31 Days of Hell: Body Melt (1994) - Reviewed

In 1992, The Atlantic declared 1990 the official beginning of The Suburban Century. The census that year indicated more than half of the people in the United States were now suburbanites. Criticizing the American idea that cities are economic engines, columnist William Schneider wrote, “Americans have been getting out of the cities as soon as they can afford to buy a house and a car.” Across the Pacific, Australia was experiencing a similar phenomenon. Referred to as the ‘doughnut effect’, Australian metropolises of the ‘90s had become hollowed out versions of their former selves, as residents and investment moved to the developing suburban areas. 

Growing up in the outer edge of this type of effect myself, I can say that there is something downright eerie about it. Especially in its early days, when many of the developers’ plans are in the mid-build phase. The miles and miles of farm-land-turned-partially-completed-subdivisions, were reminiscent of The Last Man on Earth episode of The Twilight Zone, filling me with a sort of dread common in many dystopian horror films. While my friends and neighbors delighted in the thought of getting chain stores and health clubs just around the corner, I found it all rather disturbing and hallow. Writer/Director Philip Brophy also found this phenomenon unsettling, as he used it as the backdrop for his 1994 cult horror film Body Melt

Originally written as four short stories, the film carries viewers through a suburban cul-de-sac of unknowing test subjects, who have been targeted by the fictional company Vimuville, to study the effects of their new designer supplements. The film’s characters experience an array of horrifying biological side effects as they encounter the company’s drug line in different ways. More satirical than horror, Body Melt feels reminiscent of early Peter Jackson films like Bad Taste (1987), while making an obvious statement on the designer vitamin craze of the 1990s. Its use of bright colors and practical effects feel heavily influenced by films similar to Jackson’s, giving Body Melt a sort of cartoonish feel, in the positive sense. This film is gory, fun, and as Brophy states in the Blu-ray’s commentary, not to be taken too seriously. 

Emphasis on the 1990s cannot be stressed enough, as Body Melt is very much a product of that era. The computer graphics are extremely dated, but feel charming upon viewing them today. The wardrobes are heavy in those Saved by the Bell jewel tones, and the decade’s use of green to signify scientific advancement is a characteristic of the film, just like in Alien 3 (1992), and more notably, The Matrix (1999). The color palette, gory slapstick and the newly-developed doughnut suburbs in Body Melt, make it feel “very utopian,” as Brophy says, “but looks like [it’s] about to collapse and fall over under its own weight.”

The 2k transfer from the original 16mm negative is gorgeous. The colors are vivid and crisp, adding to the film’s already intended cartoonish look. The new Blu-ray release also has two commentary tracks. One with Philip Brophy, writer/producer Rod Bishop and producer Daniel Scharf, discussing the making of the film and the other with Philip Brophy, focused on the sound design and film score (which is also characteristically ‘90s). Overall, I would say that Body Melt is a successful splatter fest for anyone who loves practical effects, and this new Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome is a must have for any cult horror fan.  

--Dawn Stronski