VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray) SCORPION RELEASING (DVD)
Directed by Philip Brophy
Starring Gerard Kennedy, Andrew Daddo, Ian Smith, Regina Gaigalas, Vincent Gil, Anthea Davis
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Scorpion Releasing (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Vanguard (US R1 NTSC), Goldvision (France R2 PAL), Marketing Film (Germany R2 PAL) / DD2.0
In the quiet Melbourne suburb of Pebbles Court, something odd seems to be afoot when a man who's just enjoyed a tryst with a sweat-covered woman in a tanning room is injected with a strange serum. He promptly starts to freak out after visiting a convenience store, yelling about hallucinations and organ failure before turning into an explosively sludgy mess. A pair of cops, Sam (Kennedy) and Johnno (Daddo), are called in to investigate as the mysterious pestilence starts to afflict other residents, who are apparently being used as guinea pigs without their consent in a sinister product testing process. All of this is tied to Viumuville, a pharmaceutical health product line and fitness center where people are encouraged to be at their physical peak. Unfortunately the families and average joes living in the area are destined for even worse things to come... and what about that weird cannibal mutant clan living nearby?
Though released in 1993, Body Melt feels for all the world like the sort of squishy satires seen a few years earlier with fare like Society, The Stuff, and Street Trash depicting the figurative violence of social classes as a literal case of the rich eating everyone else, or at least turning a blind eye when the working class starts imploding. Body Melt gives it all a weird Aussie TV vibe complete with oversaturated colors, throbbing techno music, and deliberate jabs at the artificiality of consumer culture and horror films themselves; it's easy to imagine director Philip Brophy (also a musician and writer, here adapting a quartet of his short stories) giggling as his cast of largely familiar local TV staples are turned into fleshy nightmares twisted and mutating all over the screen. The effects are the real star here, of course, with the second half of the film turning into a riot of grotesqueries including a pregnancy gone very wrong, killer genitalia, and the aforementioned inbred clan, who prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is just as much of a sick comedy as a splatter film.
Released just as the theatrical market for horror fans was cratering in the '90s, Body Melt became something of a cult VHS staple thanks to its avalanche of exploitable elements like gore, grisly make up, and nudity. Of course, a lot of its thunder was taken by the previous year's New Zealand splatter classic from Peter Jackson, Brain Dead, but if you take it on its own terms, this is plenty of fun with a ridiculously entertaining payoff in the final act that's worth waiting for.
The first DVD edition came out in 2003 from Vanguard, sporting a slightly cropped fullscreen transfer of the uncut version. It looked okay but unspectacular, which is about the same as the subsequent versions released in France and Germany. The Australian release is better since it's anamorphic, but the 1.85:1 framing is too tight at times; at least it has a cast and crew featurette, "Making Bodies Melt" (33m55s). The 2013 edition from Scorpion is correctly framed at 1.66:1 with more detail and significantly healthier colors than its predecessors. This still looks like a cheap and gaudy movie for the most part, but it's much easier to enjoy the look of it here than before. The two-channel stereo track also sounds solid, with plenty of weird sound effects on the soundtrack to keep your ears occupied in between all the squishing and screaming. Not surprisingly, this is presented as part of the label's "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters starting things off with a bang as her face melts into a blobby mess during an exercise demonstration. After that she reassembles for a rundown on the cast and crew of the film, returning after the feature to express her stomach discomfort and allowing a familiar past "character" to step in and finish things off. The original trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Monster Club, Grizzly, Day of the Animals, The Survivor, and Alley Cat. In 2016, the film made its Blu-ray global debut from Umbrella featuring a 1.78:1 "brand new 4K HD transfer" (which seems like a bit of overkill for a 16mm film), a 16m54s behind the scenes featurette, the 33-minute "Making Bodies Melt" making-of cast and crew featurette, storyboards, a stills gallery, the trailer, and two audio commentaries: the first with Brophy and producers Daniel Scharf and Rod Bishop, and the second with Brophy solo focusing on the sound design and score. Both are lighthearted and enjoyable, bouncing through the challenges getting the film mounted with a failed attempt at government sponsorship, the impact of horror movie appreciation, the connection to Romper Stomper, the challenge of casting oddball character parts, the reception at the Melbourne Film Festival, and the creation of the funky electronic soundscape.
All of those extras are ported over for the 2018 dual-format release from Vinegar Syndrome, which also touts an exclusive new scan and restoration from the 16mm original camera negative as well as a punchy DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (with optional English SDH subtitles). The film itself looks great with vibrant colors, darker blacks, and a nice compression job handling the sometimes significant film grain quite well. The shooting format means the darker scenes can tend to clog up a bit in terms of detail, but that goes with the territory. The two commentaries, "Making Bodies Melt," behind the scenes featurette, storyboards, production and stills gallery, and trailer are all here, but you also get a trio of new featurettes. “Melting Away: The Deconstruction of Body Melt” (38m36s) with Brophy and Bishop goes more into their backgrounds and exploitation-friendly sensibilities that led to the mounting of this film and its silly funding promotion as an "intellectual exercise" using horror elements. Check out that DVD collection in the background, too. Scharf goes it alone in “Body Building: The Making of Body Melt” (8m6s) for more insights into the genre pros and cons they faced as well as the state of Aussie indie filmmaking at the time. Finally, “Adrenal Glands” (10m32s) with actor Neil "Bab" Foley features a chat about how he met Brophy through school and jumped into this after making his own short film, with Body Melt emerging from a gang devoted more to horror than the usual experimental student output. And yes, he still has those crazy false teeth. A limited edition slipcover release is also available.
Updated review on September 21, 2018.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
SCORPION RELEASING (DVD)