It is interesting to see how other countries view the conventions of horror. As a genre, you'd think the fright flick would be universal - and it is, up to a point. But since terror is also linked almost inescapably to the society in which it's created, different regions of the world have different ideas when it comes to macabre. Italy loves it hot and juicy, the more body parts and visceral chunks the better. The Asians are obsessed with demons and ghosts, unable to get around the notion of the afterlife and the spirits that seem to haunt every home in their nations. South American mires everything in rampant Catholicism while Germans translate their cold and clinical personalities into equally chilly and detached fear fare.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Belgians, the scary movie motives are a little fuzzier. There are a few examples of the nation's creature feature ideals, but they really don't provide much insight. Man Bites Dog is just serial killer sameness tossed into the mock-doc format, while 2004's Calvaire is the rock and roll equivalent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, sort of. Belgium has explored the world of zombies (who hasn't, frankly) and married sex to the supernatural for their supposed shivers. Troma now treats us to Parts of the Family, and even with this combination crime thriller and living dead chiller, we still don't know exactly what petrifies the Western European. This muddled mess of a movie isn't offering any answers - or frights, for that matter.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Producer Johan Vendewoestijne had been responsible for one of Troma's most well-loved titles, 1988's Rabid Grannies and director Leon Paul De Bruyn had previously helmed Maniac Nurses: Bloodsucking Freaks II, another tantalizing Troma treat. So the two coming together to make something called Parts of the Family must have really launched the monetary skyrockets in loveable Lloyd Kaufman's head. The title connotation alone is enough to make a schlock connoisseur's glands all goopy for gooey goodness.
Sadly, it was not meant to be. Even with Kaufman in a substantial role, and a few metric liters of blood, Parts of the Family turned out terrible...at least, in Troma's bottom line mind. So they decided to reconfigure the entire project to their liking, Out came the editing scissors, in went the voice over actors, and after all was said and done, a new version of Parts of the Family was ready for release. As part of this DVD presentation, we get both well-meaning movies - the bewildering Belgian bungle and the equally unappealing Troma attempt. While there are moments in both, neither adds up to a digital delight. Let's start with:
Parts of the Family (Standard Version) *1/2
When a fleeing bank robber takes a sexy young woman hostage, we anticipate a typical police standoff. And for a while, that's what we get. But then things take a turn for the weird when our captive - a weird model type named Elle - starts getting all carnivorous on her captor. It's not long before we learn the awful truth: Elle was a maid in the house she now inhabits and killed everyone in the family. Somehow, through voodoo, magic pixie dust, or standard plot contrivance, she turned the corpses into zombie mummies. Now she brings men to the house as "food" for her family...and our thief is next on the banquet list.
Feeling like two completely different ideas hastily cobbled together without much rhyme or reason, the original version of Parts of the Family is a real piece of Belgian bullcrap. Director Leon Paul De Bruyn (whose name sounds like Babe the Blue Ox's gay lover) takes a typical hostage situation, plasters on a Lizzie Borden style slaughter subtext and then covers the whole thing in bandaged flesh eaters to really confuse the fright fan. In the grand scheme of screams there is not a more fudged up film than this attempted living dead chiller. Had our daring director found a way to make all his concepts coagulate, had he balanced the crime story with the slime story in a more effective manner, we'd have an interesting take on the entire cannibal corpse genre. Instead, De Bruyn fumbles each and every one of his chances, turning what could have been interesting and vile into something dull and dreary.
No gore movie should be this boring. After all, bloodletting is its own pornography, a chance for the horror aficionado to "get off" on the promise of glistening claret and plenty - PLENTY - of it. Parts of the Family does indeed offer up the splatter - guts are chewed, skin is severed from bone, and eyeballs are plucked and shucked like juicy Atlantic clams. But there is no electricity in the excess. Even the nastiest grue is provided in the same, slack-jawed manner as the rest of the movie's machinations. And then there are the zombies themselves. Taking the concept of the moldy old mummy literally, De Bruyn's dead are moss covered cartoon characters, teeth a mangled pointed mess and bodies swaddled in stinking, stained undergarments. They look like rejects from a bungled British interpretation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Cheops himself would never stop laughing if he could only see the sarcophagi shuffling around in his relative's best bindings.
Yet it's the overall tone that finally fails Parts of the Family. At 86 minutes, this movie is still too long, with more pointless scenes of people screaming and moaning than moments of necessary exposition. Flashbacks happen at the most inopportune times, and fail to enlighten us on anything other than Elle's way with garden tools. Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance as hostage negotiator Ressler, yet someone with vocal tones more sonorous than our nasal hero dubs all his off screen dialogue. It makes all the crime story exchanges that much more disquieting. The acting is uniformly poor, with Swedish sex bomb Cecilia Bergqvist showing off her "assets" more than her thespianism, and American Bob Dougherty bumbling his way through the role of the felonious Goodis. Everyone else was obviously hired for his or her ability to provide the proper amount of aural aggravation the movie requires. Shrill, stupid and sloppily put together, Parts of the Family is a failure. It's no wonder that, once they saw it, Kaufman's company balked. Just like they did with Tales from the Crapper, Troma decided to reedit and "reshoot" material for their version of the movie.
Parts of the Family (Tromatic Version) **
The storyline doesn't change much, except now Troma Team Action News Channel 69 is on the story. Reporters Susan Jeffrey Raphael and Susan Wontons interview Ressler the hostage negotiator and we visit with some local Tromaville residents as they belittle and lambaste the growing Belgian population in their fair city. Otherwise, we still have the same strange, stunted story we had the first time around, except with lots of fart noises and tasteless, scatological and sophomoric humor tossed in.
Troma's approach to "saving" a film, when you stop and take a good long look at it, is kind of odd. Instead of going in and re-editing a failure, tightening up the pace and providing some contextual material that might explain away some of the flaws, Lloyd and his lunatic legions just break out their copy of What's Up, Tiger Lily? and do a complete lampoon-based overdub of the film. They did it with Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters, and parts of Tales from the Crapper. Here however, there is a lot more of director Leon Paul De Bruyn's original offal than there really should be. After all, if you're trying to right a wrong, you don't keep the misdeed around as a reminder, right?
No matter how much they cajole, no matter how much fake flatus emanates from onscreen derrieres, or how many retard jokes they make, the original stench of Parts of the Family keeps pouring through. No amount of scantily clad Goth gals touching their tinglers can erase the ripe aroma of the stupid opening chase scene. A million shots of Ron Jeremy fondling some faux-fetching fem will never completely wipe away the stain of seeing pug-ugly Europeans gritting their ill-cared for teeth. And no matter how hard he tries, Lloyd cannot make up for now, what he failed to offer then, in his paltry portrayal of Ressler.
Indeed, the entire Parts of the Family redux is re-doo-doo. With Tales from the Crapper, Troma pulled out all the stops, doing everything it could to make the mess they had on their hands entertaining and titillating. Here, there is some sort of odd obligation to the original, since the individuals charged with changing this choad into something entertaining keep going back to the spoiled source for inspiration.
We still have those stupefying flashbacks, except this time they are inserted without any real logical or logistical thought. The zombie mummy dummies are not explained, nor are the reasons for their resurrection. Gore moments are removed (the head horror's acid meltdown is now complete missing) and lots of shots of Jamie Greco in drag are inserted to keep the homo fires burning. We get loads of attempted comedy - ESPN Classic's Randy and Jason Sklar (from Cheap Seats) do their best to enliven the festivities with their nonsensical news anchor banter, and the always fetching Debbie Rochon does get in a few good quips. But the vast majority of this remake is rotten, adding little to what is already a pretty vapid presentation.
What this means basically is that Parts of the Family was pretty much unsalvageable to start with. In reality, either movie director De Bruyn wanted to make may have worked. The zombie stuff could have been fun, and the hostage material could have sizzled if handled properly. But proving the old adage that chicken salad ain't dropping out of a hen's ass, both Parts of the DVD are sadly unsatisfying.
The original Parts of the Family was shot on film, and there is a murky, cloudy look to the 1.33:1 full frame image. The colors are washed out and the details are hidden behind a lack of correct contrasts. The insert material created by Troma is all cheapie digital diddling remastered to resemble something shot on celluloid, but the matching doesn't work. On the positive side, the new images are vivid and clear and give us a real sense of TV reporting gone numbskulled.
Someone needs to go over to Troma and recalibrate their DVD audio recording equipment pronto. The overdone music that usually accompanies these films drowns out almost all the dialogue (which, in some cases, is not a bad thing). Besides, many of the scenes in the original Parts of the Family sound like a deaf bilge rat with infected inner ears was hired to capture them. The actors open their mouths, and we can't hear a bloody thing that comes out of them. As for the newly shot footage, there are aural issues here as well. Many of Randy and Jason Sklar's segments are marred by distortion, and there is a real tinny quality to the outdoor sequences. As movies, Parts of the Family may look mediocre, but they sound much, much worse.
Both movies get an introduction, and neither is the long used and abused Fill in the Blank bunkum from DVDs previous. Jamie Greco interviews "Zombie Lloyd" for the original Parts, while film critic 'Peter Parker' (also known as Spider-man creator and friend of Troma Stan Lee) gives a brief review of Parts for the company revamp. Both openings are very clever and a lot of fun. As for other added content, we get the standard page of Troma merchandising and trailers, as well as a few minutes of bloopers from the recent reshoot. It's not very interesting - or humorous. About the only bonus worth paying attention to is the 3 minute interview with producer Johan Vendewoestijne. Though he claims to hold "no grudges" over what Troma did to his film, he does get a chance to tell his side of the story, and why he feels the original version succeeded or failed. It is the sole substantive element in what is otherwise a collection of digital space wasters - both films included.
Talk about your wasted opportunities. The original Parts of the Family had everything going for it. It didn't shy away from the bloodletting, it had a wonderfully creepy abandoned mansion to mess about in, and a creative team that previously proved it could deliver the shocks. Besides, it takes some manner of stunted cinematic savant to screw up a zombie flick. Apparently Leon Paul De Bruyn is said manner of filmmaking fop. Indeed, his end result was so terrible that not even a fart joke could save it. That is why Parts of the Family fails. Still, for some, the Troma sense of humor will be too big of a lure to resist this static double feature. For others, the chance to see the Belgian way of wickedness will be incentive enough. In either case, rent this title before you make a final decision on purchasing it. Our friends on the continent may be good at making waffles and chocolates, but they definitely need some schooling in the ways of fear. The only thing scary here is how bad both versions of this movies are.
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