The residents of Pebbles Court are dying to get healthy… literally in the gruesomely gory Ozploitation splatter pic BODY MELT, out on DVD from Scorpion Releasing and “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater”.
When chemist Ryan (Robert Simper, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME) discovers the unethical experiments being conducted by Vimuville on residents of the Melbourne housing development Pebbles Court, he heads there in order to warn Paul Matthews (William McInnes, THE HEARTBREAK KID), one of the subjects chosen for testing of the experimental drug V9. Unbeknownst to Ryan, the clinic’s supervisor Dr. Shann (Regina Gaigalas, DEAD END) has dosed him to the gills with V9 (smaller doses of which have interesting effects on Shann’s own libido). Ryan starts experiencing the deadly effects of the drug and he crashes into a van in Pebbles Court. On the case are detectives Phillips (Gerard Kennedy, ELIZA FRASER) and Johnno (Andrew Daddo) who write it off as a drug-induced fatality. An empty Vimulville pill bottle takes the detectives to the company headquarters (a health farm in the middle of the outback) but they learn nothing helpful until forensics tech forensics tech (Bill Young, THE MATRIX) comments on the unnatural health of the victim suggests that the unrecognizable drugs in his system are experimental cognition enhancers, and the detectives also notice that the victim had scribbled Matthews name on his arm. Back in Pebbles Court, however, Matthews who has started hallucinating and is undergoing glandular changes, cousins Sal (Nick Polites, HERCULES RETURNS) and Gino (Maurie Annese) are on their way to the health farm to give sperm samples to the hot doctor, the Noble family are also on their way to the health farm for a vacation they’ll never forget, and pregnant neighbor Cheryl (Lisa McCune, LITTLE FISH) has been experiencing strange nightmares and confides in suspicious Dr. Carrera (Ian Smith).
Were it not for the film’s sense of black humor, BODY MELT – with its extremely gruesome and explosive death scenes, combined with some sexualized violence as well as a brief shot of hardcore imagery on a television screen – the film could have been seen as not particularly well-developed pharmaceutical spin on Cronenbergian body horror. Director Philip Brophy was an musician – having formed the group whose symbolic name is pronounced Tsk Tsk Tsk – who had made an experimental short film SALT, SALIVA, SPERM, AND SWEAT before tackling the feature length BODY MELT for which he also composed the score and designed the sound (disc hostess Katarina Leigh Waters refers to Brophy – due partially to his use of multiple modes of media for expression, including academic publications – as the Australian Clive Barker). The film is more of a catalogue of gruesome deaths rather than a thriller or horror film. The audience knows everything from the start and are far ahead of the detectives, and the only subsequent surprises of any novelty are not the identities of the additional perpetrators but just what special make-up effects of Bob McCarron (DEAD ALIVE) will come up with for the next death scene. Sal and Gino getting waylaid on their way to the clinic by Pud (Vincent Gil, THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN) and his mutant family does eventually dovetail into the main plot, but even after it does, it still feels like a major – though admittedly entertaining – plot detour. The quasi-mythological form of Matthews’ hallucinations and the doctor referring to babies as the “ultimate parasite” up until their birth when explaining away Cheryl’s nightmares hint at profundity, but the film as a whole isn’t particularly thought-provoking and is better enjoyed than absorbed.
BODY MELT made its stateside debut on VHS in 1994 courtesy of Prism Entertainment in a cropped though serviceable transfer with good Hi-Fi stereo sound (the film did not carry an MPAA rating, but the tape carried an AO (Adults Only) rating by the Film Advisory Board (presumably Prism only used the “unrated” denotation for films that they also released in Blockbuster-friendly R-rated editions). Vanguard released the film on DVD in 2003, also a fullscreen transfer with an upmixed 5.1 soundtrack. Scorpion’s new single-layer disc features an attractive anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) transfer that is rich in garish colors from the 1980s wardrobe to the gooey effects. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is boisterous when it comes to the score and the accompanying sound effects for the gore set-pieces. Other than the trailer (1:53), there are no related extras; the Australian disc reportedly features a behind the scenes featurette and storyboards, but the Scorpion’s disc should prove satisfactory to most viewers.
The Scorpion disc is part of the “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line, so Katarina Leigh Waters provides optional opening and closing segments in which she discusses the background of the film and its cast and crew. She mentions that it was one of the few Australian splatter films (reminding us that Peter Jackson is a New Zealander), and that it was regarded as subversive for its casting of familiar faces from Australian television (a number of the cast members had appeared on the soap opera NEIGHBORS). Katarina apparently found the film nauseating, so she is replaced in the closing segment by her evil twin Antoinette (appropriately introduced on Scorpion’s release of MARK OF CAIN/THRILLKILL and making occasional appearances on other discs). The disc also features trailers for THE MONSTER CLUB, GRIZZLY, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, THE SURVIVOR and ALLEY CAT. (Eric Cotenas)
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