Underrated Horror Film Review: Body Parts (1991)

Based on the novel Choice Cuts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Marcejac, Body Parts marks the sophomore directorial effort for Eric Red (1989’s Cohen and Tate). Red is, of course, better known for writing some of the cult classics in the horror genre including Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987).

The story behind Body Parts is interesting enough: Jeff Fahey plays Bill Chrushank, a criminal psychologist who tragically lost his right arm following a horrifying car accident. But thanks to a successful experiment conducted by Dr Agatha Webb (Lindsay Duncan), Bill manages to get a new arm grafted onto his body. As he regains his health back to normal, it doesn’t take long before Bill starts to experience recurring nightmares about grisly murders while his arm seemingly has a mind of its own. It turns out the arm actually belongs to a serial killer.

Released in early August 1991 to mostly mixed reviews, Body Parts failed to find an audience as it couldn’t even recoup its estimated US$10 million budget. Then came a controversy where Paramount got cold feet and pulled TV ads for the movie in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a week after the gruesome find of Jeffrey Dahmer’s murders.

When I first saw the movie back in the VHS era, it’s kind of a pity that Body Parts was overlooked at the time of its release. Watching the movie again recently, I found Body Parts both fun and macabre at the same time. Interestingly enough, it was actually more than just a straightforward horror film as Red, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay alongside Norman Snider skilfully blends various genres into one film. At one side, the movie is also a part psychological thriller while the other side morphed into an action film of sorts (the spectacular scene involving a handcuffed car chase particularly comes to mind). Not to mention Red knows well how to make good use of practical effects in terms of gore and violence in some scenes.

The overall cast is worth mentioning as well, beginning with Jeff Fahey’s engaging lead performance as Bill Chrushank. As for the rest, Brad Dourif delivers his usual eccentric self as Remo Lacey, the painter who received the same grafted arm while Lindsay Duncan provides solid support playing the glacial Dr Agatha Webb. Even Kim Delaney, who could have otherwise relegated to Bill’s thankless worried-wife role actually does a better-than-expected job in her limited role.

Body Parts is not without its fair share of problems, though. Among them is the strangely anticlimactic third-act, which may have its grisly fun moments and a last-minute twist. Red could have gone all out during the climactic finale, given its overall anything-goes B-movie vibe earlier on but somehow chose to subdue his direction instead.

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