Body Melt [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (15th January 2017).
The Film

“Body Melt” (1993)

The peaceful suburban residential area of Pebbles Court in Homesville, Melbourne, is an average place with seemingly normal people. The Noble family (played by Adrian Wright, Jillian Murray, Ben Guerens, and Amanda Douge) are a family of four who are ready to go on a family trip to a relaxation spa resort. Cheryl Rand (played by Lisa McCune) and Brian Rand (played by Brett Climo) are a married couple expecting their first child very soon. Sal Ciccone (played by Nicholas Politis) and Gino Argento (played by Maurie Annese) are teens set out on a road trip while their parents are out of town, and their goal is to head to a sperm bank for donations. Paul Matthews (played by William McInnes) is a single man in his thirties who is taking vitamins for health.

While they all live in the same neighborhood, they do not have much contact together as expected in most of suburbia. But little do they know, the actions of an experimental drug company called Vimuville will bring horrors well beyond anything imaginable. The team at Vimuville is experimenting with E-59 - their new drug on unknowing human subjects. The people start having hallucinations, followed by glandular changes in the body, and in the end they die an extremely gruesome death. Detectives Phillips (played by Gerard Kennedy) and Johnno (played by Andrew Daddo) are on the investigation but will they be able to stop the deaths or will the horror continue on?

“Body Melt” was originally conceived as a horror anthology film - 4 short stories dealing with a strange hallucinogenic drug. But with no financers interested in the anthology film idea, the script was rewritten to have all 4 stories together as one film with the stories intercutting back and forth. The film is easily categorized as a “body horror” film - where the monster within is the true horror. The king of body horror David Cronenberg made a drug-hallucination pseudo-horror film “Naked Lunch”, but “Body Melt” is a very different beast altogether. Thematically it was a satire of the 90s miracle drug enhanced healthy lifestyle yuppie culture, where people were quick to look for a new diet fad and marketing techniques to the middle class. Combine that with gory practical horror effects, it is much more of a horror-comedy in the vein of “Dead Alive” and “The Stuff” rather than the Cronenberg genre. Writer/director Philip Brophy was a member of the music group → ↑ →, and after disbanding he continued in film directing and sound design, gaining attention with the experimental horror short film “Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat” in 1988. With the help of the Australian Film Commission and rounding up a cast of familiar faces from Australian television and film, the script by Brophy and Rod Bishop (who was also a former member of → ↑ →) was greenlit for production in 1992.

For the effects of the E-59 drug, it was written so each death would be different from each other to keep things interesting and unpredictable. The drug still has the hallucinogenic feel and the body suddenly transforming aspects, but how the transformation occurs before death was always planned as a nasty surprise. For one person slits start opening up at the neck with tentacles trying to escape from the body. Another person’s head concaves before explosion. And one person’s dick gets too big and explodes. Just a few examples of the many gory deaths shown throughout the film, all done with practical effects - special makeup effects, fake blood, fake phlegm, and much more. Visually the makeup and visual effects of the “body melts” are impressively done and let audiences gasp in horror and in humor at the same time. The oversized tongue death may be one of the sillier ones while the placenta splatting scene is more on the disturbing side of the effects. In addition to the visuals, the sound was also carefully crafted with a soundtrack of pounding techno to complement the sound effects of the gory transformations. Brophy also composed the music for the film and was also the sound designer.

While the film works in its mix of horror and comedy, there were some scenes that did not seem to match the rest of the tone. The subplot of Sal and Gino meeting the inbred family was more “Deliverance” and “The Hills Have Eyes” and as disturbingly weird as it was, seemed to be there as a coincidental point rather than something to move the plot along. As for one of the character’s dick getting smashed in - non-graphically but out of camera shot, it also did not fit in with the rest of the deaths and seemed like it was from the wrong film. One of the biggest misses was the lack of visual tricks to fully show off the hallucinations. There were no uses of focal change or other camera techniques to help with visualizing the drug side effects, though to point out more positive points, there were some imaginative camera movements such as in the car chase scenes and the handheld panicky moments. At the time there was no movement of Australian horror-comedy and it was unlike any other movie out there, so when it was finally released theatrically it was out without much competition around.

“Body Melt” was completed and released in 1993 to various festivals and theatrically in Australia on October 28th 1994. While it was met with fairly good responses from publications and was nominated for 3 AACTA Awards for Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Costume Design, it did not win any, yet later grew to be a minor cult hit in horror circles. For the 2016 Blu-ray release by Umbrella Entertainment, the film underwent a 4K restoration and a remastered soundtrack with a new 5.1 track, supervised by the Brophy.

Note that Umbrella has stated that the Blu-ray was encoded for region B players only due to foreign rights issues. There have been reports that some of the first pressing discs were encoded region ALL mistakenly. Umbrella Entertainment has been notified of the issue.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The film was originally projected at the 1.66:1 aspect ratio (as the theatrical trailer shows) so the frame has been slightly modified from the original theatrical ratio. The film was shot in Super 16 and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release, and the 4K restoration supervised by Brophy from the original film materials and the results are very good. Dust, specs, and damage have been almost entirely removed while careful not to erase the film grain which is still visible. Colors have been restored well bringing back that early 90s look in full clarity that has been missing from the DVD editions from the past. All the pus, blood, slime, phlegm, and guts are pin sharp clear. Again it is not perfect as there are minor specs that were not removed and there are some original imperfections left untouched. Also note the opening of the film was shot on videotape and is intentionally “bad” looking. Overall the restoration is great and Umbrella has done a good job with the transfer.

The film runs uncut with a runtime of 82:36.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The film was originally released in Dolby Surround theatrically. The 5.1 track was reconstructed from the original music, effects, and dialogue tracks from multiple elements and supervised by Brophy. Dialogue is almost entirely center speaker based while the sound effects and music are used with the surround speakers very aggressively. The techno music tracks sound powerful and the gore sound effects are great. Brophy’s solo audio commentary gives a much more detailed description of what was done to reconstruct the audio track and what was used for the sound design and music for production.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. The subtitles are quite small and thin and there are times that the subtitles disappear from screen too quickly - before the actor finishes speaking. Also I noticed that once or twice that “Vimuville” was spelled “Vinuville” with an “N”.

Extras

Audio commentary featuring Rod Bishop, Daniel Scharf & Philip Brophy
Recorded in October 2016, this track features producer/writer Rod Bishop, producer Daniel Scharf, and director/writer Philip Brophy reminiscing about the production. This is labeled as the “development, production & completion” track, and so they talk about the original 4 part anthology film idea, about the notices from Brophy’s 1988 short “Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat”, the filming process, the effects, and about the cast and crew. They mention in the commentary that actress Regina Gaigalas has passed away but I cannot find any information on when or how she died.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Audio commentary featuring Philip Brophy
In this solo commentary also recorded in October 2016, Brophy goes solo to talk specifically about the “sound design & score” as labeled. He talks about the old DVDs not having the original Dolby Surround mix which displeased him, and made sure that the 5.1 track would do justice. Talked about are how the audio materials were restored and in addition he talks about the compositions of the music cues and the sound effects designs. As interesting as this commentary is, it may have been better to construct a featurette with examples of the different mixes and the remastering process, as some of the tech terms may go over a lot of heads of non-sound engineers. Also, at around 77 minutes in Brophy mentions that he is seeing the end credits so he signs off even though his name comes up at the 78 minute mark. Was something cut out from the commentary?
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Behind the Scenes" featurette (16:54)
This vintage featurette was previously available on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD edition, featuring on-set footage, interviews with the cast and crew, plus behind the scenes looks at the special effects and makeup effects.
in 720p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Making Bodies Melt: The Making of Body Melt" documentary (33:55)
This documentary is a new addition but it is made up of vintage footage from 1992 when the film was in production. This was newly edited in 2016 and is like an extended version of the “Behind the Scenes” with some overlapping footage plus additional footage unseen for many years. The 1.33:1 image from the original source is slightly windowboxed in a blue 1.78:1 background. Names of the cast and crew members onscreen are newly created text.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 within a 1.78:1 frame, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Body Melt Gallery - BTS, Stills, & Props" (8:05)+(4:05)
This is an automatic slideshow which features the original outline, behind the scenes photos, production notes, poster concepts, props, production stills, make up stills, and behind the scenes snapshots. This plays without music or sound. Narration or music may have helped for additional information.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1

"Body Melt - The Complete Storyboard" (8:20)+(8:10)+(8:10)+(4:00)
This is another automatic slideshow, but this is of the complete storyboards for the film, with three panels at a time on screen with notes below each. Again, interesting to see the entire film in silent storyboard form in less than 30 minutes, but this may have worked better as a picture-in-picture feature rather than a slideshow.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1

Theatrical Trailer (1:40)
The theatrical trailer is offered here, in the original aspect ratio.
in 720p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

The extras are informative and plentiful with the vintage extras plus the two newly recorded commentaries, but I would have liked to have heard from the cast in retrospective interviews as well.

Packaging

The disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case with reversible artwork - one with the E-59 pill opening with a drawing of melting parts, while the other side is a simple design looking closer to a drug company promo sheet. There is a slipcover with the latter artwork. The slipcover has the Australian rating logo while the inlay artwork has the rating on the spine only.

Overall

“Body Melt” is not a game changer in body horror but it was a unique film for Australia to release at the time and has some great nasty effects that is sure to please horror fans and enough satirical wit to satisfy the dark comedy fans. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray of the 4K restored version looks great and the remastered soundtrack is also equally complimenting. Very recommended.

The Film: B- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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