The first phase is hallucinogenic…

It’s been a good week for Neighbours alumni as far as I’m concerned. In an attempt to top meeting Jason Donovan, I managed to get hold of the one film on the CV of Ian Smith – also known as television’s Harold Bishop.

So on tuesday night I cracked open a few Kalibers with some friends and sat down for the film in question, which bears the title Body Melt. The back of the video announces that its director Philip Brody, “along with Baz Luhrmann, represents the exciting new wave of Australian cinema”. I can’t help feeling this is a little generous.

Which is not to write off the film – oh, no. Moulin Rouge it may not be, but it has a certain…ahem…style. Essentially, it’s the episode of Round the Twist that never got made because it was too sick. Or possibly just too nonsensical. I haven’t really worked out what the hell the story was about, but I’m pretty sure the lengthy subplot involving two people getting eaten by a family of inbreds had very little relevance whatsoever.

Although “relevance” is not really an appropriate word to use in this context. The film’s main raison d’etre is simply to show lots of different people dying in bizarre and horrific ways. The prognosis of “body melt” (it is some sort of disease) is sufficiently vague to allow for a considerable amount of variety where this is concerned.

But delightfully, even in a film which boasts a woman choking on her own enlarged tongue, projectile vomiting on an amazing scale, death by mucus and an exploding penis, our Harold Bishop is still a definite highlight – Ian Smith delivers his every line with an intense, meaningful quality, every single word used to its utmost potential in the hands of this consumate professional. If there is a reason to see this film (and there are many), it is first and foremost for this early tryout of the psycho Harold concept.

And apparently Quentin Tarantino loves it.

We also had with us the original feature version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in comparison to which Body Melt is a work of pure genius. In these enlightened times, of course, we all know that a high-school girl kicking vampires about is rather a good idea. So it’s fascinating that back in 1992 the whole thing just sucked. It’s a slow, dull, uninspired mess – and the laborious storyline makes little more sense than the aforementioned antipodean rollick.

If I hadn’t known that the great Joss Whedon had written it, I’d instantly have dismissed the film with the old (and true) adage that a bad script means a bad film. But with the benefit of hindsight (seven series’ of Buffy and the tragically curtailed Firefly) I found myself searching for other reasons why the film is so appalling. And with much effort it was just – just – possible to see that somewhere in there were vestiges of a decent script. The production had simply sapped all the life out of it, and presumably because the dialogue was all being delivered about four times too slow most of the vital narrative exposition had to be cut.

So in addition to the old bad script, bad film rule, here are a few new things I’ve learned:

1. A good script doesn’t necessarily mean a good film.

2. Sparkling dialogue can be made to sound dreadful if delivered in a big echoey gym with long pauses between every line.

3. If you have to cut a script, try not to cut out all the bits explaining who your villain is.

4. If you don’t have a good script, an exploding penis will often ensure that your film remains entertaining.

5. But just to be on the safe side, cast Ian “Harold Bishop” Smith in one of the roles.

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