Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Body Melt (1993)

In 81 short minutes, the Austrailian bizarro gore flick Body Melt managed to unravel all the goodwill towards the land down under that Young Einstein, Crocodile Dundee, and The Road Warrior had struggled so hard to create. Great job.

I first learned of its existence from the long since castrated Wikipedia page for "body horror" (old version here). Body horror is one of those vaguely defined subgenres like 'grindhouse' cinema, anything with the -punk suffix (except cyberpunk), or my own personal coinage: cyborgsploitation. Having only wisps of scattered scholarly exploration, these micro-genres are apparently the bane of the wiki-editor's existence. (That's what you get for obsessively following your 'rules,' jerk.) Without the long established tropes of the Western or the big tent of regular, adjective free Horror, the defining boundaries remain fluid and nebulous. The only thing that has been definitely agreed upon (according to our wiki-overlords at least) is that the core of the genre is early to mid-period Cronenberg.

In case you aren't familiar, David Cronenberg is, in addition to being both my favorite Canadian and filmmaker, one of the preeminent voices in sci-fi horror. At least he was in the '80s, before he figured out that he was a really good director of crime and psychological thrillers. Whether about rape-slugs, super rabies, mind controlling stomach VCRs, or virtual reality games made from genetically engineered amphibian parts and controlled via clitorises, (Does anyone else think that the plural of clitoris should be clitori?) there is always the abjection of the human body as a common thread. Horror films long ago figured out that people could be grossed out by slicing up Achilles tendons or gouging eyeballs, but in Body Horror, the violation of human forms is removed from the traditional backdrops of war and violence. Mutation, genetic engineering, and self mutilation replace guns, bombs, and psycho killers. Often, as in Cronenberg's The Fly, the horrific bodily changes arise as side effects or misuse of technology created with positive applications in mind.

In Body Melt the positive application is giving people perfect health and minor superhuman powers, but comparing it to the oeuvre of the man behind Videodrome and Dead Ringers is a bit like comparing a single White Castle slider to an entire Wagyu cow.

Then it's not just a clever name.

It seems an unethical pharmaceutical company (is there any other kind in horror movies) has begun testing its latest super-vitamins on the unsuspecting citizens of a brightly colored, tree free, suburban cul-de-sac. A soon to be former researcher develops a conscience and decides to warn them, but is secretly injected with a mega-dose. (Note to the whistleblowers of the world: don't sleep with your boss the same night you decide to blow said whistle and make your escape.)

Don't try this at home, kids.

Thanks to the timely chugging of dish detergent, he manages to crash his car in the test subjects' neighborhood. Unfortunately, it is too late to warn anyone, and he surcumbs to stage three of the drug's killing process: Body Melt.

In Soviet Union, spaghetti eats you.

In case you're wondering, the first stage is "hallucinogenic" and the second is "glandular." This makes for a fair setup to a wacked-out gore film: bumbling cops slowly investigate the evil company while the townspeople trip balls and turn into nasty puddles on the floor.

If only things were that simple. Body Melt's story appears to have been written by a chronic sufferer of attention deficit disorder. Instead of a 'plot' composed of 'characters' who act out 'scenes' that further the 'narrative,' it boasts 'a bunch of crazy shit that happens and may or may not have any connection to the other shit that just happened or is about to happen.'

First of all, two slackers with Italian names and curry stained jerseys head off to the evil pharmaceutical giant's evil health spa for... um... sperm donation. The only problem is, their windshield gets smashed and they end up (for no apparent reason) in the Outback equivalent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I was gonna make a "rejects from Mad Max" joke,
but the dude on the right was actually in Mad Max.

Okay, so the movie has made a complete 180; it'll all get tied together in the end right? Sort of, I guess. For now, marvel at how now matter how much time seems to pass in the "A-story," the hillbilly subplot always takes place in mid-afternoon. (Seriously, did they cross a couple time zones? At one point it is fucking night back in the cul-de-sac while the slackers kill the afternoon paling around with stereotyped mongoloids.)

A word of advice to anyone who ends up trapped with crazy mutant rednecks: don't (I repeat: do not) take up the least mutant looking one up on her offer of a quick BJ in the barn. That's wrong on so many levels even before she chomps captain howdy off. Come on kids, this is a horror movie, not Tobacco Road.

Wasn't there supposed to be body melting in this movie? Back in the suburbs, the local bachelor is suffering from phase one after taking evil, neon green vitamin supplements. It is also notable that he is the only person to experience the hallucinatory phase; an obviously calculated move by the brilliant writers to shave off some run time for more pointless changes in scenery. The visions take the form of a mysterious battered woman who talks him into letting her squat at his place, disappears, then reappears in unbattered form to steal one of his rib-bones for some sort of pagan ritual.

Are you following this? Because I sure couldn't, and I've seen it twice. My current theory is that the inscrutable plotting is an intentional ploy to keep the viewer off guard for the melting sequences. They are certainly more effective when you are sitting alone, tears streaming down your face as you plead with the television, "what is happening? I don't un-d-d-d-erstaaaaaand.

WAE: Worst Acronym Ever

Eventually the film comes to its main event/slash reason for existing. A young couple in the cul-de-sac is having a baby, and a few doses of VIMUVILLE causes the woman to go into premature labor and plorp out her placenta before the baby.

But this is no ordinary pre-birth super placenta, it is sentient and pissed off as well. At this point my hopes went up on the possibility that the rest of the movie would be a Trilogy of Terror rip off with the hapless woman playing a tense game of cat and mouse with the angry afterbirth. No dice: the husband comes home and plays facehugger victim to the evil ephemeral organ while his wife's stomach explodes in a massive belch of steam. (Talk about sound and fury signifying nothing: the womb turns out to be empty.)

Meanwhile, the neighboring family heads out to the evil spa, and the hallucinating bachelor across from them is creepily standing in the exact same position we last saw him in. The local general practitioner, who is naturally one of the drug's creators, shows up to play damage control, subduing the last active victims and, in a brilliant turn of events, shows up at the doorstep of the creepy rednecks for some emergency exposition.

Wouldn't you know it, the hillbilly patriarch was one of the form dissolution drug's inventors. The evil doctor/conspirator, who I guess is a main character now, confronts him to learn that a crucial component of the medication is missing. Without it, the patients can't control their bodies' new abilities, causing the eponymous anatomical deliquescing.

Losing characters almost as fast as it loses its marbles, the movie heads back to the health spa, where the last remaining characters (along with a handful of fresh red-shirts) get their physique dissolving on.

Damn, I have officially run out of synonyms for 'body' and 'melt.'

I'm not sure that counts as "melting"

If you read my "Traumatic Film Experiences" list, you'll know that Body Melt has the dubious honor of being number 6. Not due to its gross out makeup effects, of which I have seen better (or worse if you are a gore prude), or its constant, binary switching between boring and bizarre, but because of just one scene. The head of Pebble Court's last surviving family, whose '90s dayglow tracksuits previously sinned against my eyeballs and must therefore be burned for the good of us all, feasts on VIMMUVILLE laced food, causing his sinuses to go into snot production overload. After a while, he literally drowns in his own mucus.

As a massive nerd, I naturally suffer from allergies, so the thought of drowning in snot has, for me, a special terror. It made me gag a little seeing the above for the first time, and it remains unpleasant to say the least, and I just sat through Tokyo Gore Police without so much as batting an eye. Also, it is not a place where horror often goes, even when dealing with illness and disease. Exploding pustules and general melting tend to take precedence.

Yeah. Like that.

It seems the pharma-conspirators have been getting high on their own supply, causing meltage, murder, and violently exploding penises. (No, they're not exploding in the porn sense, before you ask.) For nearly five whole minutes the viewer is treated to some semblance of coherance, as a hitherto little seen Final Girl tries to save her family from cellular destruction to no avail. Confronted with a quickly melting spa director, she attempts, for some reason, to help the woman by slapping her. Meanwhile, her little brother randomly dies in a rollerblading accident on a half-pipe, and the creepy, musclebound orderlies all suffer terrible... um... romantic tragedies.

Pornography addiction kills.

The doctor shows up with his potential cure, but the bumbling cops have arrived as well, so he gets promptly arrested. The final girl's mother passes on at the doctor's, and they are never seen again. The cops return to the station as the killer placenta's victim vomiting Boomer Bile, but he just dies. Also, it turns out that VIMMUVILLE vitamins have already made it to store shelves.

Movie over. What just happened?

I feel a little bad for saying this, but Body Melt, is a significantly worse film than it's elder cousin in the genre of "people melting randomly" films, Street Trash. They are both quirky genre films made by first (and last) time directors, involve a cast of eccentrics melting, and were basically made as special makeup effect showcases. But while Body Melt is chock full to its gills with Austrailian soap-opera stars (mostly from the Patrick McGoohan free Aussie staple Prisoner) Street Trash has a sweet Repo Man mise-en-scène and an honest-to-god plot. (Albeit one that is merely parallel to the melting.)

Google Street View circa 1993... for robots.

Indie genre filmmakers of the world, heed these words: come up with a story before you start planning the makeup effects. I don't care how good the makeup effects guy you already hired is or how much coin you snagged from those suckers at the Australian artist grant center. You risk becoming nothing more than "that bad movie with the killer placenta." At best a curious artifact of a specific time and place. (Seriously, what were we thinking with all that day-glow and rollerblading. If it wasn't for parachute pants, I'd be ready to write off the whole first half of the decade.)


  1. Peter Jackson, lawnmower man, drug store, car chases, gore and more gore. Lost the first comment, these were the points I made.


  2. From what I can gather from Wikipedia and IMDB, the director was an experimental musician and artist, (That explains the awful techno with a lady screaming "BODY MELT!" over and over during the end credits) who based the script on four of his short stories, used his art connections to get gov't funding, then teamed up with the makeup effects guy from Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. (Braindead for everyone outside the states.)

  3. They should do "BODY MELT 2," "BODY MELT 3," all through "BODY MELT 6."

  4. Hope they'll make the 'Body Melt 2' to 'Body Melt 6.' And they get an hundred more special effects artists to do a lot of air-bladders FX.

  5. It would be cool if they will make seven or eight of the 'Body Melt' sequels!!!

  6. They oughta make thousands more body horror, mutation short films with thousands or millions of weird Special Makeup Effects.

  7. I hope the other horror, sci-fi moviemakers will do billions of new weird special makeup effects and billions bladders-fx horror body movies soon. And they really oughta do ten to twenty 'Body Melt' sequels and come up the idea of doing at an hundred weird mutation, body transformations.