Transformation is one of the core themes of horror, and horror films have been filled with visual scenes of bodily change ever since the classics, whether it be from human to vampire in Dracula, corpse to monster in Frankenstein, or the classic (and featured here) non special effects transformation of John Barrymore’s Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde.
This Top Ten Transformations focuses on the change from human form to ‘other’ so unfortunately we’ve had to leave out such greats as flesh-blob to evil Frank in Hellraiser. We’ve also excluded anything where the process of the transformation itself leads to the death of the character, hence no 'human to amoeba' as featured in the recent Malefique. Also we felt it really had to be horrific to be included, so it was a no-no to Teen Wolf too.
Other close-but-no-cigars included Ginger Snaps (cute tail!), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (shrieking scream), Total Recall (fat woman Arnie) and The Exorcist (purely because it seems to be in every bloody top ten we do).
10 .28 Days Later (2002)
It didn’t make the list because of its stunning special effects, but Danny Boyle’s UK ‘infected’ (we can’t call them zombies) movie still has one of the best, quickest and most frightening transformation scenes of the century so far. After hooking up with lead Cillian Murphy and the gang, mild-mannered taxi driver (Brendan Gleeson) takes a drop of blood in the eye, instantly turning into a slavering infected, only to be promptly gunned down in front of his young daughter (Megan Burns). A truly shocking sequence – it’s just a shame the film went downhill after that. Remember, 'Rage' is a human-made disease.
9 .Hellraiser 2: Hellbound (1988)
Hellraiser was a stunning debut from the twisted mind of Clive Barker, and went on to spawn at least three sequels and create a horror icon in the shape of human hedgehog, Pinhead. Hellraiser 2 cottoned on to this fact, and began with footage from the orginal, before delivering what the Cenobite fans really wanted to see – the creation and birth of Mr “Tear Your Soul Apart.” Captain Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley) solves the mystery of the box and is then impaled with hooks that tear his skin, before razors slice lines across his head and he suffers long pins being hammered into his scalp. Jesus Christ! Not quite.
8 .The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Ok, so the film itself is pretty boring (or hilarious if seen in the environment of say, a Zombie Club), but there are certainly some fantastic effects from Rick Baker here as a man melts and melts before our eyes, going all red and gooey over the course of the entire movie whilst developing a taste for human flesh. Steve West is the poor man, an astronaut who is exposed to radiation on his latest space mission. He returns to Earth, busts out of hospital, leaving a trail of sticky pus and fallen-off body parts behind before finally dissolving into a big puddle of goo. He’s not quite as Incredible as the Hulk though, to be honest.
7 .Akira (1988)
It’s a bit of a cheat really to include a Manga animation, but even so, Tetsuo’s transformation from biker kid to one of the biggest apocalyptic threats Japan has ever seen is still worth a mention. An adaptation of a graphic novel by Katsuhiro Otomo, set in the futuristic world of Neo-Tokyo, Akira is a top-secret military project based on telepathy and telekinesis. Unfortunately young Tetsuo, who worships biker hero Kaneda, starts developing psychic powers and without understanding what’s happening to him (he just wants his friend back) soon becomes deformed beyond belief with godlike powers. Kaneda’s bike was pretty cool though.
6 .Tetsuo (1988)
And from one Tetsuo to another in Shinya Tsukamoto’s shocking black and white Tetsuo where we get to see a man insert cold rods of steel into his own legs. Ouch! A victim of a road accident, a man soon finds himself turning into a man-machine hybrid. Strangely, the man who ran him down also starts to have similar changes in his body too, leading to 60 minutes of total surreal mayhem and nightmarish black and white imagery as the scraps of metal start to include working weapons such as electric drills. Shinya Tsukamoto also made a sequel in colour, but it’s not quite as stunning as this brilliant original.
5 .Society (1989)
You know what it’s like - one day you’re a everyday average student in a normal town, when suddenly you find out the rest of your family (and most of the rest of the town) like to indulge in sickening, flesh-twisting sex orgies. That’s the case in Society at least, a film that begins like a teen comedy from the eighties before going all weird as the rich upper classes of the society are revealed to be shape-shifting mutants. The last half hour is one entire mass body-melt orgy, thanks to the insane and demented mind of FX man Screamin’ Mad George who treats us to such unforgettable ‘delights’ as faces popping out of assholes.
4 .The Thing (1982)
Yes, The Thing keeps popping up on our Top Tens (this scene also featured in our Top Ten Jump Moments), but that’s because John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is so bloody good. Best, and most shocking transformation in a film packed with terrific shape-shifting must surely go to the guy who is receiving electric shock treatment when suddenly - BAM! - his chest opens and makes lunch of the doctor’s arms. The dead body then splays yellow tentacles and is burned, but not before the head detaches and grows spider’s legs and eyes on stalks and scuttles off. “You gotta be fucking kidding!,” indeed.
3 .Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Still hailed as one of the best transformation scenes of all time over 85 years later, John Barrymore’s onscreen transformation into the evil, yet remarkably seductive, Mr. Hyde is pretty good even today, but must have been shockingly intense for its 1920 audiences. Using his hands and eyes to maximum effect, and with no recourse to special effects, trick photography or extra make-up, John Barrymore’s transformation from Dr to Mr is simply fantastic. Filmed in one take, Barrymore stamps his authority on the depiction of Hyde forever, with a crouched over position, creepy large hands, flopping hair and a menacing stare.
2 .The Fly (1986)
Well, you can’t have a Top Ten Transformation list without body-horror specialist David Cronenberg somewhere in there. In The Fly, Cronenberg takes the slow, disease-ridden transformation route as the ‘perfectly suited to the role’ Jeff Goldblum receives fly DNA during a botched teleportation experiment. First he gets better, more athletic, with a huge appetite for sex (good for girlfriend Geena Davis), but soon starts noticing funny hairs growing on his back. It’s not long before he’s puking on his food, growing sores on his skin, rotting away and placing his willy in a jar in his medicine cabinet. Great Oscar-winning effects from Chris Walas and Stephen Dupois - the final “Brundlefly” (we prefer flan) is horribly deformed and perfectly asymmetrical.
1 .An American Werewolf in London (1981)
With only one werewolf film allowed in this Top Ten (we could just as easily have included many a werewolf film from The Howling to the recent Ginger Snaps), there was only really one choice in the end – the big daddy of prosthetic transformation scenes - the man-to-wolf scene in John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London. Originally to be filmed in one take, Landis finally relented and allowed Rick Baker the room to create the most amazing and uncomfortable (we really feel the excruciating pain that David Kessler appears to be in) man to werewolf transformations ever, all set to the appropriately titled ‘Blue Moon’. Best bit? The hand stretching into a paw in front of Kessler’s (David Naughton) ever-widening eyes. Deservedly Oscar-winning stuff.
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