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Part 2: In Which the Parts All Come Together

Blake J. Harris: To your point, that kind of situation doesn’t happen very often. Though generally for a good reason: that’s a lot to do in a short amount of time. Tell me about how you guys put things together so quickly.

Eric Red: Frank’s company had an informal, fraternity atmosphere where we’d walk into each other’s offices and toss around ideas. Frank loved filmmakers and loved taking risks, which was an inspiring environment he created as a producer that brought out the best in everyone, including me.

Blake J. Harris: Nice.

Eric Red: I wrote the first draft of the script, but was busy in pre-production directing the movie so we hired two additional writers, Norman Snider who wrote Dead Ringers, and Larry Gross who wrote 48 Hours, to do the shooting drafts. The biggest problem with the book in turning it into a film—and the reason that they hadn’t been able to get a decent script in 25 years of development—was a problem of POV. The book was about a detective investigating the deaths of the transplant patients and solving the mystery, so he was outside the story. I believed that the main character needed to be one of the transplant patients who receives a limb from the killer then suffers the personality changes and begins to investigate what’s going on, so the audience experiences the mystery and horror first person through his eyes. Also, in the novel Choice Cuts the big twist—(SPOILER ALERT)—that the killer’s head has been transplanted and he is being reassembled is the last chapter, and he’s just a body on an operating table. It seemed obvious in a movie that the whole last act had to be the killer out on the street ripping his parts off the transplant recipients in slasher movie fashion so the movie would escalate from psychological thriller into full-on horror action mode.

BODY PARTS.Red behind camera

Blake J. Harris: That makes sense.

Eric Red: Frank agreed with all this. The biggest contribution I made in my drafts of the screenplay to Body Parts was structuring all that stuff out and designing the action sequences. Norman and Larry made huge contributions fleshing out the characters and writing the dialogue. Ironically, The Writer’s Guild credit arbitration for Body Parts was one of the largest in the guild’s history with something like twenty screenwriters who had written scripts over two decades fighting for credit, including Robert Benton. Ultimately the WGA awarded myself and Norman shared screenplay credit. I felt Larry Gross should have been credited as well and wrote a letter to the guild, but unfortunately Larry didn’t receive screen credit.

[Note: We interviewed Larry Gross last year to talk about writing Streets of Fire]

Eric Red: We decided on Toronto to film the movie because the city had the look we needed and started shooting in December of 1989. In my wildest dreams, never imagined I’d be able to make Body Parts on a major studio level with that budget and those resources, and tried to make the most of it.

Blake J. Harris: Tell me a bit about the lead, Jeff Fahey. How was he cast?

Eric Red: We had no idea who we were going to cast as Bill, because for obvious reasons many leading men shied away from playing a guy with a transplanted arm even though this was a studio movie. Fortunately, Paramount did not make any star requirements for the cast and just wanted good actors, so we had flexibility. One day, Jeff Fahey came in and interviewed with Frank and I, and we knew right away he was our guy. He had a very visceral vibe.

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Blake J. Harris: What was he like to work with? Were there any things you remember doing, as director, to help him get into the mind of “Bill Chrushank?”

Eric Red: Jeff and I had a great time working together. As a man, Jeff has great personal warmth and terrific sense of humor, even though he projects edge as an actor. The biggest thing I did directorially was bring out the warm and personable side of the actor on screen, which wasn’t hard because that’s who he is. Jeff comes from a big Irish family of thirteen brothers, which is a very likeable part of his personality. Whenever possible, I encouraged his natural warmth in his performance, because the family side of Bill Chrushank is crucial, and when the arm starts changing him and Bill turns violent on his family that’s where the horror comes in. If you know Jeff, you know Robert Rodriguez also captured that charismatic and personable side of him in Planet Terror, which I think besides Body Parts is one of Jeff’s two best performances.

Blake J. Harris: From a production/logistics standpoint, what were some of the hardest scenes to film?

Eric Red: The hardest scene by far to plan and film was the handcuff car chase. It was all first unit and took two and a half nights to shoot. The sequence involves the killer Charley Fletcher in one car handcuffing himself to Bill in another car then trying to rip his arm off in a high-speed vehicular chase into oncoming traffic. There were over a hundred intricate and complicated set ups required to get all the dynamic coverage of the car chase so I completely storyboarded it in advance. Filming involved plenty of inter-coordinated car stunt work with very some tricky camera placements. We used cars hooked together with camera rigs on back, we shot off insert cars, had cameras on bumper mounts, side mounts, you name it—we used precision stunt drivers for many of the shots and used Jeff and the other actors in cars on tow rigs for some shots.

Blake J. Harris: Oh jeez.

Eric Red: We were very safe, because the sequence was very well planned and rehearsed, but you’re still dealing with complex and dangerous vehicular stunts around lots of crew and big equipment so we had to be careful and follow correct safety procedures staging it, which we damn well did. Needed to light a mile of freeway underpass because it was all night work. Plus it was freezing—we were shooting on Lakeshore Drive in Toronto in the dead of winter and riding on the back of insert cars going 50 MPH in 30 degree below zero weather with the wind chill factor, so it was a grueling sequence to film. It’s one of the movie’s highlights though.

BODY PARTS.Vande De Sande, Mancuso, Red

Blake J. Harris: As for the body parts themselves: were they trying to “get back” to their body, or were they merely inflicting machinations on those who received transplants?

Eric Red: The bigger question is really whether the transplant recipients’ own traumatic psychological issues with losing their limbs and getting grafted new ones are responsible for the scary things happening to them, or if the new limbs really have a mind of their own. That’s the mystery of the movie. But I’m not telling. Let the viewers have the fun of figuring it out!

Blake J. Harris: [laughs] That’s fair. I appreciate a good mystery. But maybe you can tell me this instead: is the doctor his mother?

Eric Red: Interesting question—not the biological mother certainly, but perhaps an emotional one. If you mean Bill, it would be very weird if the doctor were his mother since Lindsay Duncan injected an erotic element into Dr. Webb, where beneath her British reserve she gets a sexual charge out of cutting people up and reassembling them. Note that subtle lip smacking expression she gets when Jeff’s bandages comes off and she sees the grafted arm on him the first time. But since the doctor must regard Charley Fletcher a bit like her child, one could call that strange gothic look on her face maternal when she walks up to Charley when he’s holding his legs near the end. In a way, both Charley and Bill are the doctor’s creations, so arguably she carries maternal feelings towards both of them. We should ask Lindsay Duncan!

BODY PARTS.Behind the scenes shot

Blake J. Harris: Perhaps there will be a Part 2 of our Body Parts investigation? But until then…just a few more questions. I want to talk a bit about the release. Body Parts came out in August 1991. This was just weeks after the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer (who had been found to have a collection of dismembered body parts). Did that have any impact on the film’s release?

Eric Red: Unfortunately, yes. Dahmer was all over the news, but that didn’t affect Body Parts until some genius in Paramount marketing removed the ads for the movie in Milwaukee where the serial killer was apprehended. Next day, the front page of the LA times read, “Paramount Pulls Body Parts Ads In Milwaukee.” Of course, this created a totally erroneous and undeserved association in the public mind between our movie and Jeffrey Dahmer; one that didn’t exist before Paramount yanked the ads, and hurt us at the box office.

Blake J. Harris: Oh man, that’s terrible.

Eric Red: God bless Howard Stern who defended our movie on his show. When somebody called in saying Paramount should close the film, Stern said on air, “You idiot, the movie was called Body Parts and made a year before Dahmer, and doesn’t have anything to do with Dahmer, so have a Coke and a Smile and shut the f- up!”

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Blake J. Harris: That’s great. Though obviously some damage had already been done. What was the release like? How did the movie do?

Eric Red: Body Parts had a pretty good opening weekend but wasn’t a hit, which it maybe could have been based on how well audiences were reacting. Perhaps it would have been different if we had kept the title Choice Cuts. Frank wanted a different title than Body Parts but I fought for that title—maybe ultimately to the movie’s disadvantage.

Blake J. Harris: Maybe…

Eric Red: [But] audiences loved it, when they went. It played for audiences like I hoped it would. Can’t complain about the distribution, either. Body Parts got a major theatrical release and Paramount opened it in about 2,200 theaters with a pretty decent P&A commitment on TV and newspaper ads. It was a respectable release and we did good opening weekend business. I felt the film would have done much better at the box office if we hadn’t been subject to that awful timing and if Paramount hadn’t gotten gun-shy in the marketing afterwards. There are a lot of things a director controls making a movie but timing is not one of them—that’s out of your hands. I was nominated for a Saturn Award as director and Loek Dikker won a Saturn as composer. It got a lot of great reviews in papers like the L.A. Times and The Boston Globe, who did a major article on it, which was all very nice.

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Blake J. Harris: That’s good to hear. And the film certainly found its audience over the years…

Eric Red: It seems like the flick has been receiving more attention lately than it did when it came out. Recently Robert Rodriguez texted me about how much he loved the movie and that he saw it in the theater in Texas eight times when it came out, which made my day. I think a lot of the great action directors who were teens when the flick came out respond to Body Parts because the visuals are so aggressively kinetic, which is more how films are shot now then they were then.

Blake J. Harris: Of all the reactions—both then and now—do you have a favorite? Does any particular one stand out?

Eric Red: My favorite reaction is easy:  Body Parts is the only movie I’ve made where the whole audience applauds and cheers over the end credits because they enjoyed the movie so much. Not kidding. Audiences did in 1990 at the Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood at every showing I attended. A few years ago, Cinefamily screened the 35 print in a theater on Fairfax with an audience who was mostly in their thirties and hadn’t seen the film before. At the end credits, they all applauded and cheered. Twenty-five years between screenings, it got same reaction, so it seems the flick has stood the test of time.

Continue Reading Eric Red Interview >>

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