The Horror Movies That Inspired Malignant | Screen Rant

Malignant has been delighting and disgusting audiences in equal measure since its release, but what movies inspired the new James Wan horror? Wan is no stranger to the genre, having begun his screen career with 2004’s instant classic Saw. After that indie hit prompted the torture movie subgenre of the mid-‘00s, Wan took his newfound popularity and funneled it into a pair of blockbuster horror franchises with The Conjuring, and Insidious movies.

After directing Jason Momoa in 2018’s Aquaman, Wan made a triumphant return to the world of horror cinema with his Giallo-inspired outing Malignant. The movie has already proven divisive, but few viewers or critics could claim the film’s wild story and vivid visuals are less than memorable. Gory and undeniably inventive, Malignant is a horror with real guts and verve—not to mention a long list of genre inspirations.

Related: Malignant And Last Night In Soho Are Heading Up A Giallo Revival

Wan’s movie borrows from a diverse range of horror favorites, some obscure and some relatively well-known. Getting into the specifics of how particular movies influenced Wan's new opus inevitably means sharing serious spoilers, and Malignant is the sort of movie that (more than most) benefits from viewers not knowing the insane twist ending early. With that said, Wan’s list of inspirations includes a string of Giallo movies (both famous and lesser-known), a largely forgotten John Carpenter effort, a controversial Brian De Palma hit, a beloved cult horror curio and even a Stephen King adaptation.

When it comes to paying homage to the masters of Giallo, some of Wan’s borrows are subtle and operate on a purely technical level. The director calls back to the work of Dario Argento a lot throughout Malignant, and one head-tilting shot that pans through the architecture of a building before descending inside calls to mind 1982’s Tenebre. However, this dizzying bit of camerawork, which owes a creative debt to a similar, even more ambitious multi-story tracking shot from Argento’s movie, isn’t the only Tenebre nod found in Malignant. Wan’s second homage to the Argento Giallo comes in the use of a trophy as a murder weapon, with Malignant’s specific choice of trophy also tying into another Argento effort.

Argento’s Trauma is also a key influence on Wan's movie, given the fact Malignant’s story revolves around a killer seeking vengeance on doctors, while the director’s lesser-known Four Flies of Grey Velvet inspired Malignant’s twist ending. However, it is 1985’s Phenomena that offered Malignant its most obvious inspiration, as the design of the villain Gabriel seems somewhat lifted from Patua Bruckner, the killer of this early Jennifer Connelly vehicle. With some of the horror legend’s more famous efforts like Deep RedSuspiria, or The Bird With the Crystal Plumage also inspired the colorful aesthetic of Malignant, it’s fair to call Argento the movie’s primary creative influence. That said, Wan’s movie owes a debt to other icons outside of Malignant’s Giallo love letter.

Directed by Never Say Never Again’s Irvin Keshner, The Eyes of Laura Mars is an unfairly forgotten horror noir with a killer premise Malignant essentially borrowed—for the movie’s first two acts, at least. Following Faye Dunaway’s titular heroine, The Eyes of Laura Mars sees the beleaguered character forced to watch as a killer she shares a psychic link with murders slews of victims. She and Lieutenant Neville (a young Tommy Lee Jones) are unable to stop the slaughter until the twist ending, which diverges from Malignant significantly. Still, the premise of Malignant (the protagonist sees murders as someone else commits them and can't work out why) owes a creative debt to this movie, whose story was written by Halloween’s John Carpenter.

Related: The Forgotten John Carpenter Film That Inspired James Wan's Malignant

Brian De Palma’s divisive horror hit Dressed To Kill, reclaimed and resented by queer critics in equal measure, is a tricky movie to talk about without spoiling its major twist. Michael Caine’s mild-mannered psychiatrist can’t work out his connection to a string of killings committed by an unidentified blonde woman until viewers discover he is the killer and is a dangerously unhinged figure with a murderous split personality. Wan named the psychological horror as an influence and there’s a lot of De Palma’s campy flamboyance, stylistic flourishes and lurid twisty mystery in Malignant. That said, Wan's movie wisely opts to explore body horror rather than the dicier territory of potentially offensive pseudo-psychology.

Now that the twist is all but outright stated, it’s safe to name the Stephen King adaptation whose plot may be the most obvious influence on Malignant’s plot. The Dark Half cast Timothy Hutton star as Thad Beaumont, a successful literary author who moonlights as the writer of trashy exploitative thrillers. So far, so autobiographical, but when the titular evil side of Hutton’s character starts to build up a body count, this psychological horror has to offer a more concrete explanation for where Hutton’s worse half comes from. The answer, which thoroughly spoils both movies, is that Thad has a parasitic twin with a bloodlust who remained a part of him despite doctors believing he died in childbirth. Thus, this George A Romero/Stephen King collaboration offered a rough blueprint for Maligant’s plot, albeit one that added in the self-referential touch of the antihero being a horror author.

Cult filmmaker Frank Henenlotter’s infamously cheap exploitation movie Basket Case introduced viewers to the grotesque and utterly evil Belial, a deformed parasitic twin out for revenge on the doctors who doomed him to a life spent inside a basket. Belial is a significantly sillier killer than Gabriel while Basket Case’s tone is undeniably lighter (though simultaneously more lurid) than Malignant’s mainstream stylings, but this grotty oddity still clearly influenced the third act twist of Wan’s movie. That said, Henenlotter’s movie makes the risky decision of introducing its monster much, much earlier, a choice that this cult horror-comedy can pull off but which would likely have turned Wan’s Malignant into an unintentional laugh riot.

More: Malignant Needs To Break James Wan's Worst Horror Habit: Jump Scares



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