Written by: Rod Bishop, Philip Brophy (short stories)
Directed by: Phillip Brophy
Starring: Gerard Kennedy, Andrew Daddo and Ian Smith
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“In today's fast-moving world with its fast-moving lifestyles, you owe your body all the nourishment, energy, and sensational pleasure it deserves."
Body Melt’s title rightfully alerts you to its implicit body horror, but it may conceal that it’s a bit of a mind-melter too. Unfolding in a twisty, almost opaque manner, it offers a skewering glimpse at the fallout of 80s excess by taking aim at the “clean living” movement that was farmed out to pharmaceutical companies in Australia (and beyond). Phillip Brophy (who sadly never directed a film after this unhinged debut) delivers a cock-eyed, irreverent, and gruesome take on a suburban culture rotting from the contents of its mailboxes and medicine cabinets.
The picturesque enclave of Pebbles Court is home to a typical array of suburbanites: a young couple, an ideal family of four, etc. One day, one of its inhabitants comes careening down the block in his car, his body having been sieged by some malicious force that ends up splattering him all over the pavement. Unbeknownst to him and his fellow exurbanites, a local health club has made them the unwitting guinea pigs for Vimuville, a vitamin supplement meant to result in a perfect human specimen.
Unfortunately, it’s only good for destroying the human body in the most outlandish and agonizing manner possible, a fact that’s made clear as the film follows a menagerie of characters as they crumble under the influence of the drug. The format almost gives Body Melt an omnibus feel, as the various characters rarely come into contact with each other, save for the pair of cops who are quick to follow the evidence trail that enables them to unravel the conspiracy. Apparently, the film’s script was cobbled from a few different short story ideas that Brophy had kicking around, and it often shows. There’s a real scatterbrained quality that makes it difficult to grasp its tenor, at least at first; Brophy’s pacing is sometimes lethargic and dwells on certain subplots at the expense of others, so it takes a for the faux-anthology format to take hold.
Oddly enough, by the time it does settle in, it really doesn’t seem to matter because the film has found a unity in its tone, which melds the satire of early Cronenberg with the splatstick approach of early Peter Jackson (whose genes descend from Sam Raimi). Brophy’s manic impulse for the grand guignol is revealed almost instantly when his first victim slowly deteriorates before our eyes, and the slick but smart gags enumerate from there. Nearly every character’s body rebels against itself, whether it’s a pregnant woman’s placenta or a guy’s cock, a conceit that underlies Brophy’s simplistic but pointed irony that our bodies will fail us regardless of our attempts to stall it. Not only that, but they do so in spectacular, over-the-top fashion as Brophy puts 80s consumerism in the crosshairs before delivering a savage but amusing beat down. The wit is one sharply crafted note that doesn’t arrive without some clever visual wit; for example, a victim’s fate is foreshadowed when liquid pours over his face on a photo ID.
Visually, the film continues to unify itself by cobbling together its various modes into something that roughly replicates channel surfing. Domestic scenes are shot and staged like commercials or sitcoms and are laced with a candy-colored coating that sweetens the eventual destruction; mean, an episode featuring a couple of dimwits who encounter a family of mutant cannibals (how many times has that setup been cannibalized itself) recalls dusty, rough and tumble Ozploitation roots, and the clan’s rotting abode is a refuse of pop culture signification that’s been left to decay along with its inhabitants. Still other modes abound; episodes centered around a man haunted by a past lover is perhaps the most traditionally horrific, the detectives’ paper trail takes on the form of a procedural drama. Body Melt is certainly scatterbrained, but it’s arguable that Brophy is also taking the piss out of how we’re forced to process media at a rapid clip that dilutes our attention spans.
Brophy’s ambivalence towards it all highlights the droll ferocity of Body Melt. Few characters (if any) are sympathetic, leaving viewers to delight in their gory demises. If the slasher cycle of the 80s offered some sort of bizarre, unwitting catharsis for droves of “Me Generation” viewers who indulged in their own destruction , then this film takes one step beyond that by poking fun at the neon-clad 80s afterbirth. The drugs are now prescribed, the sex now codified beyond teenage lust, but the splattery results are just the same. Body Melt’s humor sometimes goes very black, as no one, including the idyllic family of four, is spared from Brophy’s satirical bite. While he’s content to hammer on one note--the film doesn’t go much further than delighting in the literal melting and decay of this culture--Brophy incisively mixes camp, gore, and wit to realize one of the more oddball splatstick entries from the 90s.
I’m not sure why this represented Brophy’s lone directorial effort (he’s since reemerged as a composer for a handful of films). Body Melt feels like the work of an assured director that manages to take an amoebic script and meld it into something that’s solid but still drips around the edges. Not surprisingly, the group behind the special effects went on to have nice careers (you still see some of these guys’ names popping up in big budget films today), as their work here is sort of the calling card for Body Melt, though it’s at least underpinned by some sort of commentary, however unsubtle it may be. The film was released on DVD once by Vanguard, and the disc boasts a director’s cut that looks nice and lush thanks to a restored transfer. There are no special features to be found, but it’s a release worth owning since Body Melt is a colorful, scrappy, and rugged Ozploitation flick that’s got brains to spare--which is probably why so many of them end up getting splattered all over the place. Buy it!
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