After the commercial and critical flop of Memoirs of An Invisible Man in 1992 (see The Flops of Chevy Chase) John Carpenter signed a deal with US TV network Showtime to produce a horror anthology series. It was quite a cynical idea on the part of Showtime and they were clearly hoping to replicate (and maybe even overtake) the success that, rival network, HBO were having with their show "Tales from the Crypt". So Carpenter set out and directed the first two episodes and roped in Tobe Hooper (Texas Chain Saw Massacre) to direct the third. However during shooting Showtime got cold feet about committing to a full series and put the show into turn around before any episodes had aired. The decision was made to salvage the footage by editing them into one 90 TV movie called Body Bags.
the first installment is called 'The Gas Station' which tells the story
of Anne (Alex Datcher), a college student who takes a job as a night
shift cashier at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Locked in her
glass booth she thinks she's safe but as the night drags on things get
creepy and customer start turning up dead. The second episode is called
'Hair' which sees Stacy Keach play a businessman who is
obsessively worried about his receding hair line. He goes to see a
doctor (played by David Warner) who offers him a new and experimental
treatment which at first seems like a success but soon becomes deadly!
And the final segment is called 'Eye' which sees Mark Hamill play a
baseball player who is injured in a car accident and has to have an eye
transplant. Not long after he starts getting murderous urges and is
forced to look into who the eye originally belonged to. Each segment is
bookended by an appearance by John Carpenter who plays a ghoulish morgue
attendant who enjoys cutting up dead bodies.
Any anthology movie
is tough to review because you're always going to get varying quality
between all the segments. Even the best examples of the genre like Creepshow have weak parts. It certainly doesn't help that Body Bags also falls
in between being a TV show and a
movie. As a TV show it's slightly above average but as a movie it's
pretty cheap looking and not very satisfying. I'd probably say that the
first installment - 'The Gas Station' - is the best of the bunch. I
think what makes it work is that it's a simple story all told in one
location and Carpenter throws in a ton of red herrings and misdirection
to keep your interest held throughout. You know from the moment that a
radio newscaster mentions an escaped mental patient is on the loose that
one of the gas patrons is going to turn out to be him but you never
know if it's going to be the obvious hobo-looking guy or the unassuming
'Hair' isn't too bad but it suffers from the fact
that it's played mostly for laughs. The only real horror comes in the
last two minutes of the episode when Keach realises what exactly the
hair treatment entails and even then it's pretty silly. Keach gives a
really good performance though as the balding
businessman. You really feel his frustration and impotence. 'Eye' is
probably the least of the three. The problem is the story is really
weak. It's obvious from the outset that Hamill's replacement eye is
(spoiler) going to turn out to have been donated by a convicted
murderer. So it's kinda of dull waiting 30 minutes for the lead
character to come to this conclusion too. That said Hamill does do a
good job when his character turns psycho. People forget he's actually a
very versatile actor.
The real reason you should
watch this is for Carpenter's segments inbetween each episode where he
plays the morgue attendant. These are a really fun and playful.
Carpenter's performance reminded me a lot of Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice.
It's got that same live-wire atmosphere. The attendant is a really
twisted guy and there's good 'reveal' about him at the very end of the
film that I didn't see coming. Also, it's quite fun to catch all the
famous cameos and in-jokes dotted around the episodes - Sam Raimi, Wes
Craven, Twiggy, Debbie Harry, Tom Arnold all pop up in tiny roles.
Another strong point is the gore used in the films. It's not frequent
but when people do die it goes way over-the-top. In one bit a guy gets
crushed by a car and rivers of blood come pouring out. It's insane!
Overall, Body Bags
isn't a great TV movie but it's a fun way of wasting an hour and half.
The major problem is that it's too focused on setting up a last minute
twist to all its stories that it forgets to actually be scary. I'm glad
Carpenter got back to doing theatrical films after this because TV
(especially a 30 minute TV show) really doesn't suit his style. If
you're going to track it down make sure you avoid the region 1 DVD from
Artisan. They cut a lot of the gore which makes the film far less
enjoyable. The VHS in the UK is completely uncut.