John Carpenter’s Body Bags

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Back in the early 90s, Showtime tried some interesting projects, my favorite being their Rebel Highway series.  John Carpenter’s Body Bags plays like a rip-off of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, but is condensed into three short stories spanning one feature-length film, as opposed to a new story each and every week.  The first two are directed by the man, the legend, John Carpenter, himself, and the last one is directed by another master of the genre, Tobe Hooper.

Body Bags is hosted by John Carpenter, in a morgue, doing his best Cryptkeeper impression.  He does fine and yucks up his scenes with an energy and silliness, but… you know.  He’s known as a director and not an actor for a reason.  He makes jokes about breast implants and drinks formaldehyde like wine.  As the coroner, he introduces each story through a different cadaver in a different body bag (hey, that’s the name of the movie!) and how their life came to end.

The first story is The Gas Station, a tale about a new job at the night shift at a, well, you probably guessed it, gas station.  Anne (Alex Datcher) begins her shift on a seemingly normal evening, but the night grows weirder and weirder.  Wes Craven and Ted Raimi both cameo, with David Naughton and Robert Carradine as supporting players.  What ends up happening, the action to propel the plot, honestly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  I liked the build-up and the dread, and then when it was revealed what would be the antagonist of the story, it was kind of dumb.  It was a lot of wasted potential for a unique, claustrophobic location with an odd cast of characters and clientele that could come by.  While certainly not terribleThe Gas Station is nonetheless a disappointment because it could have been a real gem had it gone in a different direction toward the end.

Next up is the simply titled Hair, which similarly had a reveal in its last third of the story… but in the case of Hair, it worked, simply because it never took itself too seriously.  When the true, evil origins of a balding man’s newfound source of hair are revealed, it’s absolutely silly, and definitely dumb, but it was blunt and hilarious.  Stacy Keach also acts the fuck out of this segment, doing a great balancing act between purely comedic and just downright pathetic.  He’s absolutely on-point in this story and he’s the reason it works.  Watch for the scene where he’s admiring everyone else’s hair–including a dog’s–while his is combed over into oblivion.

Though the movie is called John Carpenter’s Body Bags, the last, and best, story was directed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper.  Starring, of all people, Mark Hamill, Eye tells the story of a professional baseball player who loses his eye in a car accident.  Not wanting to lose his career, he jumps at the opportunity for an experimental transplant.  Of course, it goes badly.  The eye, you see, belonged to a serial killer, and he begins to see things the killer saw.  He begins emulating the killer’s behavior.  It’s a familiar story–the thing belonging to the killer makes a good man bad–and the ending is totally obvious from a mile away, but it’s well told.  Sometimes it’s not so much what something’s about, but how it’s told.  Mark Hamill is great in it, going against his image, and the story is so pleased with how grotesque it is.  It’s like a giddy kid having a laugh with something absurd.

All around, Body Bags is one of those movies that’s probably perfect for the Halloween season.  It’s not great horror (does it have to be?), but it’s so much goddamned fun.  And it has an amazing cast; beyond those I’ve mentioned above, it has Debbie Harry, David Warner, Twiggy, Roger Corman, Charles Napier, George “Buck” Flower and Greg Nicotero in small roles.

John Carpenter’s Body Bags was released on blu-ray recently by the Shout! Factory.  If you have a Roku or a compatible streaming service, you can download the Shout! Factory streaming app, and on it you’ll find a lot of good stuff, this movie included.  So, go for it.  I say you should watch it.  If you disagree, you can punch me in the mouth.

[author’s note: you may not punch me in the mouth]

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