Welcome to the 2nd edition of Horror Down Under, a column series in which I review horror films from my home country of Australia. The purpose of this column will be that it will act as a showcase for various horror related film projects that have been made Australia in hopes that it will get you interested in checking them out for yourself. I’ll be reviewing a wide range of Aussie horror films of various quality from the excellent to the terrible, the all time classics to the completely forgotten, etc. For this 2nd edition I take a detour from the outback horrors of my previous review WOLF CREEK to tackle the horrors of suburbia with the 1993 satirical splatter horror/comedy BODY MELT…
SCRIPT: Rod Bishop & Philip Brophy (based on 4 short stories by Philip Brophy)
CAST: Gerald Kennedy, Andrew Daddo, Ian Smith, Regina Gaigalas, Brett Climo, Lisa McCune, William McInnes.
PLOT: Residents of peaceful Pebbles Court, Homesville, are being used unknowingly as test experiments for a new ‘Body Drug’ from the Vimuville company that causes rapid body decomposition, mutation and painful death.
You know what’s funny? For the longest time I thought the years between 1990 to 1995 were considered to be a quote unquote ‘dead period’ for horror films until SCREAM came along and rejuvenated the genre again in 1996. Looking back on that time now, I realise how completely wrong I was in that assessment. In fact, so many horror films that are now classics of the genre were released during that period in the ’90s (MISERY, ARMY OF DARKNESS and CANDYMAN just to name a few). Hell, even the most famous horror film released at the time THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS went all the way to win Best Picture at the Oscars. So despite all the criticism that most people had about it, the early to mid ’90s were in reality a great time for horror films. Now if we were talking about how Australian horror films were doing during that decade, it would be a completely different story all together. While so many of them were released throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Aussie horror films basically died out once the ’90s rolled around. Believe it or not, only four Australian horror films were made in that entire decade. The most well know of the four that were released was musician turned filmmaker Philip Brophy’s feature length directorial debut BODY MELT. When the film first came out in Aussie cinemas in 1993, it wasn’t well received by critics and it flopped at the box office (due to its negative response, Philip Brophy never directed another film again). However the passage of time has been a lot kinder to BODY MELT. Its reception has grown to be much more positive and it’s now considered by many as a cult Ozploitation classic (even Quentin Tarantino himself called it, “the best Australian film of the ’90s”).
I have to admit that when I saw BODY MELT for the first time about 12 years ago, I honesty really didn’t like it at all. In fact, I absolutely hated it with a passion. At the time I thought that it was a unfunny and badly made film that was more interested in grossing out the audience rather than having a compelling story or characters. However, after hearing all the positive critical revaluation that it has been receiving over the pass few months since its recent BluRay release here in Australia, I decided that I should give the film another shot and see whether my opinion would be change on it or not. So having rewatched again, what do I think of the film now when compared to my first viewing it of 12 years ago? I have to say surprisingly that I dug it a lot more this time around. Don’t get me wrong some of my original complaints that I had about the film are still there but that being said though, it’s actually is a rather enjoyable horror/comedy that’s surprisingly a lot more interesting than I originally gave it credit for. The first thing that really struck me the most about the film was how much of a scathing satire it was. I must admit that when I first saw BODY MELT when I was about 20 years old, all the film’s satirical elements went completely over my head and I honestly didn’t get what the film was going for at time. Now that I’m in my 30s, I definitely picked up on all those elements and it actually made me appreciate the film a lot more as a whole. It’s very clear that director Philip Brophy and his co-writer Rod Bishop wanted to set out and poke fun at all the health and clean-living trends that were starting to become really big at that time with their script. Especially in particular health & leisure resorts, vitamin & dietary supplements and as well as pharmaceutical companies for good measure. Most part I’d say that their script definitely hit some of the marks that they set out to tackle. Plus I liked how they took an unconventional approach to its narrative by structuring the film as a series of vignettes that linked together through certain characters (similar in way to films like PULP FICTION or TRICK ‘R TREAT).
When it comes to filmmaking side of things, I thought that first time director Philip Brophy did a really good job in how crafted his debut feature film (he previously only made short films). You can definitely tell by that director Peter Jackson’s early horror work like BAD TASTE and BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. DEAD ALIVE) were a huge influence on how he approach the style, tone and even gore gags for BODY MELT. In fact I would even wager that David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper and Larry Cohen were also big inspirations on certain aspects of it as well (particularly with the dark humour, body horror and satirical elements). Brophy directs BODY MELT with such an inventive and energetic flair that it makes the film easily stand out compared to other Aussie horror films that have been made at the time. Besides co-writing, directing and coming up with the original four short stories that inspired BODY MELT, Brophy was involved with a lot of other technical aspects on the film too. He co-created the film’s really unique sound design and composed the terrific electronic inspired music score as well. It’s a shame that Brophy didn’t go on to direct more films after this one ’cause based on this one alone, he definitely had an interesting and talented eye. It would have been cool to see what he would directed after this (although he did stick around to compose scores and do sound design on various other short/feature films afterwards instead). When it comes to the film’s cast, I thought that everyone did solid work in their roles. While a lot of people outside of Australia wouldn’t be familiar with the faces that appear in film but for us Aussies, it’s interesting and fun mix of actors who were best know for appearing in Australian TV dramas and soap operas like NEIGHBOURS, THE FLYING DOCTORS, BLUR HEELERS etc. From what I understand this was a deliberate choice by Brophy and I have to say it added an extra amount of more fun to the film for me. While I wouldn’t say that there were any true standout performances among the cast per say but that being said, the ones I did enjoy were parings of Gerard Kennedy & Andrew Daddo (who play the police detectives “Phillips” & “Johnno”) and Ian Smith & Regina Gaigalas (who play the film’s villains “Dr. Carrera” & “Shaan”, who run the evil “Vimuville” company and resort) respectively.
However there is one certain aspect that definitely deserves praise and it’s something that I truly believe is oone of the key elements that helps make the film quite memorable, is the terrific practical make up and gore effects that were created by Bob McCarron. His work in this film was incredibly creative and each make up/gore effect was very unique in their own way. I won’t say what they since I would have to go into spoiler territory to describe them but I will say this though, McCarron never does the same gore gag twice and each one is completely different from the last. Now despite all the good qualities that I’ve praised so far about the film, there are some parts about it that I did find to be quite flawed. As I stated earlier in this review, those flaws are still the same ones that I had with the film when I first watched it 12 years ago. Even though there were a lot of aspects of the script that I thought worked, there were some that could have been better. I felt that some of the actors were given really underdeveloped roles and there were some subplots that I thought that didn’t really much to the overall story. One subplot in particular that didn’t work for me was one where two characters named “Sal” (Nick Polites) & “Gino” (Maurie Annese) who while on their way to the “Vimuville” health resort, get lost and cross paths with an oddball mutant country family. Granted while these oddball characters do have some ties to the “Vimuville” company and their horrifying experiments, they don’t really add anything else to the film other than that link. Plus it didn’t help that their scenes felt like that they were out of a completely different horror film altogether when compared to the rest of the film. Also there were some plot holes/inconsistencies within the story that I wish that the filmmakers could have fixed up, the film’s tone can a bit uneven at times and while there some amusing moments here and there, I didn’t think it was as funny as it could have been.
Overall while BODY MELT can be a rather unfocused film at times due to both its obvious flaws and slightly underdeveloped script, it was still a really solid and entertaining horror/comedy nonetheless. It’s satirical edge, gruesome gore and complete utter insanity definitely makes it a true one-of-a-kind amongst all the other horror films that have been made in Australia. Sure the film is a required taste and it won’t be for everyone (I can see a lot of people really hating it just like I was the first time I watched it) but if you enjoy horror films that have a good mix of dark humour, great disgusting gore and fun satire, I’d say that it’s definitely worth checking out for sure. It deserves its status as being one of the most unique and original horror films that Australia has ever produced.