BODY BAGS (1993)
Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper
Writer: Billy Brown, Dan Angel
Distributor: Republic Pictures
Music: John Carpenter, Jim Lang
Runtime: 91 min.
Alex Datcher as Anne (The Gas Station)
Robert Carradine as Bill (The Gas Station)
Stacy Keach as Richard Coberts (Hair)
David Warner as Dr. Lock (Hair)
Mark Hamill as Brent Matthews (Eye)
Twiggy as Cathy Matthews (Eye)
John Carpenter as The Coroner (The Morgue)
If you visit my site on a regular basis of any kind, you already know my crazed love affair with the horror anthology film. I devour all I find. When I discovered John Carpenter had an anthology of his own loaded with Hollywood big names and genre idols, I was like a kid locked in a candy store for an entire weekend. The gloves came off with utter excitement. Body Bags is a made for TV movie that aired late in the summer of 1993 on Showtime. Originally meant to be an anthology show for Showtime in the vein of The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt, the idea was scrapped and the episodes that were filmed were thrown together for a movie. Not being privy to the awesome power of Showtime as a child, I wasn’t introduced to this film until later in my adolescence
I remember distinctly being creeped the F out by the site of a ghastly John Carpenter as the “host”, if you will, in the wrap around story and being flat out terrified by The Gas Station segment. I didn’t, however, remember a single thing about the other stories other than Mark Hamill. This brings us to 2013, when Scream Factory released the special edition blu ray of this demented scarefest. After seeing it was getting a release that could only be described as “nerd candy”, it reminded me of how long it had been since seeing the film. Naturally, I broke out my faded DC comics wallet, pulled out the debit card…and ordered a VHS copy for a few bucks.
My over-eager hands couldn’t get the package open fast enough when it appeared on my doorstep a few days later. Almost immediately, the doors were locked and the lights were off. I popped this piece into my super fresh VCR and prepared myself to engage in heart stopping horror. Man…I miss being a kid. Now that I have adult eyes and my brain has processed more of the “extreme” horror cinema, I have to say I was a little disappointed.
What I did remember about the film still held pretty true. Carpenter as The Coroner is still a frightening sight. Is it just me, or does seeing John dance around in full corpse coroner garb give you the willies? The wrap around works. A big part of an anthology film working is a delightful wrap around. Whether it be another story that ties everything together or, as in this case, a tour guide that interjects between each story and introduces the next.
The first story, The Gas Station, is best in show in my opinion. It’s a simple story that gets your skin crawling right away and doesn’t let up until Carpenter is back on screen. Anne (Alex Datcher) is a gas station attendant at a 24 hour fuel station. It’s her first night and gets dropped off by a friend. You can already feel the tension. She’s trapped, alone, all night with no car. Just her, the fluorescents, a cramped attendant stand, the smell of gas and the creeps that wonder around in the middle of nowhere at night. One thing that I did forget that was a pleasant surprise is all of the cameos that appear throughout the film. Wes Craven and Sam Raimi appear in this story (Craven as a weirdo that shows up for gas and Raimi as a body…without giving too much away). As the night progresses, the creepier the “customers” get and the more things go wrong. Anne’s nerves of starting a new job coupled with the horrific fear of the desolate location is felt by the audience. I was terrified for her and I was safely in my house. Out of nowhere, the spit hits the fan now Anne is trapped in a life or death situation with a madman. It’s a great little spooky story that serves it’s purpose by getting your blood pumping; a great way to start off an anthology.
It’s all downhill from there.
Our next story, after a little comic relief from John, is titled Hair. The mighty Stacy Keach stars as Richard Coberts, a wealthy man who has it all…except hair. After seeing men, women and dogs with long, flowing, full heads of hair, he decides to pay a visit to a doctor whose infomercial guarantees hair growth for anyone. Richard gets the hair transplant and is overjoyed with the results. Finally, the long mop top of his dreams was his…only, it won’t stop growing. Eventually, the hair takes over his body. Hair begins growing out of all the wrong places on his face. Looking like J. Fox’s stunt double from Teen Wolf, Richard tries cutting it off, but it only causes him pain. What’s weirder than that? He discovers that the hair he is able to cut off has teeth! All in all, this story is a little on the weak side for me. Stacy Keach delivers, but the meat and potatoes just aren’t filling enough.
The last segment, titled Eye, is the story directed by Tobe Hooper. Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill) is a baseball player on a hot streak and is about to make his move from the farm league to the big show, when a car crash leaves a piece of shrapnel buried in one of his eyes. Unwilling to give up his pro ball dreams, he has an eye transplant. Of course, there’s a downside. The eye belonged to a recently deceased serial killer and now Brent is having visions of mutilating women. The story comes to a head when he attempts to attack and murder his wife Cathy (Twiggy). Much like Hair, Eye falls a little short. It’s more enjoyable than the previous segment, but still doesn’t carry very much weight with this guy.
The movie ends with one last visit with The Coroner to discover just why Carpenter looks like a corpse and guzzling down formaldehyde martinis. A few last second cameos by Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper himself completes this little package of fright.
In summation, Body Bags is the 1993 version of Nightmares from ten years earlier. A television show that ended up being jettisoned from their respected corporate aircraft and, in an effort to save face, put the filmed material together into an anthology film. Both had great opening stories and became stale from that point on. If I had to choose, I would pick Body Bags as a better movie in total. The stories are a little better and the acting is a step above its predecessor. Yet…it’s not that GREAT of a film. A fun little ditty to pass some time. I would recommend watching it for The Gas Station segment. It was under my skin and got it crawling.