Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Spare Parts (1979)

One look at the theatrical one-sheet and you’re thinking of the Larry Cohen-penned and directed The Ambulance (1990) starring Eric Roberts. Of course you are: it’s Larry friggin’ Cohen! Hmmm . . . an “Exploring: Ambulance Movies” featurette covering flicks like the Harvey Keitel-fronted comedy Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), the Playboy “Playmate of the Month”-fronted comedy Paramedics (1988), and Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead (1999)?

Ugh. Sidetracked: back to the film at lopped-off hand.

The cult thriller based on the best-selling novel of the same name.

A respected filmmaker in his homeland and across Europe, German writer and director Rainer Erler is a filmmaker you’ve only seen — courtesy of ’80s U.S. UHF-TV syndication and home video — four times on English-language shores: the debut, Operation Ganymed (1977), Plutonium (1978), Spare Parts, and Sugar (1989). Prior to the English-language release of Operation Ganymed, Erler made 30-plus German-language films and a smattering of television series since making his debut in 1961.

As for his four, English-dubbed distributed films: I’ve only found and watched two of them: the great, Star Wars-era sci-fi’er on a tight budget, Operation Ganymed, and this desert-based horror romp known in its homeland — by what I think is a much more effective, ’80s slashy-titled — as Fleisch, aka Meat. I’ve given up my search for VHS copies of Plutonium and Sugar — films I’ve always wanted to see — long ago.

As much as Operation Ganymed atmosphere-drips with its desert-based, yet claustrophobic, psychological dread, so does Spare Parts: a noirish tale of a honeymooning couple’s spiraling stay at a not-so-quaint, run-down hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico (where this was shot; not doubled, say, in the Spaghetti Western wilds of Italy).

The newlyweds’ love fest is cut short when an ambulance takes the Princeton-educated husband away . . . never to be seen, again (the innkeeper is overly friendly . . . then claims to not know what you are talking about and who you are). Monica, Mike’s (TV-prolific Herbert Herrmann) kidnapping-escaped, fish-out-of-water German exchange-student wife (prolific and a very good Jutta Spiedel) comes to team with a Texas truck driver (Wolf Roth) to discover the hotel’s dark secret . . . and its connection to the cryptic ambulance service: a black market organ-harvesting service run by a shady doctor (a perfectly-evil Charlotte Kerr).

One-stop shopping for movies from all over the world!

Spare Parts is a film of solid cinematography and well-scripted suspense complemented by a downbeat-creepy, mood-inducing score: one undone only by it needing a tighter edit (this runs a little long at an hour fifty minutes) and that Mill Creek’s print is a little rough. But I liked the Amsterdam-bred noir De Prooi, aka Death in the Shadows (1985), discovered on Mill Creek’s Pure Terror set that we unpacked in November 2019, so what in the hell do I know?

Sure, Michael Crichton’s Coma (1978) starring Micheal Douglas did the whole illegal organs scam a lot better, while the illegal organ shenanigans (and ripping Coma) of Cardiac Arrest (1979), an early attempt to turn Max Gail of TV’s Barney Miller into a film actor, did it worse (and it reminds of me of TV’s Mike Conners stumbling about in 1984’s Too Scared to Scream). The much-better-than-both Breakdown (1997) starring Kurt Russell (although that has no ambulance or organ theft, but kidnapping and ransom on the New Mexico back roads) also comes to mind. Oh, now I am remembering Body Parts (1991) with Jeff Fahey . . . but that was arm transplant surgery.

Hmmm . . . sounds like an “Exploring: Organ Harvesting” featurette to me. Never say never.

There’s a trailer to sample and the full film to enjoy, on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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