of transformation, and the narrator goes mad. Again, no physical transformation. In all honesty, I think this was just a push to include a Poe story.
“Herbert West – Reanimator” – H. P. Lovecraft : Holy mackeral what a story! A man learns how to piece dead bodies together and bring them back. (Yes, most likely a nod to Shelley.)
“Who Goes There?” – John W. Campbell : Thankfully, Carpenter’s adaptation was very close. He left out some really interesting mind powers that The Thing possessed, but I think the movie was better that way. I liked not knowing what The Thing’s major plan was.
“The Fly” – George Langelaan : Much different than the movie with Jeff Goldblum. I can’t speak to the other adaptations, as I’ve never seen them. A chilling tale, but also a sad tale.
“The Other Side” – Ramsey Campbell : A teacher is taunted by visions of a clown under a streetlight. The teacher is driven mad by the homicidal tendencies of the clown. Great story! The images really stay with you long after you’ve finished the story.
“Almost Forever” – David Moody : Another shocker and tear-jerker. There is a treatment that can greatly extend your life, if it doesn’t kill you. The question is, would you be willing to take the risk? Or ask someone you love to risk their life for more time on this Earth? A devastating tale all around.
I don’t want to spoil the anthology for any prospective readers, but I will say that all of the stories were top-notch. Some varied on the theme (Stephen King’s gross-out Survivor Type was one of them) but all of the stories were worth reading. There was never a tale that was boring, and most nights, I woke my husband up with all of my squirming and whimpering. You see, I’m not the type of person that can take all this intense body trauma. It freaks me out more than anything, because I can’t disassociate it with myself. For instance, if someone mentions ripping off a fingernail, I can’t help but feel my fingers start to throb. Whether or not you’re a wuss like me, I highly recommend this book! Keep it, or give it as a gift. Just make sure you don’t let it pass you by!
What do you think of body horror? Can you stand it? Let me know in the comments section below!