Body Bags is a grand experiment.
How many horror legends can we pack into 90 minutes?
Body Bags is a 1993 horror anthology film from the late Tobe Hooper, this time co-directing with John Carpenter.
It was originally a pitch for a new horror anthology series on Showtime. Which isn’t hard to spot. The movie is made up of three segments, but each segment is introduced by “The Coroner” (he also bookends the film). The Coroner is played by John Carpenter as the film’s version of The Cryptkeeper. And boy does his gangly frame, gaunt features and wiry hair fit the part.
Even the typeface of the credits looks kind of 90’s-era HBO, Tales from the Crypt-like.
The Coroner works in a morgue and makes morgue-type jokes, and the cadavers he works on link through to the three grisly stories.
The Gas Station.
This story is about Anne, a young woman who starts her first shift as the night manager of a gas station. The guy tapping out on days reminds Anne that there’s an escaped serial killer on the loose in the area, and also that she needs to she careful leaving the booth, because it locks automatically and without the key, she’ll be trapped outside.
Over the course of the story a variety of oddballs and creeps show up, and of which might be the killer. The oddballs and creeps are played by a remarkable number of familiar faces to horror fans including Wes Craven, An American Werewolf in London’s David Naughton, and Carpenter staples like George Buck Flower and Peter Jason.
The short is a super stripped-back version of a classic suspense serial killer tale. It works well enough, though it’s very clearly a made for TV short.
Richard (Stacy Keach) is a middle-aged man who is very upset about losing his hair. In fact, it’s all he thinks about — he can’t even enjoy date night with his rather gorgeous girlfriend Megan (Sheena Easton). His hair stylist does his best to cover it up, but in a hilarious sequence, he walks out and just sees long-haired ladies, long-haired gents, and long-haired dogs everywhere.
He buys a bunch of hair products — electronic treatments, ointments, balms, spray-on hair. But it’s all bunk. Until he sees an ad for a revolutionary new treatment and goes for a consultation. It’s a bit suspicious, though. They’re manipulative. They’re secretive about the techniques. And it’s run by David Warner, with Debbie Harry as a nurse.
This is a story very much written and directed by a pair of middle-aged men. As someone who had their first grey hairs appear at around age 20, and had the beginnings of a receding hairline by age 30, it’s something I can recognise.
But as a horror short? Even a comedy-horror short? I don’t know. It kind of reminded me of a less-inventive The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill from Creepshow. Where it’s all about the body turning against itself. Except that instead of a freaky sci-fi monster, Richard just turns into one of those Geico Cavemen.
Mark Hamill is Brent, a pro baseball player who ends up in a horrible car accident and loses an eye. Faced with the prospect of giving up on his career, he opts for an experimental total eye transplant surgery.
The surgery is a success, and there’s more good news —Brent’s wife Cathy (Twiggy) is pregnant. But then Brent starts seeing strange and horrible things. Dead women buried in his backyard, a bloody hand erupting from the waste disposal. He then starts having dreams about killing and raping women.
It seems that Brent’s new eye used to belong to a serial killer, and it’s starting to take him over psychologically.
It’s easy to forget just how great an actor Mark Hamill is. He’s forever associated with Luke Skywalker, but while watching Eye I never even thought of Star Wars. He really embodies the character of Brent and makes it his own, with the small amount of material and time available.
I like how Eye delves a bit more into the psychology of serial killers, and how those drives might manifest. Ever since watching My Friend Dahmer I’ve been reading about the killer, and some of the visuals in Eye are disturbingly accurate.
It’s strange that Body Bags features two different “transplant” stories, each with the name of the body part as the title. It’s like they had a completely different, more specific theme and then filled it out with The Gas Station.
The series was never picked up, and it isn’t hard to see why. While there are some fun moments, overall the segments aren’t much better than an average Tales from the Crypt episode. Seeing the constant procession of horror and other pop culture legends is a blast, though, and John Carpenter makes a devilishly fun pseudo-Cryptkeeper.