The new horror movie IT FOLLOWS opened in LA and NY this weekend and has been getting a lot of press for its theme of a supernatural entity that acts as a sexually transmitted disease. Still, the buzzy film didn’t open except on the coasts this week. The rest of us get it in two weeks. In this day and age of VOD and mass marketing, let alone the timeliness of everything social on the web, it seems silly to this film fan that a sure moneymaker like a horror film isn't opening broader.
However, IT FOLLOWS is not the first horror movie to serve up STD metaphors. In fact, here are five classics that did, and you can catch them on DVD and streaming platforms today.
STARRY EYES (2014)
In this body transformation shocker by directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, the wonderfully nuanced Alex Essoe plays Sarah, a young actress in Hollywood who’s desperation to succeed is greater than her talent. She succumbs to the casting couch and soon her sexual tryst starts eating at her, literally and figuratively. As her body starts rotting so does her morality. She becomes homicidal, leaving a path of destruction in her wake as she rises to her true calling, that as high priestess in the satanic cult behind her sexual demolition.
Eric England’s indie also savaged the land of La-La with its tale of a young woman searching for connection and a better sense of herself in a town preoccupied with self-absorption. She has sex with a stranger at a party and soon lives to regret the intimate act, as a rabid STD seems to have come with it. Slowly but surely, her body starts to betray her. Her skin, teeth and irises all become discolored and moldy, yet no one really notices because the town’s inhabitants are too caught up in their own dramas. Najarra Townsend gives a subtly distraught performance as the self-deceiving Samantha, whose pride prohibits her from seeking treatment. Hubris is the real contagion here.
At the height of the era of AIDS, this 1995 creature feature certainly was symbolic of that devastating STD. An alien life form, that scientists merged with human DNA, becomes a comely woman (Natasha Henstridge). She escapes and searches for a human male to mate with to carry on her species. The tony team of actors chasing after her in this fun thriller by Roger Donaldson include Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger and Michael Madsen. Casting an utter knockout like newcomer Henstridge helped ensure her numerous nude scenes were both titillating and terrifying. SPECIES proves that even if sex looks good on the outside, you never really know what's going on in the inside of your lover. Scary thought, eh?
CAT PEOPLE (1982)
Back in the 80’s, when Nastassia Kinski was the hottest German import since the BMW, she starred in Paul Shrader’s remake of CAT PEOPLE. This horror movie was a more explicit remake of the wonderful original starring Simone Simon. Kinski is nude in scene after scene, and she's truly alluring as Irena. Her sexuality is so potent, after orgasm, she turns into a panther and eats her mate. The man-eating metaphor is a bit obvious here, but the lauded likes of Malcolm McDowell, John Heard and Annette O’Toole help keep this grounded. It also boasts a wonderfully tense and pulsing score by Giorgio Moroder. All this makes CAT PEOPLE one of the Reagan era's horror gems.
David Cronenberg has always used horror to brush up against sexual issues, as films like THE FLY (1986) and DEAD RINGERS (1988) can attest. But as early as 1977, he was pushing the juxtaposition of sex and disease in his cult classic RABID. To ensure that no one missed his point, he cast adult film star Marilyn Chambers as his lead. She plays a young woman who undergoes experimental plastic surgery that leaves her hungry for human blood. Everyone she attacks and infects turns into a bloodthirsty zombie. Dare one say, Chambers oozed sexuality in her body language and saucy facial expressions, and her provocative persona added to the allure of her out-of-control heroine. But she also aced the parts requiring her to be horrified and horrid.
So, until IT FOLLOWS makes it to your Cineplex, there are plenty of notable films with similar themes, that can be (ahem) transmitted to film fans like you.