Body Melt (1993)

Body Melt first published by

After founding and leading the experimental multimedia outfit →↑→ throughout the late Seventies and Eighties, in 1988 Philip Brophy splattered his audiovisual assaults onto celluloid with his short feature Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat, an avant-garde reduction of everyday human experience to the ingestion, issue and exchange of bodily fluids – all accompanied by Brophy’s strident electronic score. S, S, S & S is now near impossible to see, but its thematically similar if altogether more mainstream follow-up Body Melt (1993) has earned itself cult status amongst fans of body horror and gross-out gory excess.

Drawing from a quartet of his own short stories, Brophy traces the different effects of supposed fitness powders and pills – in fact experimental drugs “designed to take your mind into new intraphenomenological dimensions” – on four unwitting sets of guinea pigs living in literal dead-end Pebbles Court on the Homesville housing estate of outer Melbourne. As unethical outback health centre Vimuville offers these residents free samples of their new product, the results – wild hallucinations, disgusting emissions and explosive transformations – prove very messy. Of all the Pebbles Court residents, young, randy would-be sperm donors Sal (Nick Polites) and Gino (Maurice Annese) alone avoid succumbing to their pharmacological fate, but that is only because, on their way to Vimuville, they fall foul of a clan of inbred mutants – led by patriarch Pud (Vincent Gil) – with an incestuous connection to the health clinic’s history. Detective Sam Phillips (Gerard Kennedy) and his partner Johnno (Andrew Daddo) follow a trail of viscera to the mad medical utopist (Ian Smith) and ruthless entrepreneur (Regina Gaigalas) behind the oozy outbreak.

Painting his narrative canvas – and his grotesque characters – in broad, splashy strokes, Brophy does not hold back, letting vomit, mucus, blood, face-hugging placentas, snaking tongues, disintegrating penises, protruding ribs and tentacular insides all come pouring out in a nightmarish flood of vibrant psychedelic colours. The sheer variety and inventiveness of the gore (courtesy of Bob McCarron’s special makeup effects), coupled with the knowingly dumb, anything-goes humour, make Body Melt almost rival Jim Muro’s Street Trash (1987) for the ‘melt movies’ throne.

At the same time, Body Melt is a gooey, grue-y satire, mocking the banal aspirations of the sort of Australian suburbia celebrated in soaps like Neighbours (also set in a Melbourne cul-de-sac), while upping the cringe factor and making merry with modernity’s fitness fads and body fascism.

Summary: Philip Brophy’s outrageous, uproarious body horror comedy returns Aussie suburbia to the primal ooze.

© Anton Bitel