The Test of Time: Body Parts (1991)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.



Okay friendos, here comes tricky treat for ya ahead of Halloween. What is your all-time favorite Eric Red flick?

Now, did the words THE HITCHER or NEAR DARK reflexively leap to mind? We can’t blame you if so, but we’ll kindly ask you to answer again. This time, however, we want to know, of the five flicks Red has personally directed – COHEN & TATE, BODY PARTS, UNDERTOW, BAD MOON and 100 FEET. – which do you enjoy most. Not so easy, is it? They're all fine contenders!

As you ruminate, lets explore Eric Red's classic psychological slasher flick BODY PARTS as it will get a brand new Blu-ray release this coming January. I for one put BODY PARTS right at the top of Red’s impressive film canon, whether it’s as a writer or director. It’s about damn time the flick gets a proper transfer and new release. Speaking of time, how about giving BODY PARTS a reflective once over? After all, the way we view horror flicks in 2019 drastically differs from the way we perceived them in 1991 when the genre was on its moribund last legs. Well, with the Test of Time below, we shall see if BODY PARTS still has (severed) legs after all these years!

THE STORY: Based on the French novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Red co-wrote the screenplay with the late Canadian scribe Norman Snider (PARTNERS, DEAD RINGERS). The plot concerns a mild-mannered psychologist named Bill Crushank (Jeff Fahey) who works with incarcerated murderers at a nearby prison. One day on his way to work, Bill suffers a horrific car accident that results in his right arm getting gorily lopped off. Unconscious, he’s whisked to the hospital and put under the care of the portentous Dr. Webb (Lindsay Duncan). Bill’s wife, Karen (Kim Delaney), is rushed to decide on behalf of her husband. With the time of the essence, Karen makes the difficult choice to allow Dr. Webb to transplant a donated human arm onto Bill’s right shoulder. When Bill comes to, he’s shocked in horror to see what’s become of him, but with physical therapy, he gradually heals and feels good enough to leave as a restored man.

At home, Bill begins noticing odd impulses in his right arm. The hand squeezes too tightly at times, lashes out, strikes his kids without warning, etc. The arm seems to have a mind of its own. At work, Bill interrogates killer Ray Kolberg (Paul Benvictor), who shares a similar death-row tattoo imprinted on Bill’s new arm. This leads to the discovery that the arm came from a serial killer who donated his body parts before being put to death. With increasing violent tendencies noticed in his arm, Bill seeks out other patients who’ve been transplanted with the killer’s body parts. He meets Remo Lacey (Brad Dourif in a wonderful role), a maniacal loon whose failing artistic flourishes have increased for the better since transplanting the killer’s left arm onto his body. Bill also finds Mark Draper (Peter Murnik), who’s had both of the killer’s legs transplanted onto his body. However, the others show no signs of the violent symptoms Bill has. This further riles Bill, who demands Dr. Webb to remove the malefic arm before irreparable harm is inflicted. It all makes for a tautly suspenseful ending most won’t see coming!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: There’s still quite a lot to love about BODY PARTS in 2019, but we must start with the fecund story that, through several iterations, continues to prove worthy of cinematic adaptation. The obvious reference might be FRANKENSTEIN (1931), although the inversion of the plot lends for even more accurate comparisons to, say, the presaging film, THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924). Or even similar offshoots such as THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, or perhaps more recondite, one of my favorites, MANSION OF THE DOOMED, which swaps the missing arm of the lead character for the eyes of a crazed doctor desperate to replace her eyeballs by any means necessary, including plucking them out of a skein of unsuspecting kidnapped victims.

Point is, this kind of story has been proven time and time again and remains one of the sturdiest aspects of BODY PARTS when viewed today. Where Red’s film deftly distinguishes itself, however, is how he afflicts the protagonist with this very predicament, rather than focusing on the evil-doctor as antagonist first, and his patients as the victims second. The brilliance of BODY PARTS lies in this distinction, as it not only offers a refreshingly redrawn slant on the material, but it inherently makes the protagonist far more sympathetic in the end. Also, by handling the material with the honesty and straight-faced seriousness, rather than propping a cheesy camp-fest, the tonal gravity of the film allows it to retain its substance.

What also holds-up extremely well in BODY PARTS are the performances, lead by underrated B-movie actor Jeff Fahey. This guy gets a lot of shit for being in some pretty awful movies, but you know what, there’s a reason he’s always the lead in those flicks. In BODY PARTS, Fahey completely owns the role of Crushank, a man who doggedly balances the psychological tumult between clear-headed righteousness and insanity-laced paranoia. The crux of the film's weightily poetic themes come when Bill articulates the philosophical quandary of where evil comes from and where it resides. Does evil live in the brain? The heart? The flesh? The skin? Can inherent evil be transferred by mere touch? Or does it depend on genetic recombination? Thematically, this is where the movie becomes most intriguing, and how Fahey explores this maddening mental gray-area through his performance is primarily what retains the fascination.

And like all good movies, the first two qualitative tenets organically lead to the third. Because of the excellent premise to begin with, in addition to the stellar performances (which also includes Brad Dourif in a hilariously commanding turn), the third-act tension and suspense level is allowed to properly unfold. The hand-cuff car-chase scene alone – just on a visual, visceral level – still plays as enthrallingly as ever. But then when you contextualize the chase within the larger framework of the compelling story and convincing performances, the suspense ratchets up even further. Now, for the few who’ve yet to see the flick (cop that Blu-ray!), we won’t betray the final plot-twist. However, we can say with certainty that how the film concludes still plays as intended. Dutch composer Loek Dikker’s sweeping score helps add to the tension, but the showdown between Bill and his true nemesis still makes the pulse pound and the heart thud.

WHAT BLOW NOW: Outside of a few minor pacing issues, the only thing that sort of sucks about BODY PARTS is the excised grue. Word is two key scenes had to be trimmed down NOT to avoid an NC-17 rating from the MPAA but at the request of the Studio (Paramount). The two scenes include the initial car crash, which featured some 40 extra seconds of extreme gore after Bill witnesses his severed arm gorily splatter under a passing vehicle. The other includes cut footage from the surgery, which depicted the gruesome aftermath of Bill’s operated BODY PARTS. Now, I realize this story doesn’t necessitate said gore for the impact to work, but still, you don’t cut the red from The Red!

THE VERDICT: Bottom line: There is a goddamn reason BODY PARTS is getting a new Blu-ray release this January. It f*ckng deserves it! Red deftly directs a no-frills affair that stems from the rich source material, plumbs highly-convincing turns from his lead actors, and mounts the requisite level of tension and suspense by the final act. This just in, BODY PARTS still has legs 28 years later!


Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.