The horror film titled The Body Shop is one of my all-time favorite bad movie gems. It includes all the little extras that separate mere bombs from the truly legendary turkeys and, like another neglected classic, The Wizard of Mars (see my Bad Movie page for the review), just keeps getting worse and worse and weirder and weirder all the way to the end.
The film stars and was directed by J.G. Paterson, Jr, but for this film he chose to star under his stage name “Don Brandon, America’s Number One Magician” in the opening credits. Pretty brassy, considering virtually nobody had ever heard of him, and magicians like Doug Henning and Blackstone weren’t exactly casting wary glances over their shoulders in fear of Brandon’s not-so- rising star.
Brandon’s mad scientist character in the film also goes by the name Dr Don Brandon, so The Body Shop may be the first film in history that was made partly to bolster an aging stage magician’s career. Anyway, that’s the opinion of “Balladeer, America’s Number One Blogger”.
The film opens with a very strange song about women and the old cliche about “sugar and spice and everything nice”. When the singer begins praising various parts of the female anatomy in a tune uncannily like My Favorite Things we know we’re not in Kansas anymore. Our story begins at the funeral of Dr Brandon’s wife, who died in a car accident, as we learn when an uncredited extra tunes in to one of those incredibly plot-specific news bulletins that movies are filled with. Hey, maybe none of us can remember them ever breaking in to regular programming to announce the death of a General Practioner’s spouse in a car wreck, but I guess it’s possible that we just don’t live near one of those “all exposition, all the time” radio stations.
Our mad doctor returns to his castle which, by the way, is in rural North Carolina (more on this later) but also has the requisite hunchback lab assistant/ lackey on staff. This hunchback, who boasts the less-than- sinister name “Greg” (“Greg the hunchback!” Brrrr!) also stands out in the annals of hunchbackdom by frequently smoking a cigar, which, combined with his stooped-over posture, lends him a certain Groucho Marx quality that’s hilariously at odds with the bloody mayhem to come. But what really puts Greg up there alongside Zork the hunchback from Deafula is the fact that his pants are so baggy we occassionally see his butt-crack as he shambles around the lab doing his master’s bidding.
Dr Brandon, alternately addressing Greg and a rose he plucked from a wreath on his wife’s coffin, explains his plan to be reunited with his late bride by resurrecting her. To that end he and his faithful hunchback companion rob his wife’s grave on an appropriately stormy night in a scene marred by the most poorly- rendered day-for- night shooting this side of Orgy of the Dead. Transporting her corpse back to the mad doctor’s castle (Ah, those tobacco blue-bloods of yore!) they wrap her from head to toe in what looks like aluminum foil. After a few minutes of your regulation “mad scientist and lab assistant puttering around” nonsense some of Doctor Brandon’s equipment catches fire and we’re told they failed to bring his beloved back from the dead.
Our hero then swears to Greg and the rose that he’ll STILL be reunited with his late wife by patching together the perfect woman from body parts he’ll take from other women. Now, to you and me and anyone with any sense that means he’ll have a whole different wife, not the one who just died. Don’t tell that to our screenwriter, however, because we’ll be subjected to countless instances of Dr Brandon telling Greg and the rose (whom he addresses as “my dear”) that they’ll soon be together again.
Not only that, but he now pointlessly threatens Greg that he’d better keep helping him or he won’t give him a normal body to replace his hunchbacked one. The stogie-smoking, butt-crack- showing hunchback has given no indication that he has ever thought of disobeying the good doctor, so this implied threat seems really forced and awkward.
Anyway, Doctor Brandon and Greg begin carving up various women that are brought to their lab by way of our mad doctor’s sudden powers of telepathic hypnosis (just go with me on this). They keep the most perfect part or parts of each victim, then destroy the leftovers in an acid vat. Some of the women wake up during the “surgery” just to add screaming to the laughably fake-looking blood and gore effects the viewer gets treated to each time. Our filmmaker was an assistant on some of H.G. Lewis’ blood-soaked horror films, so you can easily picture the Caro-syrup blood that gets shed very generously.
Other things to love in this hilarious mess include: a) the country and western song A Heart Dies Every Minute, by Bill Hicks and the Rainbows. We get to hear it not just once, but TWICE during the film, and both times it’s as hysterically out of place as you would expect a country song to sound in a graphically violent horror film … b) the second time we hear the song is in a live performance (be still my heart) when Doctor Brandon is dining with a soon-to- be victim at The Drawbridge Restaurant. Said restaurant, which is done up like a medieval castle, was clearly the location used for the castle our hero calls home and which I call “Castle Tarheel” because of its North Carolina location …
c) the uproariously awkward dialogue throughout the film, like when the doctor helps Greg on with his lab coat while observing “You have your little problems, don’t you?” and later – “It’s a woman’s hands that bring out the truth in a man” (?) … d) the way Dr Brandon pointlessly pulls the pantyhose off a woman on his operating table before cutting off her hands … e) the way one woman, who is delivered to Castle Tarheel already dead keeps struggling to keep her eyes widened in a death stare …
f) a scene where knocks on a door are clearly heard, followed by the Doctor telling Greg “Get that, it might be the door.” What the hell sounds do this guy’s toilets make is what I wanna know! … g) a scene where a cop comes snooping and the entire conversation with him is framed entirely in the castle’s doorway but is shot like he’s Doc and Greg’s “Mystery Date”. (Remember that old game?)
h) the way Doctor Brandon and Greg exchange even more meaningful glances than Friday and Gannon ever did on Dragnet … i) choppy editing that makes the actors in any given scene appear to be teleporting all over the room from one moment to the next … j) the fact that ALL of the film’s incidental music sounds like the music played at roller rinks … k) the unintelligible noises Greg uses to communicate. They sound like the noises Dopey the dinousaur made on the tv show Land of the Lost …
l) the way Greg stashes some of his whiskey bottles in with the body parts that he and the Doc are keeping frozen. Sort of lends new meaning to the expression “Grabbing a cold one” doesn’t it? and m) the unmistakable way it appears our auteur got some very cheap thrills feeling up his doctor character’s victims in makeout scenes preceding their hypnotism and/or murder.
At any rate, after plenty of laughable dialogue, lots of fake bloodshed and severed body parts with a little dose of a cop wondering if the good doctor is using Castle Tarheel to make moonshine, our hero’s “perfect woman” is completely assembled. Some parts not included. (rimshot) He gives her the rose he’s been talking to and keeping alive with some of his secret chemical concoctions, then proceeds to teach the poor mindless creature (How was this reuniting you with your late wife again, buddy? ) only what he wants her to know. And he only wants her to know how to please and pamper him to the exclusion of all else.
After “teaching scenes” rendered hilarious by the way the actions on-screen never come close to matching the voiceover narration describing them, her education is complete. Doctor Brandon has grown so possessive of his mindless, undead love-toy, however, that he doesn’t even trust her around Greg the hunchback and makes him sleep in the lab every night now. Oddly, his paranoia proves justified when he catches the woman “Anitra” putting the moves on Greg. (Chicks dig hunchbacks. It’s a known fact.) Needless to say he reacts by chopping up the Gregster with an axe and tossing his body parts in the acid bath.
The next day Doctor Brandon goes off to a meeting and Anitra gets a visit from the furnace man. Knowing nothing but “how to please a man” she happily leaves with the guy but deserts him after a brief fling.
Next, we cut to Doctor Brandon behind bars. We’re never told how he got found out and put there, but hey, that’s part of what makes this movie so hilariously bad. He’s gone even more crazy now, and can’t even hypnotize people anymore, as we learn when he fails to mesmerize the cleaning woman outside his cell. He spouts gibberish, has flashbacks to the gory and titillating scenes from earlier, and the film closes with a shot of a hitch-hiking Anitra climbing into a truck with another hick (maybe I should have said she was “hitch-hicking” or “hick-hiking” instead) and riding off.
The end. Really. But the final scene with our mad doctor in his cell boasted one of my all-time favorite bad movie gaffes. We actually see THE CLAPBOARD LABELING THE SCENE being held between the bars of the doctor’s cell before it is yanked out of the shot by one of the film crew. Hilarious. The writing on the clapboard reveals that during production the film was originally titled Anitra instead of The Body Shop, but most dvd copies feature it under the title Doctor Gore. Any questions?
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