Cyberpunk, the chaotic, freewheeling subgenre of early 80s Science Fiction usually offers up stories of elfin hackers with leather trench coats in glossy virtual reality and oppressive multi-national conglomerates fighting for control of a dismal future…much more rooted in “Terminator” than terror.
But with stories of body modification, rampant pollution and rogue scientists galore, Cyberpunk offers up an alternate route into a realms of body horror and existential dread where blood magic or demonic possession is replaced by technology run amok and questions of what reality really means.
For Horror fans looking to dip a toe in the deep end of Cyberpunk, Here’s six seminal Cyberpunk films Screamish fans will need to see:
Director: David Cronenberg
James Woods is at his manic best playing a sleazy TV producer who falls down the rabbit hole of Videodrome, a addictive TV Channel that alters reality in horrifying ways. The granddaddy of them all: David Croneberg’s mind bending masterpiece has everything a Cyberpunk fan needs: pirate TV ‘hackers’, a TV signal that mutates your brain, Debbie Harry as a virtual sexpot, government conspiracies, drugs, guns and a pretty sweet helmet that lets you see through walls. An iconic entry into the 80s body horror cannon, Videodrome influenced everything that followed in Cyberpunk film and fiction.
Director: Richard Stanley
Another undisputed champion of Cyberpunk cinema, Hardware might be the definitive genre film, period. In this post-apocalyptic fever dream, the head of Mark13, an advanced government weapon, ends up in the home of a sculptress as a bizarre Christmas present from her boyfriend (Dylan McDermott), a scavenger in a vast, nameless wasteland. Once inside its new home, the cyborg promptly rebuilds the rest of its body using a household utensils and proceeds to go on a Homicidal rampage.
Kill Machine (1994)
Director: Stephen Sommers
In this bizarre sci-fi tale of anti-corporate excess, Jack Dante (Brad Dourif, looking like an industrial band’s drummer) is a nutty, long-haired genius inventor who has developed, you guessed it, a killer robot. Soon, the greedy head of a corrupt corporation and the dope-smoking survivor of a terrorist group find themselves at the mercy of Dante and his robot, which is, of course, wired into his brain. After being fired, he unleashes the ultimate killing machine called the ‘Warbeast’ against his boss and those who would help her in director Stephen Norrington’s overlooked 1994 film.
Lawnmower Man (1992)
Director: Brett Leonard
What’s a cyberpunk story without a mad scientist? Dr. Lawrence Angelo (A scenery chewing Pierce Brosnan) puts mentally disabled lawnboy Jobe Smith (an absolutely RIPPED Jeff Fahey) on a regimen of experimental pills and computer-simulated training sequences in hopes of augmenting the man’s intelligence, after frying a few chimp brains along the way. Obviously everything goes horribly wrong in this early 90s disaster. The only adaptation Stephen King ever sued to take his name off, this one’s a hot mess, but not without its charms. Like Flowers For Algernon on cheap crank, the dated VR visuals, horrendous acting and bizarre sexual sub plot make this one an absolute must for fans of 90s CGI aesthetics and slashers alike, as Jobe gets his revenge one his tormentors in increasingly unbelievable ways through the power of polygons.
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)
Director: Shinya Tsukumoto
Psycho, cyborg skinheads abduct the son of a man (Tomorowo Taguchi) who, natch, has the ability to himself into a hideous killing machine in the follow up to the horrific scrap-ridden drug trip that was 1987’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man. In trying to save his son and stop the evil Yatsu, our hero is tortured in unleashing his latent cybernetic armaments: resulting in a torrent of gore that few revenge flicks can match. With mind swapping, mutants, nano technology and that iconic visor, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is a must watch for any fans of sci-fi fuelled horror and Japanese genre flicks.
Director: David Cronenberg
Video game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has created a virtual reality game called eXistenZ. After a crazed fan tries to kill her, Allegra goes on the run with the bland Ted (Jude Law), a young businessman who falls into the role of bodyguard, and reality bending mayhem ensues. Guns made of bones, computers that bleed and a “am I awake” plot device that makes Inception look like Scooby Doo; Canadian director David Cronenberg closed out the 90s with a masterful final entry into his body horror series and one of the squickiest sci fi thrillers out there.