As the London Film festival swings round to a close for another year there is a terrifying twist, as veteran horror director David Cronenberg is presented with the highest film honour available on these shores – a fellowship to the BFI. With his new picture A Dangerous Method lighting up the festival with its stars Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, it would otherwise have been easy to forget the enigmatic Canadian director, lurking in the shadowy background. Yet for any whom revere horror, Cronenberg and his award could not be more centre stage.
Beginning his directorial career in the late sixties and early seventies with short pieces such as Stereo and Crimes of the Future, the then still young Cronenberg became a staple piece of the horror scene with films such as Shivers and Rabid. Supposedly having been linked strongly with the director’s role for Return of the Jedi, he went on to define the “body horror” sub-genre, fusing unorthodox and controversial ideas with new plastic realities, creating quirky, if flawed, masterpieces such as Videodrome. The Fly in 1986 has often been marked as the high point of the director’s early career, at least in terms of mainstream success, but Cronenberg’s consistency and oddity throughout his work has placed him up with Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and William Friedkin in the highest echelons of later 20th century horror. Moving away from genre, if not the style, recent works such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises delighted critics and audience alike.
There can be no denying the worthiness of the award for a director who has frequently imagined and created distinctive brilliance, often straying into the controversial — it should be remembered that this award comes despite the fact that the Canadian’s 1996 picture Crash is still outlawed in Westminster. Horror is often forgotten when it comes round to awards season. Rarely has a true chiller gained Academy recognition of any kind. So does this just honouring of a true cinema great mark a new acknowledgement of what genre cinema has to offer? Some approval of films like Black Swan — an Argento film in Aronofsky guise – at the major ceremonies might suggest that those used to the dark may be beginning to experience some of the awards light. Other films such as the Paranormal Activity franchise and Drag Me to Hell have similarly shown that horror is still very affective on the audience-side of the coin. Yet does this really mean that the genre is getting all it deserves? It should be remembered that the presentation of the fellowship to Cronenberg has come after nearly ten years since his last horror picture, and it could well be argued that the award is coming on the back of the critical success of art-house features just like A Dangerous Method. Whatever your opinion, I implore you with Halloween round the corner to remember everything David Cronenberg should be commemorated for, and find his adaption of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.
– Edward Elliott