The problem with Body Parts, at the time of release, was the marketing: the TV promos gave away the film’s biggest surprise and a wonderful (if not unlikely) moment involving a pair of handcuffs. The scene I’m referencing really requires you to suspend your disbelief, but it’s unexpected and wild enough you won’t mind. If you haven’t seen the movie or the trailer yet, I envy you.
I won’t talk about the last third of the movie. I’ll just say that, even though it’s completely different than the two-thirds proceeding it, it’s every bit as good. It involves the kind of turning point which usually breaks these kinds of movies. Body Parts pulls it off expertly.
Jeff Fahey plays a criminal psychologist who loses his arm in a car wreck. When he wakes up he discovers he’s the beneficiary of a revolutionary limb transplant. The new arm takes getting used to, but he tells his family that it’s even better than the old arm in some ways.
The catch? His control over the arm is only tenuous. When curling a dumbbell, the arm lashes out of his control for no good reason. When shaving, he has another malfunction which ends up gouging his face with the razor. When he makes love to his wife and the new hand slides between her legs… well, that’s about as good as suspense gets. The main character can’t run away from the horror, can’t hide from it in a closet. It’s always there, wherever he goes.
After Fahey begins having nightmares which he believes are a direct result of the transplant, he goes to the police station and has his new fingerprints taken. It turns out the hand belonged to a recently executed death row inmate who murdered over thirty people with his bare hands. When Fahey fails to get answers from the doctor who did this to him, he seeks out others who got the killer’s parts. One of the other beneficiaries is played by Brad Dourif, who’s just as compelling as Fahey. In fact, the entire cast is a cut above most horror movies, which is one of the reasons it’s so damn good.
There are some moments which will test your intelligence. In one scene a bar fight breaks out and a gaggle of policemen show up in seconds—including the homicide detective who’s pertinent to the plot (Zakes Mokae). The fact that Fahey’s character is a psychologist allows him to come up with all kinds of cockamamie hypotheses about what’s going on, but the monologues come off as flimsy technobabble at best. Still, these moments aren’t nearly as insulting as they could be and they’re few and far between. To mention them at all is nitpicking because this is a remarkably mature and entertaining horror film, the middle section of which kind of plays out as a detective story.
I’m often annoyed when movies keep teasing what we already know, but that’s because most movies feel so artificial and contrived in the way they go about generating suspense. Fortunately, there’s something inherently unsettling—and thrilling—when the source of that suspense is a physical part of the hero. I’d go so far as to say it’s a great movie, with good music and solid camera work. And even if the trailer was misleading about the movie as a whole, it eventually gives us exactly what was advertised.
I think it’s a rare movie that, potentially, could be just as appealing to non-horror fans as it is to gore hounds. The gore, when it finally arrives, is both tasteful and utterly satisfying.