Body parts (1991)

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Director: Eric Red
Starring: Jeff Fahey, Kim Delaney, Brad Dourif, Zakes Mokae, Lindsay Duncan .USA. 1h 28m

Body Parts has long been one of my go-to horror movies for some time. For me it’s one of those gory late night good fun movies Ican just check in and get into at any time. I think part of my attraction to the film is how much it draws from my favourite novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and is based on Les Mains D’Orlac by Marice Renard, previously connected to The Hands of Orlac (1924), Mad Love (1935), and Hands of a Stranger (1962) however Body Parts attempts to go a step further..

Eric Red has a long history of middle of the road horror movies, namely Undertow (1995), Bad Moon (1996) and 100 Feet (2008). They always have something quite unique and interesting about them but they never seem to go fully into the depths of horror. He likes to mull round in the minds of his main characters more than offer his audience a cheap thrill so if the genre of “thinking man’s horror” is your thing, then his movies might be worth looking into. However his screenwriting is much more successful, as he is behind two weighty cult classics, The Hitcher (1986) and Near Dark (1987)

Jeff Fahey stars as Bill, an articulate prison psychologist and dutiful father who, after a tragic car accident, loses his arm. A pioneering doctor offers his wife the opportunity for Bill to be part of a groundbreaking experiment, she signs the dotted line and Bill goes straight from life saving surgery into new arm transplanting surgery. This leads to one of the best scenes in the film, Bill’s laid out on a hospital gurney with an anaesthetist trying to put him out, not quite knowing what’s going on yet, another patient is wheeled in surrounded by nine armed police officers, while he’s slowly being put under he unfortunately witnesses the doctor removing the other patients head, this is also the first scene where Eric Red uses signature camera techniques of skewing and stretching images to show you torture screams in a dreamy effect.

After the successful surgery Bill starts enjoying life with his new appendage and everything goes fine but then he starts noticing differences in his character, his emotions become dark and he begins thinking of murdering his family, and lashes out in an uncharacteristic manner. In a tense session with one of his death row inmates they realise that they share the same “lifers” tattoo, this freaks out his patient and prompts Bill to start looking into the personality behind his new arm, but all too soon he’s fallen down the rabbit hole and is losing control.

Somehow Red managed to not have one of those “man fighting his own arm” scenes, however there are times when Bill manages to lose complete control of the arm and it’s just fighting random people in a bar. His wife and children are also introduced to the back of his hand from time to time. The film tilters on the edge of camp without going full blow, although I personally would love to see the hand detach itself and go nuts, but we have Idle Hands, creeping flesh, and Addams family for disembodied hand goodness

The fun doesn’t stop with Bill, it seems that a couple of other gentlemen managed to get body parts from this one particularly nasty individual, an artist named Remo Lacey (Dourfi) and an athletic Mark Draper (Murnik) They find humour in testing. I’m just happy to go through life about the feeling of being disabled, but the feeling doesn’t last forever.

Fahey really has to put in a lot of effort to make this role work, not only physically but it was one of the few early movies where he couldn’t just rely on his pretty face to make cinematic magic. But in all fairness most of the characters fade into the surroundings all too easily, Bil’’s long suffering wife, Karen (Delaney) only really appears to look disgusted or rejected as she refuses to sympathise and abandons him at the first sign of trouble, Dourif is great but not given as much screen time as he deserves, but the more interesting roles go to Zakes Mokae who plays the detective willing to look into the case with an open mind, a strange but wonderful choice of actor, but Linday Duncan who plays Dr Webb was so very soney face and plan and seemed to drained any tension from the powerful ending.

In reflection Body Parts is a great idea, which could have been a really intense body horror, but turns out to be a blood and guts thriller. With the history of classics films made surrounding the subject of Tissue Memory, it was an opportunity to break from the strong drama, and step into experimental body horror, if this was in the hands of Cronenberg I think it would be a full on cult classic but with all its faults, Body Parts is still a fun thrilling favourite.


Rating: 7/10

Related: Frankenstein (1931), The Hands of Orlac (1935), The Eye/Seeing Ghosts (2002)
List: Tissue Memory Films, Body Horror,
Spotlight:Jeff Fahey, Brad Dourif, Zakes Mokae

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