Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Body Melt (1993)

Sharing the same mentality (and hailing from the same part of the world) as early Peter Jackson films like Bad Taste and Brain Dead, Body Melt has some good ideas, but is derailed by an unfocussed script. What is left is good looking, and sporadically extreme and gory, but ultimately, slightly too dull to be a classic.

Residents in the quiet suburban Australian street of Pebbles Court have started getting free vitamin pills in the mail, pills designed to make them into the ultimate healthy human. Unfortunately they also seem to have unexpected side effects such as hallucinations and grotesque mutations. With the bodies piling up, can police find the source - and does it have anything to do with the kindly local doctor with a mysterious past?

Body Melt is the brainchild of director Phillip Brophy and he certainly gives the film a strong, consistent visual style, particularly in the scenes set in Pebbles court, with the houses and people alike shown in bright, almost nauseatingly lurid colours, reminiscent of films like Parents or Blue Velvet.

However, as co-writer and composer, he also has to shoulder some of the blame for the film's two major shortcomings, the rambling script, and weak soundtrack. After a great opening that sets up plenty of intrigue around the premise (as well as giving us a car crash victim with tentacles crawling out of his neck wounds) things soon taper off, and the energy dissipates as the script cuts between the different characters from the street, in long and sometimes seemingly pointless scenes. The credits say the script is based on a series of short stories by Brophy, and that might go some way to explaining why none of the plot lines really gel together,

The tinny electronic soundtrack is also largely down to Brophy, and adds nothing to the power or mood of any of the scenes, as well as being monotonous enough to quickly become tiresome.

Thankfully, there is still enough to enjoy making it worth a look. The comic book feel of the film invites some fun overacting, and the cast are more than up to the challenge. Best of the bunch is Ian Smith as the town doctor, and British viewers may remember him as Harold Bishop from the Aussie TV soap Neighbours.

Although some of the ideas, such as mutant cannibals and melting bodies, are obvious nods to films such as Street Trash, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, placing them in new contexts such as housing estates or the Australian outback gives them a fresh feel that avoids them feeling stolen.

There are some wholly original touches too, such as the musclebound hunks that make up the staff of the Health farm, and all speak with squeaky high-pitched voices, and the scene involving a pregnant woman and her husband being attacked by a mutant placenta is, unsurprisingly, done in wonderfully poor taste, and injects some much needed, and all too rare energy into the film.