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Horror in the 90s: 'Body Parts'

Going in way too deep into the 1991 horror movie Body Parts.

By Sean PatrickPublished 16 days ago 7 min read
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Body Parts (1991)

Directed by Eric Red

Written by Eric Red, Norman Snider

Starring Jeff Fahey, Brad Dourif, Kim Delaney, Lindsay Duncan

Release Date August 2nd, 1991

Box Office $9.2 million

Body Parts stars Jeff Fahey, a golden boy of the low budget horror set in the 1990s, as a doctor trying to prove that death row inmates were capable of being reformed. Our protagonists ideals are put to the test after a car accident takes his arm and an experimental surgery grafts the arm of a former serial murderer onto the good doctor's body. The arm remains psychically linked to the supposedly dead murderer and begins to turn against its new host. That's the high concept premise of Body Parts and there really isn't much to it beyond that premise.

The disparate parts of the serial killer's body, his arms and legs, even his head, try to reassemble themselves. All the while, Fahey's doctor knows what is happening and is trying to stop the body parts from killing their new hosts, including an artist played by Brad Dourif who has become wildly more prolific and creative with his new arm, and an average joe who got both of the killer's legs and can now play basketball for the first time. Both men are set to lose their new body parts unless our hero doctor can warn them about what is happening.

And that's the plot of Body Parts. There really isn't much to say about the plot. It's bizarre but presented in a fashion that mutes how bizarre it is. Director Eric Red doesn't treat this kind of science fiction notion of transplant surgery with any kind of special quality. He makes it seem downright mundane aside from the body horror surgical scars applied to the amputee arm. They went all out making the arm look grotesque for the few scenes we are able to see it. Beyond that however, Body Parts is desperately mediocre effort from a director who only kind of seems as if he knows what he's doing.

I will give you a for instance. Red directs a scene early in Body Parts where he wants to underline how normal and suburban the doctor is. So, he has the doctor enjoy a family breakfast with his wife and two kids and makes a big show of moving his camera through the halls of the house to the front door where the wife and children follow dad so they can send him off with a hug and kiss. It's all needless underlining of the point: he's a normal suburban dad. Except, it's not normal. Real families don't do this and if you saw this in real life you might suspect some kind of cult behavior occurring.

Regardless, this scene should have ended in the kitchen but instead we get a showy tracking shot down the hallway. A cut to the exterior of the house. We watch the family watch dad walk to the car. And then, in a shocking waste of time, effort, and money, we get a shot from the roof of the home across the street. This shot allows us to see the doctor back his car out of the driveway and drive away to start his commute to work. And I ask: WHY? Do you know how much it must have cost this low budget horror movie to get this one needless shot?

Either, they wasted a ludicrous amount of money on a crane and insurance for the crew to man and operate the crane. Or, they shot from on top of the house across the street which would have cost money to set up, insurance for those working on the roof as crew members, and so on. All of this wasted spending just to get a shot the movie does not need. We saw him get in his car. We're smart enough to accept that the next cut would find him either in traffic or having already arrived at his next destination.

It's a shockingly dumb use of time and money. Days of production had to be spent just to get these two shots, the in-home tracking shot down the hallway and the God's eye perspective of a car backing out of a driveway. Did Eric Red not have a producer on set? Who was in charge here? Clearly no one was in charge if they allowed this to go on. It can come as no surprise that the movie cost $10 million dollars and managed to lose money. These scenes alone were hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to achieve next to nothing.

That's the lasting legacy of Body Parts for me. A gigantic waste. The film wastes having Jeff Fahey and Brad Dourif. The film wastes money, lots of it. And, the movie wastes some good body horror. Shout out to the make up and production team which made a solid effort. They were swimming against the tide of an ambitious director who simply didn't know what he was doing. Eric Red had big ideas but lacked the ability to bring those ideas to life. Probably because he was too caught up on tracking shots and cranes.

Prior to Body Parts, Red was known as a screenwriter. He wrote the original script for the cult horror classic, The Hitcher. You couldn't tell he was an AFI trained screenwriter from his work here. The script for Body Parts is bad. The idea is not terrible but it needed several more rewrites before it was ever filmed. As it is, the screenplay calls attention to itself in its rudimentary dialogue, spoon-feeding the audience what little theme the movie has about redeeming a killer. The dialogue includes the line 'Even if I can't throw a football' as a line the doctor says to his wife. Why would she care about that?

She wouldn't care about that but the dopey screenwriters want this line so that later they can have the doctor throw a perfect spiral to his son in a game of catch, using his new arm. This is shockingly lazy screenwriting that takes a turn for the sleazy when we see the doctor and his wife get intimate and the doctor uses only his new arm and fingers to attend to his wife's needs, if you get my drift. He's never touched her like this before, the screenplay tells us. I guess the serial murderer was a champion of handjobs, a detail we all needed to know.

That's Body Parts, lazy, a little sleazy, but mostly just a waste of time, money, and effort. A not terrible premise, one with similarities to a Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt plot, is wasted by a director more interested with playing with expensive toys than making sure he was making a good movie. Director Eric Red is not untalented. I know this because the car crash scene in Body Parts is legitimately well directed. It's a tense scene with a Hitchcockian dedication to setting up and paying off.

This article/review of Body Parts is one of the serialized entries from my ongoing book project Horror in the 90s. I am writing about the horror genre in the 1990s a time when the genre was transitioning from the drive-in to the mainstream. Long the genre of ill-repute, the 90s would see horror become mainstream and a consistent studio cash cow. Studios that had shunned the genre suddenly invented their own horror studios and sought the next horror franchise. It started in the 90s and I want to chart that journey in Horror in the 90s.

But, I cannot finish the book without your support. If you'd like to help me make Horror in the 90s a reality, consider subscribing to my writing here on Vocal. You can truly support my work by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Everyone who contributes to helping me get the book done will get a credit in the finished book. Thanks for considering helping me with Horror in the 90s. By the time I am finished, I will have chronicled each of the wide release theatrical horror movies of the 90s and several extra-notable titles. I appreciate your support.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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