Welcome to a new column on the blog – It Came From the 90’s. Horror fans love the 80’s. In the last decade, we’ve seen horror re-emerge to new heights reminiscent of the 1970’s. Despite the 2000’s maligned ‘Torture Porn’ and remake crazes, the genre still had healthy box office life. But the 90’s seems to get lost in the shuffle. While it’s true that the genre hit a downturn, the decade still produced some classics along with a handful of hidden gems. Forgotten thriller, Body Parts, kicks off the inaugural edition of the column. The movie stirred up a bit of controversy with Paramount pulling ads after serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested. Earlier this week, Shout Factory finally re-issued the movie on Blu-ray for fans. So is Body Parts worth re-visiting? Or is it better left in the 90’s?
Following a horrific car accident, criminal psychologist Bill Chrushank loses his right arm. In a grief-stricken moment, Bill’s wife, Karen, agrees to an experimental arm transplant. Though the procedure is a success, Bill beings having nightmares and fears he’s losing control of his new limb. When he discovers the donor was an executive serial killer, Bill fears his surgeon, the brilliant Dr Webb, may have had more nefarious intents.
Confusing, Underdeveloped Ideas Amputate Body Parts
In the 1960’s, French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac penned Choice Cuts. Nearly 30 years laters, not one, but four, writers adapted the novel into Body Parts. Maybe it’s a case of too many ‘cooks in the kitchen’. Or perhaps something was lost in translation. Regardless, Body Parts is an occasionally interesting movie that occasionally borders on silliness. And it always feels underdeveloped. With a criminal psychologist as its main character, Body Parts initially aspires to be a psychological thriller. However, its references to sources of evil are half-baked at best. That is, Body Parts’ conceit that evil lives in the flesh – with limbs that have minds of their own – never makes sense.
Regardless, Body Parts is an occasionally interesting movie that occasionally borders on silliness. And it always feels underdeveloped.
Once director and writer Eric Red introduces the ‘mad scientist’ storyline, Body Parts makes even less sense. You’ll find little method to the madness in Dr Webb’s grand scheme. She took apart a serial killer, gave out his limbs to patients, and now wants them back to piece the killer together again because … ‘mad scientist’. Even the expository dialogue is convoluted. When the ‘dead’ serial killer suddenly re-appears, it at least kickstarts the movie’s better moments. Yet Body Parts never puts the character to much use. He’s more silent plot device, than menacing villain.
A Case Study In What Could Have Been
If Body Part’s story resembles its re-assembled protagonist, the movie is tonally just as all over the place. There’s an earnestness in the first half as Red attempts to craft a taut thriller. Long dull stretches undermine the thrills. Add a lack of any atmosphere and Body Parts takes a while to rev things up. As Red hits his second half, Body Parts slowly descends into silly B-movie territory. It still feels like there’s some hesitance to let things go completely over-the-top. Chrushank’s growing fears that his new limb is evil – and in control – feels goofy while the movie plays it straight-faced. A few scenes of gruesome gore and an unintentionally hilarious car chase hint at what might have been.
By its climax, Body Parts wants to veer into grotesque, dark humour. Sadly, it never quite gets there.
And that’s Body Part’s biggest problem. It’s an utterly watchable movie with Jeff Fahey turning in a good lead performance. Though it’s initially slow-going, it’s never dull. Nevertheless, the movie’s very premise itself begs for it to be a body horror movie in the Cronenberg transition. Body horror is all about loss of bodily control, breakdown, and grotesque transformation. Body Parts has the concept and it’s got a melodramatic score … and an always wonderful eccentric Brad Dourif. By its climax, Body Parts wants to veer into grotesque, dark humour. Sadly, it never quite gets there. If we’re now moving on to remaking 90’s horror movies, here’s a prime candidate. On a side note, Body Parts has a strangely abrupt, tonally odd ending.
Body Parts Just Pieces of a Good Movie
Just like its title, Body Parts is pieces of a good movie – or at least an interesting idea – crudely assembled. Too bad none of these pieces connect to form a tonally consistent movie. As it stands, Body Parts is too many things undercooked. It’s part psychological thriller that neither makes sense nor thrills. Later it’s a serial killer movie with an almost absent villain. There’s some convoluted ‘mad scientist’ story that’s also underdeveloped. Sadly, the movie never aspires to be what it should have been – a grotesque body horror movie. Despite a few inspired gruesome bits here and there, Red never takes the movie in that direction.