Body Parts (1991)

Rating:

USA. 1991.

Crew

Director – Eric Red, Screenplay – Eric Red & Norman Snider, Story – Patricia Herskovic & Joyce Taylor, Based on the Novel Choice Cuts by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac, Producer – Frank Mancuso Jr, Photography – Theo Van de Sande, Music – Loek Dikker, Special Effects Supervisor – Neil N. Trifunovich, Makeup Effects – FXSmith Inc (Supervisor – Gordon Smith), Production Design – Bill Brodie. Production Company – Paramount

Cast

Jeff Fahey (Dr Bill Chrushank), Kim Delaney (Karen Chrushank), Lindsay Duncan (Dr Agatha Webb), Brad Dourif (Remo Lacey), Peter Murnik (Mark Draper), Zakes Mokae (Detective Sawchuck), John Walsh (Charles Fletcher)


Plot

Psychologist Bill Crushank is caught in a car accident. At the hospital, Dr Agatha Webb tells him that she will have to remove his arm but that she can transplant another. The operation is successful. As he returns to normal life however, Crushank is haunted by strange visions. He finds that his new arm is developing a life of its own. Investigation shows that the arm was transplanted from executed murderer Charles Fletcher. As Crushank sets out to discover others who have received transplants from Fletcher’s other body parts, a killer starts slaughtering each recipient.


Eric Red first emerged as a screenwriter and wrote two of the best genre films of the 1980s – The Hitcher (1986) and Near Dark (1987), as well as the thriller Blue Steel (1990), the latter two being the first two directorial outings for Kathryn Bigelow. Red made his directorial debut with the quite good road movie thriller Cohen and Tate (1989), but his subsequent solo ventures as director – the werewolf film Bad Moon (1996), Body Parts, the thriller Undertow (1996), the ghost story 100 Feet (2008) and subsequent killer dog film Night of the Wild (2015) – have failed to fully satisfy.

There is not much more to Body Parts than a rehashing of Maurice Renard’s novel The Hands of Orlac (1920), first filmed as the silent The Hands of Orlac (1924) and a number of times since, most famously as Mad Love (1935). Body Parts is a Hands of Orlac updated to 1990s horror filmmaking with polished gore effects. However, the modernity of the exercise does not disguise how hackneyed and predictable the plot is. Every development – that the limbs have lives of their own, that they belong to a killer – are played for big surprise value that is no surprise for anyone familiar with horror cliches. Some breath of originality arrives about two-thirds of the way through when the Hands of Orlac plot is put aside and the film turns into a more interesting piece about a killer recollecting his amputated limbs. There is the bizarre image of John Walsh running about with a collection of legs and arms over his shoulder but the sudden switch of plot tracks is a disruption of momentum from which Body Parts never recovers.

As director, Eric Red demonstrates little in the way of style, although there are a couple of memorable sequences – an intriguing if routinely directed sequence which, in a better director’s hands, could have been made into real nightmare material where Jeff Fahey stops at the lights as a passenger in a car, where John Walsh pulls up alongside and slaps a pair of handcuffs on him and then takes off at high speed with Fahey’s driver Zakes Mokae forced to follow his every move lest Fahey lose his arm; and, although it has been stolen from the end of Seconds (1966), the initial operation shown from Jeff Fahey’s point-of-view going out of focus as he is anaesthetised, which comes with images of a ring of surgeons carrying shotguns, a priest administering the last rites and then the appearance of a buzzsaw and the removal of John Walsh’s head.

Brad Dourif expectedly overacts. At least Jeff Fahey’s usual on-screen failure to suggest much more than a hick dopiness is turned to a vaguely troubled moodiness, which sort of fits what is going on in the film. FXSmith’s gore effects – legless bodies, arms ripped off and one neat effect of a limbless torso kept in a tank by Lindsay Duncan and still twitching – are very good.

Eric Red has taken the film from Choice Cuts (1965), a novel by French thriller writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, whose works also furnished other films such as the classic multiple remade psycho-thriller Les Diaboliques (1955) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), as well as the screenplay for the classic French mad surgeon film Eyes Without a Face (1959).



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