In a perfect world, John Carpenter’s BODY BAGS would have been a five-season series that served up Showtime’s answer to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. After all, this 1993 flick has Carpenter himself essentially playing the Cryptkeeper, complete with ridiculous puns and makeup that makes ’93 Carpenter look eerily close to 2019 Carpenter. Is his role a portent of the future, or merely a convenient way to unspool three screamin’ yarns with the bite of irony we’ve come to expect from your average horror anthology?
It should come as no surprise that Body Bags is exactly that. Now, without further ado, let’s stare right into the eyes of The Coroner as he whisks us away on a rotten roadtrip.
Of the three stories in Body Bags, “The Gas Station” is perhaps the most viable candidate for a full-length John Carpenter feature. It all centers on a woman’s first night working the late shift at a gas station. While she’s firmly locked up within the safety of the attendant booth, her first night also coincides with the news that a notorious serial killer is still on the loose.
As each customer pulls up to fill their tank, there’s the sneaking suspicion that one of them just might be the killer. This includes a cameo by Wes Craven as “Pasty Faced Man,” and the short even ends with a very dead Sam Raimi in a role that, were I to name it, would spoil the whole thing. If Carpenter had made this into a feature, he could have spent a good amount of time playing up the paranoia that comes along with a young, attractive woman working the night shift all by herself. I’d love to have the “which weirdo is a killer” theme stretched out over the first act and a half before settling into a slasher structure.
This doesn’t really factor into the plot at all, but I felt compelled to take a screencap of this excellent gas station bathroom stall artwork:
Though there’s no time for true dread in something like Body Bags, there’s plenty of it to spare for Stacy Keach’s Richard in the second story, “Hair.” In this short, Keach basically plays himself, assuming he also agonized over his own thinning hair and convinced himself his girlfriend hated the fact that he was most definitely going bald. That’s the position Richard finds himself in, so he’s got major hair envy every time he walks around town. ESPECIALLY when he passes by a very luxuriously-maned Greg Nicotero as he walks his equally luxurious dog down the street.
Bubbling with frustration, Richard finally takes the plunge and signs up with a new doc in town who promises stunning results without surgery, hair plugs, or ridiculous looking toupees. Sure enough, after one night with the treatment on his scalp and a bandage wrapped around for protection, Richard wakes up to find his own Italian Stallion dreams come true.
This is a horror anthology, though, so his flowing locks and the newfound virility that comes along with them don’t last long. Before you know it, he looks more like Danny Trejo than Stacy Keach, and he soon discovers the terrifying secret behind this particular too-good-to-be-true procedure.
Body Bags‘ big closer is director Tobe Hooper’s “Eye,” which has Mark Hamill playing a successful and somewhat surly baseball player a decade after he capped off the first Star Wars trilogy with Return of the Jedi. Seeing Hamill in this role will make you wish he got a chance to play more intense roles outside of animation, because Brent the baseball player really flips after his eye surgery goes sideways.
The surgery in question came about after Brent crashed his car hard enough into a pole to lodge a massive shard of glass into his right eye. His career in baseball may not be over just yet, however, because one of the doctors has a new experimental surgical procedure in mind that might do the trick. All it involves is transplanting the eye of a recently deceased person and wa-lah! His colleague, Dr. Bregman—played by none other than Roger “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” Corman—doesn’t seem as confident, but if it doesn’t work they’ll just remove the eye and go back to square one! Easy peasy. If you think this goes anything close to as planned, you’ve been sleepin’ through this whole movie.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Brent starts seeing gruesome sights with his new eye. Arms poking out of the garbage disposal, bodies emerging from the dirt in his garden below; the works. Meanwhile, his newly pregnant wife just wants him to be excited about the baby that’s on the way, but Brent ain’t havin’ it. He’s gone off the deep end, and “Eye” is all about seeing how far off he really goes.
Body Bags is a little gem of an anthology with simple stories and entertaining payoff. Carpenter is a bizarre Cryptkeeper stand-in, but you have to love his enthusiasm and his dad jokes, which are further proof that you can’t make a narrated horror anthology wraparound without overdelivered puns. You can experience these tales from the morgue for yourself on Shudder, or you can be truly bold and pick up the Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
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