Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper
Distributed by Scream Factory
That John Carpenter is a heavyweight of the horror genre should go undisputed. Though his recent output has been disappointing in both content and volume, the man’s filmography is full of enough classics to make most other “masters of horror” positively green with envy. Fortunately for fans, the director’s past works have gotten a much warranted spotlight shone on them recently, what with several reissues of his older works either just out on shelves or coming down the pipeline. And while most of these are the familiar heavy hitters we’ve come to expect from distributors milking the flashier titles, a few of Carpenter’s lesser known (but still worthwhile) films are now being brought to light for much deserved reappraisal.
Case in point – Body Bags, the 1993 TV horror anthology that boasted a solid cast of character actors and fun genre-related cameos, and a co-director in the form of Texas Chain Saw helmer Tobe Hooper. Presented as three separate tales, the shorts here are introduced by “The Coroner”, a Crypt-Keeperesque host played by Carpenter (who actually does a pretty great job, and whose vocal performance reminds one of a mix between Beetlejuice and Terrance Zdunich’s Graverobber character from Repo: The Genetic Opera). In fact, in addition to The Coroner’s presence, the entire film has an EC Comics feel to it in both look and tone (for the most part – more on that later).
The first short presented to us is “The Gas Station”, a tense little yarn concerning young college student Anne (Datcher), who settles in for her first night on the job at the titular filling station – all as a deranged killer is said to be on the loose in the area. Directed by Carpenter, “The Gas Station” is a fun and very well-made short, at least until it falls apart during its last few minutes. While the film is suitably tense throughout its first two-thirds, the less-is-more approach is abandoned for goofy antics and over-the-top splatter for its finale (which also does its initially interesting lead a disservice by having her act in the dumbest possible ways in order to keep the story rolling). Still, there’s a solid cast here (in addition to the very good Datcher, we also have appearances by Robert Carradine, Wes Craven, David Naughton, and Sam Raimi), along with some nice photography and a few fun nods to Carpenter’s Halloween.
Next up is Hair, the best tale in this collection which manages to capture that aforementioned EC Comics tone better than anything else featured here. Also directed by Carpenter, who masterfully juggles the story’s comic tone with the grislier aspects of this body horror tale, “Hair” focuses on Richard Coberts (a very good Keach), an aging man who hasn’t yet made his peace with going bald. After trying all sorts of quick fixes for this problem (comb-overs, spraycan hair, “reshaping” at a salon), Richard eventually gives a relatively new clinic a shot. Run by the charming Doctor Lock (Warner, great as always), the clinic offers superfast hair growth…at a terrible cost. This segment is a blast, featuring very funny performances and a bizarre finale with a neat twist ending (featuring…curious creatures, to say the least). Fun cameos here as well, including Debbie Harry and Greg Nicotero.
Last up is Tobe Hooper’s story, “Eye”. The grisliest and most straight-up “horror” of the bunch, “Eye” focuses on baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, damned good here), who loses his right eye in an automobile accident. Realizing that his career will be over with otherwise, Brent volunteers for an experimental procedure to replace his damaged orb with that of a recently-deceased man. The operation is a success, though Brent begins having terrible visions of murder and bloodshed – visions which appear to be driving Brent dangerously mad. It’s a well-made short, with good performances and some genuinely shocking setpieces, but its incredibly dark tone feels at odds with the previous two-thirds of Body Bags.
In fact, taking a step back from the entire film, one notices just how uneven this anthology is. Two of these stories are body horror tales with similar titles (“Hair” and “Eye”), while the other (“The Gas Station”) doesn’t fit at all. Two of these tales are fairly light in tone (the silly slasher shenanigans of “The Gas Station” and the humorous “Hair”), while the other is jet-black horror (“Eye”). If there had been more cohesion here from tale to tale, one imagines the whole might have been entirely more successful.
As is to be expected by this point, Scream Factory has done a great job in bringing this title to Blu. The image makes this film look far better than an obscure twenty-year old TV film probably should, while the audio is offered in both 2.0 and 5.0 DTS tracks (all the better to hear The Coroner’s groovy, if overused theme tune). And then, of course, we have a nice if light selection of bonus features.
First up, there’s an audio commentary featuring numerous participants throughout its running time. Carpenter speaks at length over the first two segments, with Robert Carradine and Stacy Keach stepping in for their respective bits. These are good talks, with Carpenter seeming a bit more lively here than he does on most other tracks. Producer Sandy King and moderator Justin Beahm take the reins from Carpenter for “Eye” (in lieu of director Hooper), providing a good overview of the disturbing short.
Also included is “Unzipping Body Bags”, a twenty-minute featurette boasting interviews with Carpenter, King, Carradine, and Keach (who provides a great story about the fate of a hairpiece he had as a younger man). Everyone discusses how the film came together, and how Showtime had wanted it to become an ongoing television series (to be produced in Canada and at a lower budget – both dealbreakers for Carpenter and King). Wrapping things up is the film’s greenband theatrical trailer. It’s a fun promo, but curious – considering that it was only ever meant to air on television.
While Body Bags is hardly Carpenter’s finest hour, it’s a fun little anthology that still deserves to be seen by the man’s admirers. Sure, it’s uneven, but it’s a mostly well-crafted film which boasts good performances, decent shocks and clever humor. If you’re willing to take a peek into Body Bags, here’s hoping you enjoy what you see.
3 out of 5
3 out of 5