The Best Movie You Never Saw: Body Parts
Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.
This week we’ll be examining BODY PARTS from writer/director Eric Red.
After losing his arm in a car accident, a criminal psychologist has it replaced with a limb that belonged to a serial killer. Suddenly, he begins to experience violent memories and tendencies he never had before and must confront his own views of evil, especially when someone starts killing off others who have transplanted limbs from the same killer.
Based on the novel “Choice Cuts” by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Marcejac (author of the original novels for VERTIGO and DIABOLIQUE), BODY PARTS was adapted by Patricia Herskovic & Joyce Taylor, with a screenplay by Eric Red and Norman Snider. The film was directed by Eric Red, acclaimed screenwriter of THE HITCHER, BLUE STEEL, and NEAR DARK. Jeff Fahey stars as criminal psychologist Bill Chrushank in one of his very first starring roles, and is joined by Kim Delaney as his wife, Karen, Zakes Mokae as a police detective, Brad Dourif as a fellow tranplantee named Remo, and Lindsay Duncan as the mysterious Dr. Agatha Webb.
The film debuted on August 2, 1991 and was given moderate to negative reviews, pulling in $9.1 million domestically. Although it wasn’t a massive success theatrically, the film has gained steam over the years as a cult favorite in the horror/thriller genre and had many screenings throughout the years to wide acclaim from those who discover it.
WHY IT’S GREAT:
BODY PARTS is one of those films I caught in my early teens that influenced me greatly. It was a film that showed how fun and inventive the horror genre could be, especially for those (like myself) who were more into the less supernatural aspect of the genre. It was a gory introduction to the high-concept scare thriller that left its mark on me for years to come and has aged beautifully over the years.
The pic stars a young Jeff Fahey in one of his first (and few) leading-man roles as a criminal psychologist struggling to understand his “clients” who seem to be rooted in evil. Like Dr. Frankenstein, he wants to rebuild them, only on a mental level, rather than a physical one. Fahey’s Chrushank is a simple family man at his core, but is vexed by his inability to help his patients who are mostly violent criminals.
Then, on a fateful day, Chrushank is involved in a car accident that takes his right arm. With very little time to spare, his wife signs off on an experimental surgery that would give him a new one. Dr. Agatha Webb, who is played with a cold, dark, almost sensual intensity by British actress Lindsay Duncan, performs the surgery, which is an ultimate success. Chrushank awakens to a grisly sight: A new arm that is scarred and patterned, much like Frankenstein’s monster. However, the arm is alive and as Chrushank quickly learns, has a mind of its own.
"It was a great push at the time from Paramount and Frank Mancuso Jr. was producing and I met with Eric Red and he was great. It was just part of the career and it’s all been part of a great arc that I’ve enjoyed." – Jeff Fahey
Chrushank begins to have horrific visions of violent murders and finds his mood and perception changing and shifting into that of the criminals he typically treats. Desperate, Chrushank starts digging into the details of where his arm came from and after getting his fingerprints taken, discovers that his arm is that of a former death row serial killer named Charlie Fletcher. Chrushank demands that Dr. Webb take the arm off, but she’s not in it for his welfare, but for the scientific achievement. Or is there something more?
But that’s not all. Turns out that Fletcher’s other “parts” were given to other amputees, including an artist named Remo (played vibrantly as always by CHILD’S PLAY’s Brad Dourif) and Mark (Peter Murnik), a man who lost his legs to gangrene after an accident. After connecting with these two men, Chrushank discovers that Remo has become a massively successful artist thanks to the gruesome paintings he started making after receiving his new left arm and Mark is happy just being able to shoot hoops again. But, Chrushank suspects that something more sinister is at work and his life-saving limb suddenly feels like a curse.
"Fahey was a lot of fun to work with. The whole cast was. Lindsay Duncan, Brad Dourif. It was a pretty big movie. It had all these locations, and effects and action scenes. There were a lot of toys to play with for that movie. Yeah, Jeff is a very individualist guy. He’s has a huge family. Something like 13 brothers and sisters, and they’re all grips, they run a grip service. He’s definitely his own guy, but in person he has a warmth and humanity, which I really pulled out in BODY PARTS, but you don’t see enough of it in his movies." – Eric Red
It’s not long before the stakes get high, as both Remo and Mark turn up dead, their new limbs removed. Chrushank suspects the worst and in a particularly awesome sequence, finds his new arm handcuffed to his worst nightmare. Charlie Fletcher, the once “dismembered” serial killer, back to reclaim his parts. Handcuffed to the serial killer, Chrushank is suddenly immersed in a high-speed car chase, the consequences of which could mean losing his arm (again). It’s an outlandish, exciting, and fun as hell chase that’s wildly inventive as it is cheesy.
From that point, Chrushank knows that there’s more going on than meets the eye and a visit to Dr. Webb’s medical ward reveals a nightmarish scenario, leading to a bloody good confrontation that is both satisfying, creepy, and gory fun. It unfolds much like a Hitchcockian horror thriller, woven to fit the genre and played, beat-for-beat, like a rollercoaster of violent thrills. It’s not scary horror, but fun, clever, and creepy horror in all the right ways. Those who appreciate practical effects can rejoice as well, as there are more than enough bloody squibs and (ironically) prosthetics that are convincingly gory, rather than digitally unbelievable.
From the eerie, overly dramatic score to the beautifully executed over-the-top action sequences to the gruesome gore, BODY PARTS is a horror film that never lets its ambition get in the way of enjoyment, leaving you with a film that’s pure entertainment and thrills. Sure, there are subtle themes about inherent evil and more than a few Frankenstein references, but in the end, this is a film that presents a beautifully executed high-concept. So often today films like this take themselves way too seriously and forget to let the audience in on the fun. BODY PARTS is an open invitation to just that.
"Can't you see this arm is killing me!" - Jeff Fahey as Bill Chrushank
As usual, there are many great sequences in this film, my two favorites being the handcuffed car chase and the shotgun happy finale, but instead of focusing on those, I’m going to share a deleted scene that many of you may not have seen. The scene in question is so awesome that it’s a crying shame it didn’t make the final cut as it fits the gory “oh shit!” moments of the film perfectly. Just after Chrushank is ejected from his car and left on the highway trying to figure out what the hell just happened, he spots his arm, lying only feet away, the fingers still moving. Realizing it’s his own, Chrushank begins to crawl toward it. Can you guess what happens?
Sadly, BODY PARTS is only available in DVD format (hard to find at that and surprisingly pricey), but is available in some digital venues like Amazon and You Tube. I’d love to see a blu-ray with commentary and featurettes someday, but I have to admit that watching the movie on DVD this past week brought back all those old feelings of popping it into a VHS player and reliving the experience just as I had in the early ‘90’s.
I had planned on writing about BODY PARTS for this column months ago and by chance happened to meet director Eric Red while at Comic Con this year. We had a lengthy discussion about the film, as well as his other work, and it was a rare and true pleasure to hear a filmmaker talk about his work in person. As a result, Red has graciously provided us with the Parting Shot for BODY PARTS this week.
“With BODY PARTS, I set out to make an epic modern gothic horror movie that mixed the psychological thriller and gore film genres. It’s the most fun I ever had making a movie and that sheer filmmaking enjoyment comes across on screen. This still has some of the best action sequences I’ve ever shot. The ensemble cast is excellent, and it’s Jeff Fahey’s best performance. Looking at BODY PARTS now, the Brian DePalma influences are all over it with the operatic camerawork and big elaborate set pieces. It’s an unapologetic audience movie where audiences talk back to the screen. They held a 35 MM print screening in Los Angeles a little while ago, and the audience hadn’t seen it before. They screamed and jumped in all the right places, and applauded over the end credits. That happens every time it has played theatrically over the years. Admittedly, I didn’t take the psychological horror aspects as seriously in this one as I did in other movies like COHEN AND TATE or 100 FEET, and was more interested in making it a thrill ride. BODY PARTS a fun horror picture, designed for pure entertainment value, and I hope more people continue to see it. Big thanks to JoBlo.com and AITH for doing this article."
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