Friday, 15 February 2019

Body Melt (Philip Brophy, 1993) Review

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The first phase is hallucinogenic, the second phase is glandular, and the third phase is … OH GOD!!! From Street Trash to The Incredible Melting Man as well as The Stuff, the last portion of the 20th Century seemed to have a thing for the ooze-tastic destruction of the human body, almost building upon the 'body horror' of David Cronenberg, albeit in a sleazier and sillier manner. A lesser-known entry in this sub-category of splatter-fuelled flicks is Body Melt, an Australian B-Movie that takes a few cues from Peter Jackson's early films and sprinkles a dusting of 90s rave culture style into the mix – oh, and Harold Bishop from Neighbours is in it, too!

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“He won't get far. I gave him a little going away present.” A dispirited worker for Vimuville, a shady drugs corporation currently testing an unstable new product, flees the facility with the intention of exposing the truth to the residents of Homeville, a cul-de-sac that has been selected for clandestine testing. It all goes pair-shaped before he can expose bugger all, though, but now the cops – including Detective Sam Philips (Gerard Kenndy) and his partner Johnno (Andrew Daddo) – are on the case, much to annoyance of project leader Shaan (Regina Gaigalas).

“How many times do I have to tell you? Keep it in the family!” Enticed by free vitamin drink samples, a spa weekend, and a particularly hands-on 'hormone research' study, the residents of Homeville all eventually find themselves experiencing side-effects, well, except for Gino and Sal who miss their 'hormone research' weekend when they stumble into the clutches of a bizarre inbred family. From strange physical deformities to a past-time involving the extracted adrenal glands of passing kangaroos, the family of Pud (Vincent Gil), Bab, Bronto, and Slab (Anthea Davis) wreak their own kind of havoc. How they are connected with Vimuville and Dr. Carrera (Ian Smith, best known as Harold Bishop from Aussie soap opera Neighbours) will, eventually, come to light. Meanwhile, Homeville's residents – including a vitamin freak to a pregnant woman – all begin to experience strange hallucinations and worrying physical changes.

“It's not what you got, mate, it's how you hold it.” Philip Brophy's film seems quite enticing from the trailer with much promise of Braindead or Street Trash levels of splatterific mayhem, but Body Melt feels somewhat skimpy when it comes to the gooey spectacle in the grand scheme of things. The film isn't without it's a decent share of grue – from a rogue placenta on the loose to a gargantuan tongue suffocating its host – but the opening half of the film tends to dawdle, while the structure of the script and its sub-plots feel disjointed and half-cooked. While the run-in with the inbred garage owners reaps copious weirdness, it feels kind of disjointed from the whole, like an entirely different movie is taking place (not helped by the total mystery of Gino & Sal's suddenly broken windshield). Indeed, from the aforementioned structure of the script, the film struggles to find a comfortable groove and sense of pace, with so many elements feeling too disconnected from one another.

“Up until their birth babies are the ultimate parasite.” This isn't to say there isn't fun to be had for genre geeks, but the viewer does get the impression that a stronger and more cohesive film is in there somewhere trying to burst out of its host body, much like the icky side-effects of Vimuville's 'cognition enhancer' drug. Anthea Davis' dangerously horny Slab is a scene-stealer, while the gentle-voiced muscle mountains employed to do Shaan's bidding illustrate Brophy's barmy sense of humour, but the loose narrative of Brophy and Rod Bishop's screenplay fails to coral this myriad of promising ideas.

“Fuck the chain store – what about the cops?!” Gore movie nerds will enjoy the weirder scenes and scattered references (including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and John Carpenter's The Thing), and Brophy's energetic style – at times like an antipodean answer to Danny Boyle (albeit before the famous Trainspotting director hit the scene) – gamely raises the energy levels, but the film's structural failings hinder it too much. Naturally, personal enjoyment of any exploitation movie will vary from fan to fan, but Body Melt all too often feels like it's just out of reach of its aspirations, tumbling off the rails as it struggles to focus and pace itself – and yet the effort, as well as the very Australian sense of humour, does pay-off sporadically. Imagine a chocolate cake that has fallen on the floor: it's a bit of a mess but it's still tasty.

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