Top 10 Medical Horror Flicks!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

The medical horror film genre has a host of subsets, doesn’t it?! You have the demented doctor variety, the viral outbreak type, the biological mutation kind, the insane asylum ilk, and of course – as this week’s release of THE LAZARUS EFFECT reinforces – the resurrect the dead sort. Not sure about you, but I’m a f*cking fan of each and every one of those sick subgenres. Be that as it may, we’ve got a tough task of narrowing it down for this week’s Horror Ten Spot (yeah boyyy, remember that title!) So, in the name of trying to keep some consistency here, we’ll try to aptly fete films from the latter camp, or at least a combo of the first and last with a dash of deformity thrown in. However, under no circumstances are we visiting asylum or outbreak flicks. Not today! Nope, we’re looking lurid labs and murderous MDs. Ah hell, pop it up top and scope our Top 10 Medical Horror Flicks!


It’s alive…ALIVE!!! Ah, The Good Doctor! You already knew who the golden crown was fitted for, the dastardly doc that’s been performing mischievous malpractice for over 80 years now: King Frankenstein! What’s interesting to note here, if not attribute to why he’s the top-man, is how Dr. Frankie is actually surpassed by his odious creation. So much so that, don’t front, as a kid we were all kind of misled to think that Frankenstein was Mr. Bolt Neck himself. Am I wrong? Beyond that, it’s the progenitive, age-old storyline of trying to resurrect the dead in a medical lab that has been passed down from James Whale’s original and re-appropriated for decades…right on through to this week’s release of THE LAZARUS EFFECT.

#2. THE FLY (1986)

Almost 30 years later and the bugged-eyed, vomit-inducing visuals in Cronenberg’s THE FLY are still a sight to behold…or avert if you’re queasy of the gut. I’d cite this flick as the number one example in the argument of practical FX over CG ones, for in many ways we’ve regressed the realism of what film can achieve in the last three decades. Sad. But not as sad as ol’ Seth Brundle and his bungled attempt to prove teleportation. Instead, as you know, his DNA gets spliced with that of a common housefly, and it isn’t before long that a vile and repulsive transmutation takes hold. It’s a flick of all time putrescence, sick and icky to the bone, drenched in puss and bile and other unnamed bodily fluids. Cronenberg, one twisted f*ck, the master of such physical horror.

#3. RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

Lovecraft? Stu Gordon? Jeff Combs? Come on now, that’s a trifecta of triumph right there…so when you consider the gorily severed head of a horny sleazeball going down on a buxom nude blonde halfway through the proceedings…yup, we’ve got ourselves a bronze winner! Honestly, what’s not to love about RE-ANIMATOR and all of its excessively cheesy 80s B-movie charm? It’s the best! Look it’s hard enough to establish and nail a single tone in a horror movie, never mind two that work so harmoniously as the comedy and horror of RE-ANIMATOR. It’s wonderfully wacky yet brutally gruesome at once, all taking place in a claustrophobic laboratory setting – white-coats, test tubes and Pyrex aplenty – which makes it one of the all time best medical horror joints ever rolled!

#4. DEAD RINGERS (1988)

Shhhh…I have a little secret to share…DEAD RINGERS is my favorite Cronenberg flick. Tough call I know, but I feel just as adamant saying that as I do claiming Jeremy Irons gave a better, more nuanced performance than fellow Oscar nominee and eventual winner Dusty Hoffman in RAIN MAN. I’ll take that to my grave! The extreme bodily horror and gross medical perversion notwithstanding – Cronenberg’s absolute forte – it’s all about Irons’ dual-roles as twin brothers Beverly and Ellie Mantle. One a lecherous lothario with absolutely no morals, the other a button-downed do-gooder type…with their personality traits, much like the fine line of realism vs. surrealism…slowly becoming entangled. And if that’s not freaky, how about those gnarly medical tools!


It’s true, 80s rocker Billy Idol found inspiration for his identically titled hit EYES WITHOUT A FACE from this somewhat obscure but jaw-dropping French docu-horror shocker. Director George Franju injects the black and white classic with such unnerving verisimilitude that you can’t help but wonder if you’re watching a sick, unfiltered medical documentary. Seriously, the scene where mad doctor in the film – hell-bent on replacing his daughter’s deformed facade with a beauteous visage – actually performs face removal surgery, Franju just holds the shot, never cutting away. The only incisions we see are of the full-facial variety, dazedly so, as the good doc peels of the human skin-mask and replaces and stitches up a new one. Still one of the most graphic scenes ever!


Phibes is a pimp! How else to describe the legendary Vincent Price in a late career resurgence as the twice-played Dr. Phibes…a wickedly vengeful skull-faced deformity with a hit-list bigger than the f*cking Beatles. P-I-M-P! More in the demented doctor subgenre than an out and out medical horror flick, PHIBES concerns the titular madman in a plot that finds his wife dead at the hands of rival Dr. Vesalius (the equally great Joseph Cotten). Like a boss, Phibes hunts down the culprit and his coterie of medical assistants, one by one, and fells the f*ck out of them in Old Testament fashion. My man gets biblical. A plague sicker! See it if you haven’t, it’s really a fun example of 70s British horror done well.

#7. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011)

Splendid Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar is never one to shy away from the sneer of high irony and unadulterated violence, yet I don’t think anyone could expect the sheer madness he displayed in our most recent of feted medical horror flicks, THE SKIN I LIVE IN. What a delightfully disturbing little mind-f*ck! Assign every platitude of vanity you wish…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty is only skin deep…yeah yeah, fuck that, not in the mind of Antonio Banderas’ deeply demented doctor Robert Ledgard. Dude’s out of his skull! After creating an impenetrably synthetic skin compound, he tests the shite out by using a disturbed woman as guinea-pig, locking her up in his lavish mansion and giving her the biz. Shite’s brutal!


You f*cking kidding me? Ken Russell at the helm, Paddy Chayefsky on the keys, Bill Hurt in front of the cam…fucking hell, that’s good enough for me! So when you factor in the brain-busting angle of hallucinatory sensory deprivation and the eroding consciousness therein, yup, ALTERED STATES is a dizzying display of medical experimentation gone horrible awry. Sure, the VXF de jure of have been rendered impotently outmoded between now and 1980, but so what, most FX laden flicks of the 80s suffer the same. For ALTERED STATES, it’s about the ideas…the grappling of human consciousness and the finely blurred line between reality and illusion. Of course, as in all of Russell’s flick, indelible imagery reinforces the horror!

#9. FLATLINERS (1990)

Of all the flicks that fit the bill, it looks like THE LAZARUS EFFECT is most redolent of FLATLINERS, is it not? Only difference here – about a phalanx of med students experimenting with bringing the dead to life – is that in this new flick, they actually achieve such through ostensibly far more terrifying ends. In FLATLINERS, the thrill was more about the purgatorial moments of mystery the students were able to flirt with in the waning ticks of their waking lives. Still, both flicks have better casts than the material might suggest at first blush, even if FLATLINERS had the balls to go with a hard R-rating. Damn I miss the days when Joel Schumacher made good movies!


To kick things off, it was a dead heat between this ancient paean of sadism, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and Fritz Lang’s equally impressive German expressionist series THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE. But when push came to shove, we thought not only is the first cut the deepest (1920!), but because Mabuse spent more time in the asylum than in the lab, Dr. Caligari deserves higher rank. I recall peeping this precisely stylized, highly atmospheric chiller in college – both flicks in fact – and remember how striking the visuals in each have held up more than 80 years later. This is where it all started friends…the very first medical horror flick to ascend to global popularity. Without it, the rest may never have been!

Tags: Hollywood

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