Body Melt


31 Nights of Horror (#2) | 2017

On this episode of The Nightly Chill:

Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, he comes across Australian comedic horror flick, Body Melt!

NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.


When a concerned employee of a shady pharmaceutical company attempts to reveal that an entire Australian suburb has been used as guinea pigs, he’s not only swiftly and violently silenced but the residents of Pebbles Court soon discover that their free dietary supplement pills have some seriously gruesome side-effects in Body Melt.

MELTIN’

Body Melt, from director and co-writer Philip Brophy, is a delightfully crazed b-film that you would be forgiven for mistaking for one of Troma’s insane creations. The blood and body horror frequently comes by the barrel. The characters are colorful caricatures, with every actor’s performance cranked up to 10. And the movie floors it from the outset and doesn’t ease up on the gas until it crosses the finish line.

However, the path it takes to get there is quite literally all over the place.

Despite the film selling itself as something detailing the gruesome outcome of secret tests done on unsuspecting suburbanites, there’s very little time actually spent in the suburbs.

In fact, much of the movie takes place on either a remote farm in the Australian outback or a high-end spa that secretly doubles as the laboratory for the aforementioned and comically evil pharmaceutical company.

The movie also never spends too much time with a single character, with Brophy instead electing to jump from one to the next in fairly quick fashion, making the movie feel like a series of loosely connected vignettes.

And, to be fair, this works very much in favor of Body Melt. We get to know characters just enough before the movie goes about killing them off in creative, unsettling ways. No punches are pulled. No one is safe. And no stone is left unturned, as the movie hands out bits and pieces of backstory for the whole thing without ever bringing the movie to anything resembling a slow crawl.

It’s a high-energy, frantic experience. But it’s only one that masquerades as a mess rather than actually being one.

DISTURBIN’

Now, as fun as the movie is from start to finish, it must also be said that this one isn’t for the squeamish or the easily offended. There are a number of disturbing images–as colorful and wacky as they may be at times–that, among other unsettling things, occasionally involve children.

But for those who can embrace the no-holds barred nature of a comedic horror film that aims to entertain and push limits–and certainly more so than to simply shock and offend–then Body Melt is easily worth CHILLING with.

American Mary


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at body-horror/drama American Mary!


American Mary is a fun, ambitious, and somewhat messy movie that follows Katharine Isabelle as Mary Mason, a desperate medical student turned back-alley plastic surgeon.

CLASSIC TUNE, NEW SPIN

The short of it is that American Mary is easily and often at its best when alluding to classic horror stories of mad scientists, their creatures, and a world that doesn’t understand them. Brought to us by the twin set of writers/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary is less a modern horror movie and more so a quick-paced drama that dives into the darker side of medical school and the subculture of body modification.

Katharine Isabelle’s Mary stands in for characters like Victor Frankenstein, her eager and willing patients for the monster, and malicious professors, cops, and slighted significant others for the mob that eventually comes for them with torches and pitchforks.

And for however long a scene dedicates itself to questioning Mary’s actions, exploring that moral and ethical gray area surrounding extreme body modifications, the film succeeds. This modern, grounded, and dramatic spin on the sorts of stories often relegated to the sort of schlocky fun seen in post-World War II horror comics and B-films affords the movie some narrative flexibility. Allowing it to play with a strange premise while simultaneously digging at meatier themes that the stories in old comics like Tales from the Crypt didn’t have the time (or desire) to explore in greater depth. In this case, Mary is often troubled by her conflicting desire to pay for medical school and her increasingly viable career as an illegal surgeon capable of sculpting her patients in almost every way imaginable.

MONSTER IMPERFECT

However, the film is somewhat derailed by an unnecessary subplot that focuses on Mary’s revenge against a man who sexually assaults her. This subplot does nothing to flesh out the main plot or themes of the film. Instead it only seems to exist to steer the film, temporarily, into the realm of body horror.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these detours damage the overall narrative by twisting Mary into a somewhat malicious monster rather than the sympathetic and flawed protagonist she is for much of the film. And it proves not just unnecessary but quickly forgotten and redundant as another plot point organically derived from the film’s main narrative not only covers similar ground but ultimately leads to the film’s climax.

In hindsight, it feels as if this revenge subplot only exists to pad what would have otherwise been a sub-90 minute run time. But an 80-minute cut would have been better paced and structured with less muddled characterization than the final 103-minute version that ultimately saw release. If anything, these twenty-or-so minutes might have been better spent further exploring Mary’s central moral and ethical dilemma.

REFURBISHING THE WHEEL

Problematic subplots aside, American Mary is still a fun watch that more often than not feels like an ambitious take
on a classic horror story. And while it doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt at reinventing the wheel–and is at times shallow and out of sync with the rest of the film–Mary’s journey from struggling student to respected artist to condemned monster is a compelling narrative. And one that is sure to engage fans of both horror and drama who take my advice to CHILL with American Mary.