A Crash Course in the Early Films of David Cronenberg

Today marks the 70th birthday of David Cronenberg, the Canadian filmmaker J. Hoberman once called “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.” While the 21st century has found him moving closer to the mainstream with such films as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, he is better known to generations of cultish fans as a founding father of the “body horror” genre, exploring the fear people have of uncontrolled physical changes in their body and eventually expanding the idea to fit into his psychological thrillers and sexually charged dramas. Below, for those who remain unfamiliar with the first few decades of his work, we’ve put together a crash course in early Cronenberg.


1969-1977: A Frightening Future

Cronenberg began his feature-film career with two hour-long narratives, Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). Both were shot without sound, with commentary added afterwards, and were set in the future (the mid-’90s, to be exact). Stereo, which involved scientific experimentation, sexual exploration, and telepathy, introduced the preoccupations of his later films. After those first two films, Cronenberg detoured into more straightforward horror, releasing Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), which dealt with parasitic invasions and zombie epidemics, respectively.