Celebrating Cronenberg – A Letter To The Influential Filmmaker On His Birthday

Dear Mr. Cronenberg, 

March 15th marks your 80th trip around the sun. An auspicious occasion in itself, but you sir, are celebrating 80 glorious years on this earth, many of which were spent making indispensable films, writing novels, acting, and being a father. You helped create a new, subversive sub-genre, earned the moniker ‘Baron of Blood’ as well as unfortunately receiving the title of “King of Venereal Horror” – something I have always disagreed with. 

You were once a serious student of science, originally enrolling into the University of Toronto focusing on studies far from what you became known for, then completely shifted the course of your life – a move I’ve always wondered if it was difficult for you to make, or was it you following your instinct, realizing that making films was your calling? I imagine despite the opportunities and incentives awarded to those during the Canadian Tax Shelter Laws during the mid-1970s to early 1980s, a drastic career change such as yours, especially with the brand of horror you were presenting, really had to take some audacity. Even Martin Scorsese has been on record to commend the bravery in your stories and style, with Stephen King commenting on how intelligent of a filmmaker and individual you are. And after all these years of interviews featuring you that I have rabidly consumed, in addition to traveling to Los Angeles for Beyond Fest in 2018 to see Dead Ringers your first trip to the U.S. in a decadeand to hear you alongside composer Howard Shore, well, I suspect you are the soft-spoken wisdom keeper you appear to be. 

I believe I was around 13 or 14 years old when I saw my first film from you. That VHS called out to me as I perused the aisles of Easy Video in Somerset, New Jersey. Alone, late at night in the dark, I tried to wrap my brain around Scanners. The mixture of sci-fi, intrigue, and visceral horror was quite the experience for my young self, and I was fucking sold on it! Your name was immediately etched in my book of memory and because of that, whenever I could, I would seek out anything with you attached to it. Another Master of Horror whom I have come to love just as much is Clive Barker, and when I learned of Nightbreed, my heart nearly exploded. Your portrayal of the cold, murderous, human Dr. Decker against the empathetic monsters of Midian has always resonated with me, and come to find out, with countless others too. 

Your filmography can be more easily broken down into eras, which can be interesting to note with folks just becoming acquainted with your work. Your earlier entries are Ground Zero for Body Horror; Shivers (They Came From Within), Rabid, and The Brood, helped rightfully establish your place as one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge out of the time and one who has continued to dish out provocative, uncompromising yet thoughtful narratives. There are so many iconic images that are pulled from your films. For example, the groundbreaking head explosion from Scanners, then on to the living, breathing VHS cassette tape in Videodrome, the blood-red surgical gowns of the narcissistic twins in Dead Ringers, the queasy transformation depicted in The Fly, the uncomfortably explicit sexual escapades of Crash, and your wild cinematic rendering of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.  It doesn’t stop there either; you just kept chugging along in your endeavors, delivering a new breed of your brand.  A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, Maps to the Stars; these became the new Cronenberg experience – with you dipping into what seemed to be an endless well of creative wealth and fascination for the human experience – no matter what the experience. And this is why I admire you and most certainly why the genre is better off with having you be a part of it. Most recently, in 2022, you engaged moviegoers with Crimes of the Future, a movie sharing the same title as an early short film of yours back in 1970. Void of dialogue, your original short hinges on a very different horror than that of the most recent. This short – along with another, Stereo, from 1969 – was your introduction to the craft. You edited, wrote, directed, and shot both of these – a tall order for even the most seasoned filmmaker. But you dove in headfirst to probably what is one of the most stressful, uncertain, yet exhilarating paths to follow. It was as if you never even doubted yourself. I could only wish for such self-assurance. 

There are certain forces within horror that have helped shape the landscape of the genre, helping forge fears with signature style and subtext, allowing audiences to uncomfortably lose themselves within these movies. In a classic 1986 interview for the documentary Long Live the New Flesh: The Films of David Cronenberg, you said this:

“I would love for there to be a strain of filmmaking that was recognizably mine. In the same way, I felt I was in a (Federico) Fellini film…”

Thirty-seven years later, I’m pleased to report that your mission has been successful. After over twenty stints in the Director’s Chair as a feature filmmaker, in addition to other directorial efforts, becoming a novelist, a fan favorite actor, and an influential source of wisdom – Mr. Cronenberg, you have rightfully earned your membership to the Masters of Horror club and I thank you. Not only have you offered continuous opportunities to lose myself in a film when absolutely necessary, but you also helped shape the horror fan I am today and I am forever grateful. Happy Birthday and… long live the new flesh! I hope to see much more from you. 



About Danni Winn

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