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Review: Body Bags (1993)


I remember Body Bags. I remember reading about it in Fangoria and then seeing it on Showtime. I liked the second story the best but overall didn’t care for it. Haven’t seen it since then. I just watched it for a second time last night and now I like it. I had a feeling this would be the case after all these years.

Body Bags is an anthology movie comprised of 3 stories (The Gas Station, Hair and Eye) that was specifically made for Showtime by John Carpenter. The wraparound tale is about a dead “coroner” played by Carpenter himself who’s hosting shtick is similar to what The Cryptkeeper did on HBO’s long running Tales From The Crypt series. He clowns around with jet black humor and then introduces each tale:
“The Gas Station”—Haddonfield, 1993, Annie (Alex Datcher), a collegian, is starting her new job on the graveyard shift at a gas station. Over the radio as she’s being dropped off by her friend we learn a serial killer is stalking the town killing women. Christ, that poor town simply cannot catch a break ever since Micheal Myers cut a swath of carnage through it back in the late 70s. She quickly introduces herself to her departing co-working, Bill (Robert Carradine), and gets to work. Through out the night she serves various patrons, some are creepier than others but most are played by recognize stars. Wes Craven buys some cigarettes; David Naughton forgets his credit card; transient, and Carpenter regular, Buck Flower, needs to use the rest room; Peter Jason (another Carpenter regular) and wife show up to get gas, and Sam Raimi puts in two cameos: one in an Employee Of The Month photo and one as a dead body that falls out of a locker.

One of these men she’s recently met this night is the killer and it isn’t long before he reveals himself and the machete he plans to kill her with. The music, the pacing, the terror is classic Carpenter. I think this is my second favorite tale now. I even saw a couple of scenes Carpenter recreated from Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981).

“Hair”—Stacey Keach plays Richard Coberts (IMDB says his last name is Coberts but in the actual movie it sounds like they say Kobritz, which is the last name of the ill-fated babysitter in Carpenter’s The Fog) losing his hair and simply cannot stand it. Megan (Sheena Easton), his girlfriend, is constantly frustrated as well by his desperation for a solution. Richard comes across a commercial where a Dr. Lock (David Warner) claims he has the perfect solution. Richard pays him a visit, gets his head treated and wakes the next morning with incredibly long hair. There’s a catch, though, and its one that has already sealed his fate.

This was always my favorite of the three tales. It’s kind of similar to Carpenter’s own They Live (1988) where the aliens are already here on earth. In “Hair” they come in the form of the hair itself, which when inspected up close with a magnifying glass look like snakes brought to glorious life by Jim Danforth’s (Equinox) stop motion animation. This animation was so smooth for a minute I thought I was looking at some really early CGI.

“Eye”—This particular tale was my least favorite. Directed by Tobe Hooper it fits in nicely with The Hand (1981) and Body Parts (1991), with a basic plot that is pretty much identical to those two movies. A “family man” gets into a car accident, loses an appendage and then gets a new one grafted on to him, but the new one comes from a serial killer and that “evil cell memory” infects the man and influences him to do evil things. In this case that “family man” is Brent Matthews a professional baseball player who loses his right eye one night in a car accident. A couple of doctors played by Roger Corman and the late John Agar (Tarantula, Creature From The Black Lagoon) give him an eye transplant. Said transplant comes off successfully but he’s plagued by horrific visions of being a child abused, dead bodies appearing in the dirt in his backyard, body parts grinding up in the garbage disposal and sex with his pregnant wife that turns into the rape of a corpse.

A confrontation with Agar and research at the library reveals his eye came from a serial killer, but this does nothing to help him. His decent into madness becomes total at the end, with one final act of redemption. If thine eye offends thee pluck it out . . .

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p High Definition 1.78:1 widescreen—5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio—English only subtitles
Body Bags hits DVD and blu-ray in a combo from Shout Factory through their Scream Factory sub-label and the transfer looks real nice. The audio is where I had a problem. It has the same problem as Retromedia’s Octaman (1971) release. I listen to all my movies through cordless headphones and through them I could hear occasional pops and cracks. The overall crispness was not very good either. The 5.1 audio was basically the lesser of the two evils. Listening to it through the TV’s speakers, however, did not reveal any problem, as was also the case for Octaman. They are minor and don’t totally detract from the viewing the experience, but having said that you can’t help but notice them.

Extras include a very good commentary with Carpenter and Robert Carradine on Gas Station, Carpenter and Stacey Keach on Hair and Justine Beahm and producer/Carpenter’s wife, Sandy King on Eye. Augmenting this commentary is a 20:08 doc titled, ‘Unzipping Body Bags.’ Mark Hamill’s two cents, however, was sorely missed on the commentary and the doc.

Highlights of both commentary/doc was that Showtime wanted Body Bags to be a series but they didn’t want to spend the money Carpenter said he would need to make it something of quality; Rick Baker’s hands shake when he has too much coffee; Carpenter enjoyed his acting stint as the “coroner” host, and Sandy King reveals that she and Carpenter are working on a PG-13 version of Darkchyld.
You also get Body Bag’s “theatrical trailer.”

Like Saturn 3, which I just reviewed, and initially didn’t care for until now, Body Bags is a noteworthy entry in Carpenter’s career, coming in between Memoirs Of An Invisible Man (1993) and In The Mouth Of Madness (1995).

One last thing, Scream Factory’s version marks the first time the Uncut version has hit home video. As King states in the commentary it got edited for its overseas release and that release just carried over to the US. But if you saw it on Showtime you already saw the uncut version. Most of the edits were made in the “Eye” segment.