Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Alex Davis
Dir. Philip Brophy, Australia, 81 mins
Australia is a nation that has produced some very decent horror movies over the years, and has a pretty fair pedigree in terms of extreme horror as well. The Loved Ones remains a firm favourite of mine, and with other offerings like Wolf Creek and Hounds of Love to boot it's certainly seems to be a lively scene down under. This one had pretty much passed me by, but on a hunt through the body horror section of Shudder I thought this one sounded like it could be some fun. That's not often a phrase that I apply to body horror – a subgenre that has served up some of the movies I've personally found very hardest to watch, including the horrible Thanatomorphose. Thankfully this one wasn't anywhere near as hard as some of its bedfellows, and in fact was pretty enjoyable.
To be fair, the story is pretty disjointed, but it fundamentally follows the residents of Pebbles Court, Homesville. The characters are pretty broadly-drawn but suffice perfectly well for the plot in this one, which concerns a local health farm and pharmaceutical company who are producing a highly experimental drug. We see its first victim – a former employee who tries to go and warn the good folks of Homesville – die in a pretty gory fashion, and that's a precedent for what comes next as the denizens of Pebbles Court are slipped this new drug by one means or another, and gradually find themselves bursting, exploding, melting and plenty more besides.
It's all pretty silly, but it sets its stall out early enough in that respect. You know what you're letting yourself into in the space of a few minutes, beginning with the stunningly retro computer graphics and then more firmly established in our meeting the absurd dramatis personae. There are a few chuckles to be had along the way – the cast of 'rednecks' (I know it's technically Australia not America, but I can't think of a better word) are a stitch, as are the bonehead teens on the block – and the deaths are generally pretty inventive and interesting. It's hard to be horribly shocked by anything, given the context, but the effects are good for the time and there's some pleasure to be had in wondering what the next extravagant death will look like. The fact the characters are basically 'shreddies' means that you don't miss them, or really feel for them, but again given what this film is trying to do it doesn't make too much difference.
Body Melt isn't especially cutting, or visceral, or hard to watch as so many of our entries in Film Gutter have been before it. I don't think it's going to prove to be that memorable either. What it is – and I don't get the chance to say this enough - is a fun piece of horror that plays with some extreme ideas but keeps the humour and the outrageousness at the heart of it. There are plenty of flaws, sure – the story jumps all over the shop, giving almost the sense of a portmanteau rather than a full movie, some of the acting is hammy – like beyond the kind of hammy you'd like too see - and there's little to stir any sort of emotional response. But it was an enjoyable way to spend 80 minues, and on those grounds it's worth a nose as an antidote to the more gruesome and distressing offerings we often encounter.
RATING: 7/10. Body Melt almost feels like a movie out of time, as it would have been a perfect fit for the 80's style of horror. Even for when it was made it was likely retro, and looks even more so now, but it holds up in terms of effects and approaches its slim idea with enough energy and verve to make for a chaotic but ultimately pretty funny experience. It's not unmissable, but you could certainly do a sight worse if you like your extreme horror on the less serious side.