Once upon a time, Frank Mancuso, Jr. was a one-man schlock factory for Paramount Pictures, presiding over the profitable Friday the 13th franchise for most of the '80s, while occasionally delivering a smart, savage piece of pulp fiction, as he did with Mike Figgis's Internal Affairs (1990). Mostly, though, he had a taste for the horrific, which was fortunate for Paramount it was one of the few studios that remained horror-friendly after the sputtering of the slasher craze (which all but killed the genre for the better part of a decade). Before surrendering to lazy stalk-and-slash conventions in its final act, Body Parts (1991), based on a short story by Boileau-Narcejac (the hyphenate credit employed by suspense novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also spawned Vertigo and Diabolique), is at least an attempt at a thoughtful thriller. Written and directed by Eric Red, then one of the more-promising horror minds in the business, the film stars Jeff Fahey(!) as prison psychiatrist Bill Crushank, an introspective, but happily married, man tiring of picking through the damaged minds of multiple murderers. Just once, he confides to his wife, he'd like to actually heal a mind rather than assess its degree of delirium. When he's involved in a near-fatal traffic accident that necessitates the severing of his arm, thus opening the door for an experimental procedure entailing the grafting on of a new extremity from a deceased human donor, Crushank gets his wish. It turns out that the arm is the gift of executed serial killer Charley Fletcher, and that the intermingling of his flesh with Crushank's results in an unexpected melding of psyches one sane, the other certifiable and quite deadly. Gradually, Crushank becomes unhinged, rendering him a danger to his wife and children. Knowing that he wasn't the only experimental subject, the troubled psychiatrist reaches out to the other beneficiaries, including the always-watchable Brad Dourif as a hack painter whose work has suddenly taken on a morbid, and highly profitable, quality with the infusion of Fletcher's madness. There is, of course, something entirely nefarious at work here, and when the preserved head of Fletcher, attached to another body, turns up to collect his errant extremities, the whole film collapses under the weight of its rapidly mounting silliness. Which is not to say that it all isn't entirely risible on its face indeed, Crushank's soliloquies addressing whether evil lives in the mind or in the flesh are intellectually dubious, and horribly stilted when delivered by the goofy Fahey. And the idea that a hospital would dare to sanction the stitching on of arms and legs ripped from a serial killer (and, furthermore, neglecting to remove his incriminating tattoos) is one that pretty much hobbles the picture in the early going. Still, Red's skill with the camera and admirable ability to stage one helluva great little car chase that has Fahey stuck in a cop car while handcuffed to Fletcher in an adjacent vehicle, almost knocks the work up into respectable cult-film status. Incidentally, Body Parts represented the end of Eric Red's attempted ascent to horror-auteur status. Aside from a random teleplay, he would disappear entirely from filmmaking, resurfacing five years later with the werewolf yarn Bad Moon. Starring Michael Pare. In 1996. The promise of The Hitcher and Near Dark was effectively dashed. Frank Mancuso, Jr., on the other hand, fled to MGM, where he is currently the custodian of the Species franchise. (Yes, "currently"; the third installment is headed direct-to-DVD in late 2004.) Paramount presents Body Parts in a nice anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. No extras, keep-case.
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