Leave it to Judge Patrick Naugle to find another reason to suck on the teet of the Boob Tube.
Zip yourself in tight!
Get ready for bone-chilling terror as director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) presents Body Bags! Three macabre tales of terror are dissected—or maybe it's drawn and quartered—by a creepy coroner (Carpenter) who shows off his newest additions to his dankly depressing morgue. Deranged killers, supernatural follicles, and a malicious eyeball are all part of the monstrously delicious fun! Say your prayers and zip yourself in tight for Body Bags!
Body Bags first premiered on Showtime in 1993, at a time when John Carpenter's career was still viable but beginning to ebb. Although it's one of Carpenter's only films not to include the header "John Carpenter's," the truth is that except for the final segment by director Tobe Hooper, Body Bags is a John Carpenter film through and through. There are three separate stories included in Body Bags, with Carpenter popping up (in one of his biggest acting credits) during the interludes to play a ghastly coroner who enjoys dining on raw meat and martini glasses filled with formaldehyde.
Here is a brief breakdown of each segment:
The Gas Station: The first entry is directed by Carpenter and boils down to being a cat and mouse thriller between a meek gas station attendant and a psychotic killer. Tension is wrought from the isolated surroundings (gas stations at night are always a little eerie), and Alex Datcher and the maniac killer (who I won't divulge here, though it's not hard to figure out their identity) are good if mostly perfunctory. In the pantheon of Carpenter's work, I wouldn't place this half hour of mild thrills very high; although it's competently constructed and executed, there isn't a lot to "The Gas Station" that separates it from the pack of other "crazy killer on the loose" films…which Carpenter himself helped to popularize.
Hair: This is one of the sillier and more bizarre entries in Body Bags, featuring Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) as a middle aged man who fears losing the rest of his already thinning hair. You really can't get much more ridiculous than seeing Keach fitted with long, flowing locks of dark hair, which make him look like an elderly version of Fabio. This entry is reminiscent of Creepshow's "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" where Stephen King's Jordy touched a slimy meteorite and started to become a living, breathing plant. A shifty David Warner (Titanic) and Blonde's Deborah Harry are the doctor and nurse who help Keach get his new lovely locks, to horrific effect. Keach seems to be having a grand time, and while "Hair" is certainly entertaining, I wouldn't consider it even remotely frightening; it is mostly dark comedy disguised as goopy horror.
The Eye: The final segment, directed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Tobe Hooper, features Mark Hamill (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi) as a baseball player who gets a brand new eye after a tragic car accident. You can probably guess what happens next: the eye seems to have a mind of its own, and everything goes haywire from there on out. "The Eye" feels the most horrific of all the entries, with Hamill sporting a southern drawl, Tom Selleck moustache, and some very weird contact lenses. Hooper is able to wring some quality scares out of "The Eye," including creepy imagery that will give you the willies. This is actually the most successful entry in the film, and ends on a sufficiently uneasy note.
Morgue Wrap-Around Segments: The four segments before, during, and after each story are basically John Carpenter playing his personal variation on Tales from the Crypt's cackling Crypt Keeper. Carpenter is probably the oddest thing in Body Bags, all sunken eyes and pasty skin. Truth be told, Carpenter makes a much better director than he does an actor; the coroner character needs an actor who can really cut loose, and the whole time it feels like Carpenter is actually holding back. He's not terrible, but he's not particular memorable, either.
One of the most fun elements viewers will find in Body Bags is that it has many winks and nods to cinematic horror. In the first segment we hear about some terrible murders happening in Haddonfield, which any genre fan worth their salt knows is the hometown of Halloween's Michael Myers. Famous faces pop up often, including A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven as a drunken derelict, filmmaker Roger Corman (the original Little Shop of Horrors) as a doctor, John Agar (Nightbreed) as a surgeon, and An American Werewolf in London's David Naughton as a gas station customer. Even Director Sam Raimi gets a nod as the gas station's ill-fated "Employee of the Month." Fans will also note the appearance of multiple Carpenter regulars, including Peter Jason (Prince of Darkness), Robert Carradine (Escape from L.A.), and Buck Flowers (They Live).
Body Bags is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. While fans will be thrilled to get this film on Blu-ray (seriously, who would have thought a one-off Showtime movie from twenty years ago would make it?), but the fact is that the transfer doesn't look amazing. Certainly the image looks very good with bright colors and decent black levels, but overall the picture is just sort of flat and uninspired. It's clear the film was made on a cable station budget, even eschewing Carpenter's trademark 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo. Much like the video transfer, this mix is serviceable but nothing exceptional. The track sounds mostly front heavy (not surprising considering it wasn't a theatrical release) and sports clear dialogue, effects, and a weird, jazzy music score by Carpenter and Jim Lang. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included on this disc.
This first ever Blu-ray edition of Body Bags features a few prime supplements, including a nice commentary from director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King, and actors Robert Carradine and Stacey Keach; plus a brief but interesting retrospective documentary ("Body Bags Unzipped"). Also included is a trailer for the film, as well as a standard DVD copy of the movie.
Body Bags makes for a rather goofy but fun Friday night horror-thon. As anthology films go, this isn't as good as George A. Romero's Creepshow, but it's better than Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. There are far better John Carpenter movies out there (The Thing, Escape from New York) and there are far worse (Village of the Damned); Body Bags falls somewhere in-between.
Worth a look, especially if you're a John Carpenter completist.
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