Even though most of my childhood was filled with an array of films from John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, Body Bags isn’t a film that I was really all that familiar with. I had borrowed a VHS copy of it from a friend in early 1994 and the tape broke about 15-20 minutes in, so when it came time to finally get myself fully-acquainted with it, I was game for anything, especially considering the level of talent involved all-around.
While the new release of Body Bags on Blu-ray is definitely a fun watch- a cavalcade of who’s who in horror cameos and Carpenter’s performance as the wrap-around segments’ host “The Coroner” being the real highlights of this anthology- the movie itself is an oddball mix that didn’t wholly connect with me.
Body Bag’s first installment, “The Gas Station,” is easily the best of the bunch- the story follows a young co-ed named Anne (Alex Datcher) who is starting a new part-time job working overnights at a remote gas station on the outskirts of Haddonfield (of course) in order to pick-up some extra cash. Unfortunately for Anne, there also happens to be a serial killer on the loose (we are talking about Haddonfield, after all) and soon after she begins her first shift, she realizes that all her psychology studies aren’t able to help her once she comes face to face with the demented killer who wants nothing more than to make her his latest victim.
“The Gas Station” has a pretty decent set-up to it and the reveal itself is inspired, feeling much like a story you’d tell around a campfire with friends one night, which is something you could probably say about almost all of Carpenter’s early films (it also reminded me of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books I used to read as a kid). My biggest issue with the story is that Carpenter never fully takes advantage of the super-creepy premises he has at play (remote location, girl in peril, claustrophobic setting), instead focusing mostly on the set-up of his killer more so than anything else and then rushing through his reveal in the segment’s final act which felt oddly paced in comparison to all that preceded it. I mean- why toy with the idea our heroine can lock herself out of where she could be safe if only to give her some keys a few minutes later? That’s just one example of an idea in the script that seemed to be leading up to something, but ultimately didn’t.
That’s not to say “The Gas Station” isn’t a helluva ton of fun though. The very sight of Wes Craven playing a drunken creepazoid is pretty much reason enough to give Body Bags a watch alone and even a young Sam Raimi pops up in this one for a fun little moment as well. That being said, I just wish “The Gas Station” played up more of the creepy elements it had to offer rather than just focusing mostly on a quick “hack and slash” chase at the end that doesn’t give its villain nearly enough time onscreen either. As a long time fan, I would say this is the first time I’ve ever thought a Carpenter project needed to even out its pacing, but alas, such is the case here.
Body Bags’ next segment, “Hair,” was also directed by Carpenter and couldn’t feel more different than his other contribution to this anthology. It stars Stacy Keach as an aging schmuck named Richard who’s caught up in his receding hair line so deeply that he resorts to drastic measures in an effort to gain back some of his “manhood.” While channel surfing one night, Richard discovers an experimental hair treatment procedure infomercial hosted by Dr. Lock (David Warner), who not only promises he can grow anyone’s hair back, he even gives his own “I’m not only the president but I’m also a client” spiel that undoubtedly wins the desperate Richard over.
While much more of a farce than a scare-fest, I really enjoyed how Carpenter had a little fun on “Hair”, allowing Keach to play totally against type and making Debbie Harry into a super hot (and super weird) nurse that seems to have an answer for all of Dr. Lock’s patients.
Again, there’s an odd flow to the story as “Hair” takes an awful long time to get to the payoff and then everything after that point feels needlessly rushed. Keach and Warner (two all-time great performers) definitely make this worth watching even if it’s not exactly a home run for Carpenter.
Speaking of home runs (see what I did there?), Body Bags’ third story comes from Tobe Hooper who ties things up with his segment, “The Eye,” which follows a minor league baseball player named Brent (Mark Hamill) who gets blinded during a car crash, destroying any chances he had on ever getting to move up to the major leagues. That is, until he meets a brilliant surgeon (John Agar) who tells him there’s a highly experimental surgery (aren’t they always?) where he can get a donor eye to replace his own defunct eyeball. Of course, Brent never bothers to find out where this eye happened to matriculate from and after his surgery is deemed a success; he begins to experience gruesome visions and exhibiting bizarre behavior.
There’s no denying than Hamill isn’t something of a beast in his segment of Body Bags- it’s by far the most terrified I’ve ever been of Luke Skywalker and I applaud him for taking on such risky material. Too bad the rest of the story didn’t quite live up to his performance because I think I disliked “The Eye” the most- it glossed over too many details too quickly and the resolution of the story didn’t feel on par with Hooper’s build-up. It has some fun little moments to it too (cameos by Roger Corman and Charles Napier put a smile on my face), but it just wasn't my cup of tea at all.
All in all, I’d say Body Bags ends up feeling a bit more like “Freddy’s Nightmares” than it does “Tales From the Crypt.” You can tell everyone had their hearts in the right place, but the end product just doesn’t really deliver the goods the way you were hoping it would. Sadly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the time Body Bag’s conclusion rolled around, which is a damned shame considering the amount of talent assembled in front of and behind of the camera on this one. It’s definitely a fun film to revisit (or see for the first time if you missed it two decades ago) but ultimately, Body Bags doesn’t really have a huge rewatch value to it at all. Bummer.
Film Score: 2.5/5