Body horror is a subsection of horror that focuses on changes and perversions of the human body. It is successful because it speaks to our primal fear of avoiding bodily harm and unwanted alternations to our persons. As such, it’s possible to portray body horror in numerous ways, including animalistic mutations, petrification, and undeath.
Surprisingly, Batman: The Animated Series has many episodes that can fall under this umbrella term. Though initially aimed at kids, the imagery in this show could get very intense and pulled no punches when it wanted to be grotesque and off-putting.
10 “Bane” — Season 3, Episode 1
Crime boss Ruper Thorne (John Vernon) hires the South American assassin Bane (Henry Silva) to kill Batman (Kevin Conroy). Bane agrees and begins by watching Batman in action as he pursues Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid). Alongside his intelligence and strategic mind, Bane is armed with a chemical called Venom that can enhance his already formidable body.
Batman defeats his foe when he damages his Venom control unit, causing too much to be pumped into his body. What follows is a truly gruesome scene where Bane’s body swells, and his eyes burst free of his mask. If Batman hadn’t ripped the tube out of Bane’s neck, there’s a good chance his head would have exploded.
9 “Avatar” — Season 2, Episode 8
Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner) survived his previous battle with Batman and is searching for a more permanent means of immortality. Batman teams up with Ra’s daughter, Talia (Helen Slater), to track him down across the globe. Ra’s quest takes him to the tomb of Queen Thoth Kephera (Nichelle Nichols), who sustains her life by draining years from others.
Thoth Kephera’s design is appropriately creepy for a centuries-old undead queen. When she first makes herself known to Ra’s, she appears beautiful and unblemished, luring him in with a promise of the immortality he seeks. It isn’t until she kisses him and begins to drain his life that she appears as a dried, shriveled corpse animated by malice.
8 “Moon of the Wolf” — Season 1, Episode 36
At Gotham’s zoo, Batman saves a man from a werewolf attack, though the beast escapes. The next day, athlete Anthony Romulus (Harry Hamlin) announces that he will double his usual donation to charity if Batman comes to his house to receive the check. This is a trap by Dr. Milo (Treat Williams), who forces Romulus to kill Batman if he wants to be cured of his lycanthropy.
Though the plot of this episode is not one of the show’s strongest, it does a good job with its werewolf premise. The transformations are appropriately horrific for the show, Frank Welker lends his legendary talent to the werewolf’s voice, and it is an effective story about the dangers of hubris. Romulus was so determined to win that he was willing to lie and cheat, so now he must pay the price.
7 “On Leather Wings” — Season 1, Episode 2
The first episode of Batman sees a mysterious bat-like figure terrorizing pharmaceutical companies. Batman investigates while avoiding a police task force that suspects him and discovers a lead linked to Dr. March (René Auberjonois), a scientist who believes bats will inherit the Earth after humans. His son-in-law, Kirk (Marc Singer), ingested a formula March created and has become the terrifying Man-Bat.
A fair amount of detail was put into Kirk Langstrom’s transformation into the hybrid. Along with the physical changes, the scene where he explains himself to Batman feels like something out of a classic horror film, complete with a darkly lit lab and beakers of unknown fluids. It’s a wonderful way to introduce audiences both to this character and the show.
6 “Heart of Steel, Parts 1 & 2” — Season 1, Episodes 39 & 40
When some advanced microchips are stolen from Wayne Enterprises, the main suspect is Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), the owner of Cybertron Industries. Bruce discovers he has built the Holographic Analytical Reciprocating Digital Computer, or H.A.R.D.A.C (Jeff Bennett). Based on a grief-fueled declaration by Rossum after his daughter’s death, H.A.R.D.A.C intends to build robot duplicates to replace people and begins with Gotham’s politicians and police.
Since the duplicates were robots, the production team got to go out of their way regarding their actions and destruction. Their movements are unnatural and gangly, coupled with their human skin, making them slide into the realm of body horror. As they are damaged, and the robot skeleton is revealed, it gets even more disturbing.
5 “Eternal Youth” — Season 1, Episode 16
Bruce Wayne receives an invitation to a new youth spa but instead tells Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) and his friend Maggie (Paddi Edwards) to go. Both of them return rejuvenated and refreshed, though Alfred passes out when he drinks some water he took from the spa. As Bruce runs some tests as, Batman, Alfred, and Maggie feel compelled to return and fall into a trap set by Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing).
Ivy’s plan involves exposing people to a chemical that causes them to be encased in bark and returned to the earth as trees. The reveal of her trophy garden is quite terrifying, with her victims frozen in terror and their clothes turned to wood alongside their flesh. It’s enough to bring out a rare moment of fury in Batman’s voice.
4 “House & Garden” — Season 2, Episode 6
Mysterious plant-like monsters have been robbing and poisoning rich men, prompting Batman to look into the activities of Poison Ivy. He finds that she has been released from Arkham and married. Batman asks Robin (Loren Lester) to do some digging, but he gets kidnapped by one of the monsters.
The climax reveals that Ivy’s family is one made on “her terms,” which is to say, they are made from a mix of plant and human DNA. They begin life in pods that are not unlike those found in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. After a few days, they mature from children into hulking plant beasts whose faces are so stretched that they look close to tearing.
3 “Tyger, Tyger” — Season 1, Episode 30
Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) is kidnapped and taken to an island owned by Dr. Dorian (Joseph Maher), a feline-obsessed scientist, to be the subject of his next experiment. By the time Batman arrives, Selina has been transformed into a literal cat-woman. Dorian agrees to reverse the process if Batman can survive against his apex feline-hybrid, Tygrus (Jim Cummings).
“Tyger, Tyger” has received some backlash due to turning Selina into a catgirl, but it’s honestly one of the stronger entries of body horror in the series. It touches on many of the themes of H.G. Well’sThe Isle of Dr. Moreau, such as the distinction between man and animal and the danger of man playing God. Selina’s design could be better, but it’s suitably offsetting to show how perverse Dorian’s experiments are.
2 “Feat of Clay Parts 1 & 2” — Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
Corrupt businessman Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) offers disfigured actor Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman) an experimental cream that can allow him to change his face. When the substance proves to be highly addictive, Daggett forces Hagen to perform espionage jobs for him to get more. When Hagen attempts to steal some, he is given an overdose by Daggett’s men and turns into the shapeshifting Clayface.
Japanese studio TMS Entertainment spared no expense when depicting Clayface’s transformations. They do a superb job showing how grotesque it is, from Hagen using Renuyu to mold his face like puddy, to his skin melting after his overdose. The finale sees him alternate between dozens of different shapes in quick succession in a truly gorgeous display of hand-drawn animation for television.
1 “Mudslide” — Season 2, Episode 3
Clayface has resurfaced but is not in the best of shape. His body is beginning to break down, forcing him to rely on an old medical consultant, Dr. Stella Bates (Pat Musick). When Bates tells him of a new isotope that could stabilize his condition and enhance his powers, Clayface risks his life to battle Batman for it.
While nothing could top TMS’ legendary animation, Studio Junio did a tremendous job of animating Clayface. Watching him melt out of his human disguise is disturbing and helps to sell how weak he has become. It gets even better in the climax, where Clayface tries to drown Batman inside his body, and The Dark Knight escapes by shooting his grappling gun out of Clayface’s head.
KEEP READING:10 Most Bizarre and Grotesque Body Horror Movies