Jumping right into our first Drive-In Review is something I call a “horror gem,” John Carpenter’s Body Bags. It’s one of those anthology flicks you probably forgot about but it’s well worth a watch. Does the Blu-ray offer even more scares? Read on fiends.
Starring: John Carpenter, Alex Datcher, Robert Carradine, David Naughton, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Mark Hamill, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper.
Directed By: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper.
Distributed By: Scream Factory
There is no argument that John Carpenter is a horror heavyweight. He has given us some of the most nightmare-inducing films of the past 30 years. Carpenter’s resume can easily make other “masters of horror” green with envy. Yet, lately Carpenter’s lack of content and volume in the horror genre has been…a bit lackluster. Thankfully the director’s past works have been getting attention, either that they have been re-released or in line for re-releases. Most of the films showcased in these re-releases are your typical Carpenter canon one would expect. Thankfully his lesser-known works are getting the light shown on them, some for the first time.
Case in point: Body Bags, the 1993 TV horror anthology that boasted a slew of horror talent in just over 91 minutes. The cameos run rampant in the film and it’s always nice to have a co-director in the form of Texas Chain Saw helmer Tobe Hooper on board to really get those horror juices flowing. 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 is one you must HEAR to believe). In fact, in addition to The Coroner’s presence, the entire film has an EC Comics feel to it in both look and tone so fans of that style will really dig Carpenter’s performance.
The first short we get to dive into is “The Gas Station,” a tense 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. Gotta love the fact that this story feels like one you would hear around a campfire. Directed by Carpenter, “The Gas Station” is a fun and well-made short, at least until it takes a nose dive in the films last few minutes. While the film is suitably tense throughout its first two-thirds, the less-is-more approach is abandoned for over-the-top splatter during its finale (which also does its initially interesting lead a disservice by having her act in the most idiotic 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. Now that’s some amazing talent!), along with some nice photography and a few fun nods to Carpenter’s Halloween. Keep on the look out for mentions of Haddonfield.
Next up is “Hair,” the best tale in this collection. It totally grabs that EC Comic feel and presents it in such a way that makes you wish you saw it on Tales From The Crypt. 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 (played very believably by Stacy 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, always a must see), the clinic offers superfast hair growth…at a terrible cost. This segment is a blast, featuring funny performances and a bizarre finale with a neat twist ending (Not M. Night twisty but crazy just the same). Fun cameos here as well, including Debbie Harry and Greg Nicotero. You’ll appreciate your hair a little more after you watch this, trust us.
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, amazingly good here), who loses his right eye in an automobile accident. Realizing that his career will be over without it, Brent volunteers for an experimental procedure to replace his damaged peeper with that of a recently deceased man. The operation is a success, though Brent begins having terrible visions of murder and bloodshed–visions that 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 a bit off kilter with the previous two-thirds of Body Bags.
Now for your favorite part and mine…Drive-In Totals!
4 Dead Bodies
Sledge Hammer Fu
And a ending that will really make you…bust a gut.
Some would say because of “Eye,” the film loses ground as a truly complete anthology film due to its darker, more edgy tone. With “Hair” and “Eye” you get body modifications gone wrong but then “The Gas Station” doesn’t even fit in with the rest of the films tone. That’s where people get confused and usually say the film isn’t good. We laugh at this since, to be honest, when has horror ever followed a set of rules? (Besides Scream, of course). Yet, one must admit that, if the first film followed in suit with the other two, we would have a more well-rounded picture. You be the judge ultimately.
As is to be expected by this point, Scream Factory has done a great job in bringing this title to Blu-ray. 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 tune). The bonus material here is pretty light but makes for a few interesting options.
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 commentaries, with Carpenter seeming a bit more lively here than he does on most other tracks. Producer Sandy King and moderator Justin Beahm take over from Carpenter for “Eye” (in lieu of director Hooper), providing a good overview of the disturbing short. Most would totally skip the commentary. But again, we’re TRUE horror fans so all the info we can squeeze out of release the better.
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…strange.
While Body Bags won’t be receiving its own horror convention anytime soon, it delivers what you would expect. A treasure trove of horror stars, great set pieces/performances, and a host that could give the Crypt Keeper a run for his money. Even though the film can be a bit uneven, we highly recommend you give it a go and enjoy the madness that comes with it. Dig up Body Bags and add it to your horror anthology collection.
- Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, and Actors Stacy Keach and Robert Carradine
- “Unzipping Body Bags” Featurette with Cast & Crew Interviews
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