BODY MELT (1993)
Director: Philip Brophy
Writers: Philip Brophy, Rod Bishop
Stars: Gerard Kennedy, Andrew Daddo, Regina Gaigalas, Ian Smith, Robert Simper, Vincent Gil
Where do I even begin with Aussie co-writer/director PHILIP BROPHY’S low-budget ‘splat-stick’ romp from 1993, BODY MELT? When keeping an eye out for films to review for this site, I try to make sure that they’re as relevant to the BENEATH THE UNDERGROUND ethos as possible. And boy, does this one fit in nicely!
Taking David Cronenberg’s sense of body horror engineered by our own technologically-advanced hubris, and filtering it through a Peter Jackson-style lens, from his BAD TASTE and DEAD-ALIVE days, if you want subtlety and nuance, baby, have you dialed the wrong number!
From the very beginning, you know that what you’re in for isn’t going to be run-of-the-mill by any stretch of the imagination. A tour of “Vimuville”, a spa attached to a fitness products company is seen being guided by the overly vampy Shaan (REGINA GAIGALAS), apparently head of the company.
Said tour segues into her being in a compromising position with her boyfriend, Vimuville chemist Ryan Brennan (ROBERT SIMPER). It’s not clear if they just had sex, or she drugged him first, but the shots she gives him from a syringe filled with weird-looking liquid…let’s just say we know it’s not Viagra. Seems Ryan’s had a case of the guilts, regarding their latest research-on-the-downlow with unwitting patients, and Shaan wants to make sure that his efforts to end it are effectively halted.
This is going to be one of those films that takes a lot of disparate elements, seemingly so apart from each other, that everything appears to be completely nonsensical at first. Ryan is next seen examining some computer files (with way-‘90’s graphics that haven’t aged well at all), that map out a place in Homesville (a suburb of Melbourne) called “Pebbles Court.” It outlines the residents – all people we’ll be seeing over the course of the movie (in one physical condition or another.)
There’s the Nobles: health-conscious dad Thom (ADRIAN WRIGHT), mother Angelica (JILLIAN MURRAY), and their kids, teen daughter Elloise and son Brandon (AMANDA DOUGE and BEN GEURENS). Their neighbors include expectant couple Brian and Cheryl Rand (BRETT CLIMO and LISA MCCUNE), and best buds/slacker bros Sal Ciccone (NICHOLAS POLITIS) and Gino Argento (MAURIE ANNESE).
But it’s house number 9, where single guy Paul Matthews (WILLIAM MCINNES) resides, that serves as the real jumping-off point for the story. A rapidly deteriorating Ryan makes his way to Matthews’ place at Pebbles Court, obviously to warn him about the Vimuville ‘vitamins’ he’s been taking. But not before ingesting some dish detergent at a gas station on the way, (never explained, but maybe an ingredient in it keeps him alive long enough to make his destination?)
In any case, pursued by police, Ryan crashes his car in front of the place and dies in spectacularly gross fashion, (although that’s nothing compared to what’s coming.)
Enter Detective Sam Phillips (GERARD KENNEDY), and his partner/sidekick Johnno (ANDREW DADDO). Immediately they peg this as some kind of a ‘drug thing’, but little do they know – they ain’t seen nothing yet!
Shaan and her co-conspirator, Dr. Carrera (IAN SMITH) have targeted the Court residents for very specific reasons: each person or group represents a phase of the unapproved research they’re ‘conducting’. And judging by how the side effects took out Ryan, it spells unhappy endings for everyone all round. But BODY MELT’S not ready to be just your straight-ahead, cut-to-the-chase campy gore thriller, no, sir! Another detour into the weird seems to be required, and this movie has no problem going there.
Buddies Sal and Gino are headed for the Vimuville ‘spa’, when they literally get lost out in the outback, and run right into a family of Aussie rednecks who are not such distant kin to the cannibalistic inbreds that peopled the clans from WRONG TURN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, or Alan Rowe Kelly’s wildly over-the-top homage to SPIDER BABY, THE BLOOD SHED. And before you make that “WTF?” face, take note: this detour is still relevant to the story…kind of. It just isn’t bothering to make the connection for you the moment this family turns up.
The most important thing is to note who the “patriarch” is: a diseased-looking old codger named Pud (VINCENT GIL). I won’t even bother with the rest of the clan…their characters are pretty much standard. It’s Pud you need to keep in the back of your mind as you watch…you’ll find out soon enough what his part is in this effed-up conspiracy play.
So to say Sal and Gino run afoul of this Dollar Store version of THE HILLS HAVE EYES family is an understatement, but I will leave it at that. As for Shaan and Dr. Carrera’s bickering about their approach to hawking this poison shit, and foisting it on unsuspecting Melbourne, as well as the rest of the country? Well, things really ARE going to shit, as the film outlines the fates of each of Pebble Court’s residents and/or families…and did I mention Cronenberg and early Peter Jackson stuff before? There’s a reason for that. Make sure you’ve waited until AFTER you watch this movie to eat anything!
In the tradition of similar films aside from the ones I’ve mentioned, like STREET TRASH, SLITHER, and THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, it all really leaves its literal mark in the third act, with people spewing and erupting the kind of bodily fluids and organs you hope you’ll never see coming out of any of your OWN orifices. And much like Larry Cohen’s classic cult favorite, THE STUFF, the underlying message is pretty clear: don’t fuck with anything that has ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce, or that comes from sources that are dubious at best. You can tell that Brophy was influenced by all of the films I’ve mentioned and more, when he created the screenplay (with ROD BISHOP), based on a series of his own short stories.
And worth noting here – when dealing with a movie coming from an outfit that calls itself ‘DUMB FILMS‘ – I guess that tells you exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Except that BODY MELT isn’t as dumb as it wants you to think it is. The subversive message about corporate greed and malfeasance – anything goes in the quest to make a dollar, in other words – hasn’t lost a bit of its relevance, sad to say, in the decade or more since its release.
The laconic sense of Aussie gallows humor is infused throughout, so with most of the performances geared towards that tone, I’d have to say that everyone here does a decent job. But after all, as with most “splat-stick” films, the practical effects are the real stars, and effects supervisor BOB MCCARRON (who worked on THE MATRIX, THE ROAD WARRIOR and, yes, DEAD-ALIVE) makes sure the team gives you every gross, gloppy, gloopy bit of faux-snot, secretions and ‘splosions for your buck!
In a way that’s about as haphazard and random as the gobs of crap hitting walls, floors and people, the connections of all the different story elements come together in the end, but in a way that’s rather anti-climactic, compared to the rest of the wild ride this film takes you on.
Because you won’t find any “Oscar-caliber” acting in a movie like BODY MELT, the two-and-a-half out of five stars I’m awarding it with, has less to do with that, or even the writing and direction (which are fine, even if they don’t knock your socks off), than it does for the fun that comes across with the upchuck-worthy effects work.