Body Melt. 1993. Directed by Philip Brophy. Screenplay by Brophy & Rod Bishop, based on four short stories by Brophy.
Starring GErard Kennedy, Andrew Daddo, Ian Smith, Regina Gaigalas, Vincent Gil, Neil Foley, Anthea Davis, Matthew Newton, Lesley Baker, Bill Young, Ben Geurens, Amanda Douge, Brett Climo, & Lisa McCune.
Bodymelt Pty. Ltd./Dumb Films/Film Victoria
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Father Gore wouldn’t be Father Gore if he didn’t enjoy a proper splatter film from time to time. The body’s breakdown takes on major significance depending on the context, and y’know, it’s also a boatload of fun to watch filmmakers make heads, torsos, and appendages explode in a practical effects extravaganza— all of which applies to the 1993 Ozploitation horror comedy Body Melt.
Director and co-writer Philip Brophy takes all the ’80s health craze and fitness fads, rolls them into one capitalist critique, then tosses every bit of it at the wall and lets the blood – as well as other fluids – fly free. The movie’s plot concerns a company called Vimuville, whose pills and powders are the latest innovation in the health and wellness industry. They send out free samples in the mail to white suburbia for greedy consumers to recklessly eat up without a second thought. What ensues is complete chaos, as the bodies of those who ingest Vimuville’s products begin to melt from the inside out.
Brophy’s movie is totally hilarious and off the wall nasty with enough wild effects to fit two movies. Underneath the gooey gore is a scathing satire about the fitness craze specifically of the ’80s and leading into the ’90s, which hasn’t gotten much better today, if at all. Always fun when smart commentary’s layered within a movie where most people wouldn’t expect to find it.
“Vimuville— the best place in the world for your body.”
This movie was shot in 1993, when gym and health lifestyles were becoming exponentially more marketable as a commodity. As the ’80s brought on all sorts of wealth and greed and other vicious individualism, there was a parallel rise in all the vain pursuits of life in regards to the body, too. This was only used against consumers by capitalists. With the fitness industry came all varieties of different pills, powders, and diets meant to be the next big miracle drug for losing weight, gaining muscle, toning down, getting abs. In reality, the restrictions on health products are lax, and these companies stuff all manner of chemicals into capsules and jars to fill up the content.
To pimp out these products, there’s no better place than white suburbia. People of colour are far too keen to take any random diet pills in the mail. Capitalism uses the blind conformity of a white suburban neighbourhood or one of those “dead end housing estates” like Pebble Court to spread their products. Unrestrained consumerism lures people into the trap, like cheese luring lab rats in a maze full of vermin waiting to be experimented on.
In the Outback, things are different. The story suggests those in rural areas are more adept at survival, even if they’re a bit mutated. The creepy family who’ve been testing Vimuville pills on themselves aren’t exploding like the people in the city. This is a distinction between the city v. rural in a sense that people in rural areas are less manipulated by the cruel aspects of modernity, such as predatory companies. The Outback family are aware of the drug side effects, whereas the people in Pebble Court eat the pills and powders without knowing anything about them other than what’s advertised on the packet. Although Brophy surely included the gross out family as a nice backwoods horror touch, it says things about how the city changes people and affects their defence mechanisms. Sure, the family’s a bunch of terrifying, possibly inbred, drugged out creeps, at least their internal organs aren’t shooting from their nose!
“I’m talking about new drugs, not your ’70s designer shit or your ’80s ghetto powders … ’90s, man, cognition enhancers designed to take your mind into new intraphenomenological dimensions!”
The main concern of Brophy’s movie is the body itself. In regards to the theme of capitalism/consumerism, companies prey on not only the vanity of people, they produce vanity through making people feel bad about themselves and their bodies. This is double the case when it comes to women. One of the women in Pebble Court being monitored by Vimuville is pregnant highlighting women’s already difficult relationship with their bodies/the relationship their bodies have with society.
The body melt’s symbolic here of the breakdown in meaning for a woman when it comes to how she’s linked to her body. She IS her body to men and a patriarchal society. When her body breaks down – paralleled with the way a woman is ill or, in this case, pregnant – it’s a loss of meaning in the eyes of society, she ceases to be the female form desired by a male-dominated world. This sense of losing meaning links directly to Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject in her essay Powers of Horror— read here.
Best of all are the wonderfully juxtaposed scenes of the pregnant woman and the bodybuilder. The woman’s baby is mutated by the Vimuville vitamins and the baby begins literally fighting her system. She doesn’t give birth to a baby, instead her stomach explodes and she’s eviscerated. Instead of birthing life she births death. This is a dark satire of how health pills are, of course, meant to make you healthy, not kill you. And then the bodybuilder, whose penis explodes, is another version of this life-death imagery, as the penis usually shoots (one half of) what creates life, here only exploding, causing death. Lots of gnarly splatter in combination with sly, grisly hilarity.
Vimuville might be the ultimate evil movie company. They’re unfettered in their aims of creating a new super fitness drug, to the extent they verge on a crisis “worse than thalidomide.” They’re hideous modern vultures, having turned a former chemical dump from “20 years ago” into their company’s headquarters. Really, they’re not unlike actually companies today who prey on consumers, hoping blind loyalty to the free market will sell their products and unconcerned with how it affects those consuming it, so long as they create more capital.
And worse, as consumers, many of us fall into the trap.
Lucky for us this is a fictional splatter film, and as far as Father Gore knows nobody out there’s been exploding from diet pills. That being said, there are plenty of horror stories from the fitness world, whether it’s Gregg Valentino and his crazy arms, or young women trying out diet pills with horrific results. Maybe Brophy’s story is only fodder for a nasty, shocking work of cinema. Then again, maybe it’s so close to home many people would rather not think about it and leave this as an efficiently weird and wonderful gore flick.
One way or the other, Body Melt gets the job done.