Posted on Friday, March 24th, 2017 by Blake Harris
When the gang over at How Did This Get Made? gave me the heads up that we were covering Body Parts — a 1991 movie whose premise is as silly as it is strange — I was expecting something schlocky. And while the movie itself isn’t my cup of tea (full disclosure: no horror film is), I was surprised to find a film that had such a unique voice. There’s a craft to Body Parts, and a compelling, noir-ish sensibility.
I mention all this because it made me really eager to speak with the film’s director, Eric Red; to find out what kind of a storyteller would make a movie like this.
With the help of Matt Mulcahey over at Deep Fried Movies, I was able to get in touch with Eric. He was super nice, but right off the bat he told me two things:
1. He only does interviews over email
2. He rarely does interviews about old films.
But he makes exceptions if the questions are interesting enough. So I tried my luck, made the cut, and boy was it worth it.
Below is a copy of our interview…
Synopsis: After a near-fatal car accident, criminal psychologist Bill Chrushank (Jeff Fahey) undergoes an experimental transplant surgery that provides him with a healthy new arm. But just when his life appears to be getting back on track, Bill learns that his “healthy new arm” previously belonged to a notorious serial killer; a revelation that causes great concern when Bill begins to inadvertently start fantasizing about murder.
Tagline: A Medical Miracle has Become a Murderous Nightmare.
Part 1: Finding the Magic on Playgrounds Big and Small
Blake J. Harris: With a career that spans several decades and many cherished films, I have so many questions for you. But I can’t help but begin by asking about a comment you made when we first connected. A comment that got me really excited for this interview. You said that Body Parts was the “most fun I ever had making a flick.” That’s great. I want to hear more! How did Body Parts earn that haloed superlative?
Eric Red: For me, the fun was being able to make a grand scale major studio horror movie with all the resources to do it right: A story that was dream of mine to film. A great cast. Top crew. World-class special makeup effects. Major car chase and stunt gags. Fifty locations. 45 shooting days. Being able to film in anamorphic 35 MM. Every kind of special camera equipment available at the time. A full-scale symphonic acoustic score we recorded in Munich, Germany with a 105-piece orchestra.
Blake J. Harris: Really? That’s great.
Eric Red: I became DGA on the show. Besides the terrific actors Jeff Fahey, Brad Dourif, Lindsay Duncan and Kim Delaney, I had a great producer in Frank Mancuso Jr. a sensational DP in Theo Van De Sande, a fearless and skilled stunt co-ordinator in Steve Boyum, a crack production designer with Bill Brodie, a kinetic editor with Anthony Redman and a dazzling composer with Loek Dikker—it was just a great team of collaborators who enabled me to make the film I wanted to make at a dream level. The actual filming was enthralling and fun, and the picture was a wonderful adventure and journey for everyone involved. Also, I was still a kid in my twenties when I made the flick, so it was like being in the biggest playground with all the toys. Never had as much fun making a movie before or since, and think the sense of fun we all shared filming it comes across in the movie to viewers.
Blake J. Harris: Before we chat more about Body Parts, I’d love to hear a bit about your background and what led you to writing and directing. Was filmmaking always a passion of yours or was it something that you discovered as you got older?
Eric Red: I always loved movies, especially horror, science fiction, and action movies. Like a lot of kids then, I started making 8MM and Super 8 MM films at about age seven, vampire movies and stop motion animation films and such. It’s amazing how young you can be and naturally pick up the techniques of filmmaking and experience the magic when you just pick up a camera.
Blake J. Harris: Where did you grow up, by the way?
Eric Red: In New York City. There used to be a place called Young Filmmakers in Greenwich Village where kids could go and make films for free with equipment they had there, and many of my friends used that opportunity to make films. After high school, I had an inheritance so decided to try to make a feature, an action movie sent in Coney Island based on a story I read in Playboy that I optioned. So I holed up in an Asbury Park hotel for a week and wrote the script, then spent a year trying to raise the money. Surprise: that didn’t happen.
Blake J. Harris: Ha. Yeah, raising money is not easy.
Eric Red: So I did what filmmakers do and got pragmatic. Looked at the money I had left and realized I could make a top-of-the-line 16MM short film with all the fun stuff like action, stunts and special effects. That moment of realization I could actually make a movie happen felt incredibly empowering. I wrote the script in three days, and put the production together quickly with my producing partner Steve Bull using the NABET crew I’d assembled for the feature. The short was filmed in a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gunmen’s Blues was my film school.
Blake J. Harris: I read online (so take that for what its worth!) that you “went broke trying to get national distribution for [Gunmen’s Blues] and had to drive a cab in New York City for a year to recoup.” Is that accurate?
Eric Red: Gunmen’s Blues did get national TV distribution on Night Flight, the rival network to MTV at the time, but I still went broke on the film and had to get a real job so drove a cab on the night shift in NYC for a year.
Blake J. Harris: That’s awesome. And, of course, as a current New Yorker I have to ask: What was that like? What was the city like back then?
Eric Red: New York City was very different in the era of the late 70’s and early 80s—it was more of a cultural melting pot, more colorful and vital, more dangerous (you had old Times Square where I watched all my formative movies) and a lot more exciting than it is now (in the opinion of someone who has been thirty years an Angelino).
Blake J. Harris: Ha! And what was the job like? Driving a cab, I mean.
Eric Red: You met all kinds of wild New Yorkers as a cab driver and heard some intense private conversations because a driver doesn’t really exist for passengers. And it was a great way to pick up girls. I used to drive a Checker Cab, which don’t think they have anymore but was a great car, a tank of a vehicle, which could handle the potholed streets. The thing that I loved best about driving a cab on the night shift was there is a time between two AM and four AM in the early morning that is a New York City most New Yorkers never see. There are no fares at that hour, no people or cars on the streets, just other cabs, street sweepers and garbage trucks and steam pouring out of wet streets left by the street washers like an urban jungle. New York was a city primeval during those hours, probably still is now. Not to wax poetic here, but it was a magical thing to experience. After a year though, I needed a change of pace so I went to Austin, Texas and wrote The Hitcher when I got there.
Blake J. Harris: The Hitcher turned out to be a success. As did many of the other films you worked on in the 80s. Giving you, I assume, some degree of autonomy with regards to selecting projects. So I’m eager to how about how Body Parts came about. Was it an idea you’d been sitting on for a while?
Eric Red: Around that time I became aware of the novel that Body Parts is adapted from, a book called Choice Cuts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Two famous French thriller authors who wrote the novels that Vertigo and Diablolique were based on as well. I read Choice Cuts and was hooked by the central concept of an executed killer whose body parts are grafted in a medical experiment onto patients who have lost limbs, but the killer’s body parts begin causing the deaths of the transplant recipients. It had a great twist at the end—(SPOILER ALERT)—that the killer’s head was kept alive and he is having himself reassembled. It was a great high concept idea. I was excited as a director by the potential of mixing a psychological horror thriller with a gruesome horror action movie in a blend of the cerebral and visceral. So I started tracking down the rights only to discover the movie had a 25-year development history at various studios and even Alfred Hitchcock had tried to make it.
Blake J. Harris: Even Hitchcock? Wow, interesting. So how did you go about trying to rescue the project from development hell?
Eric Red: Just when it looked like extricating the rights was going to be impossible, I met Frank Mancuso Jr. Frank and his production company Hometown Films were based at Paramount Studios. As a producer, he was in a unique position at the studio because his father Frank Mancuso Sr. was chairman of Paramount. Frank had a deal where he could make four pictures a year, whatever movies he wanted, so he was completely autonomous. I pitched him Body Parts, Frank loved it, we went in to see the president of Paramount Sid Ganis and pitched it to him. Sid loved it and Body Parts was green lit in the room. Ten million budget. Start date six months away. We didn’t even have a script yet. How often does that happen?