Body Bags

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Sometimes  work doesn’t have to be work, y’know, and it’s always nice every now and then to blow off some steam by screwing around with some buddies while simultaneously getting paid for it. That’s the only conceivable reason I can think of for the existence of Body Bags, John Carpenter’s 90’s TV movie anthology that was put in place to try and spark off and become a rival to HBO’s Tales Of The Crypt that even went as far as to cast the director himself as “the Coroner” a chatty host to present the trio of traumatic tales. Of course, it didn’t lead anywhere, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had with its serviceable, but disposable stories and not only do you get a couple of John Carpenter directed stories, but for no extra charge you get a bit of Tobe Hooper too as he steps in a directs the third segment. Nothing like a buy one get one free deal, eh?

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After being introduced to each story by the cadaverous Coroner, the first segment is “The Gas Station” which sees young college student Anne starts her new job working the night shift at – you guessed it – at a gas station. Unnerved by reports of an escaped lunatic at large, Anne is shown the ropes by fellow employee, Bill and if left on her own to fend for herself as a procession of various men turn up for gas who may or may not be the maniacal killer. Is it the creepy businessman (actually a cameoing Wes Craven), or the hairy transient who claims to want to use the bathroom, or how about the charming guy who asks her out (American Werewolf’s David Naughton), or the boorish middle-aged mouth? As Anna tries and makes through her shift, the killer is all but poised to make his presence felt.
In “Hair”, middle-aged Richard simply can’t adjust to the fact that he’s going bald and his obsessive attempts to hide his blurring hairline us starting to alienate his frustrated girlfriend. However, after spotting an advert on Television for a revolutionary new technique, he meets with Dr. Lock and before you can say “luscious locks”, he’s been gifted with a luxurious mane of hair which does wonders for his flagging self esteem, but soon he realises that these impressive results come with a horrible cost as his out of this world follicles turn out to be exactly that…
Finally, with “Eye”, we meet professional baseball player Brent Matthew’s, who’s promising season is horrifically cut short after suffering hideous ocular trauma after a car crash. However, after an eye transplant, Brent starts suffering disturbing visions of murder and mutilation (that’s what you get when your doctor is played by Roger Corman) and soon finds out that the previous owner of that new peeper wasn’t exactly a nice guy and his murderous urges are beginning to bleed into its recipient’s normally passive demeanor.

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Body Bags is hardly in the same league as the stone cold classics both Carpenter and Hooper are famous for, but then anyone truly expecting a made for TV anthology movie to stand toe to toe with either The Thing or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should probably be dialling back their expectations a little. Taken as two horror legends simply fucking around and having a bit of a giggle before their careers started to fade throughout the 90’s and Body Bags is actually quite a bit of daft fun made all the more enjoyable by the ungodly amount of cameos the thing manages to cram in. Be it the shameless shoehorning in of fellow filmmakers (not only do Carpenter, Hooper, Craven and Corman have roles but we also get Sam Raimi as a dead body), or the endless parade of cult personalities (David Naughton, Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, Debbie Harry, David Warner, Mark Hamill, Twiggy), there’s barely a minute that goes by when eagle-eyed viewers won’t leap forward, pointing at the screen like a DiCaprio meme as some other famous face drifts by.
But apart from the throwaway fun of this bout of incredibly violent celebrity spotting, are any of the stories actually any good – well, not really, but you get the idea that maybe they weren’t supposed to be and instead are camp variations of horror concepts that are as well worn as the Coroner’s dried out complexion. Weirdly, the best of the bunch is actually the least original with Carpenter’s “The Gas Station” acting as a basic stalk and slash as Alex Datcher’s game lead wanders he way around a scaled back Halloween clone that allows the director to exercise his long dormant slasher muscles. It’s gory and its brief and its hideously unoriginal, but there’s something genuinely special about Carpenter making constant, loving references to his earlier classic (the episode is set in Haddonfield – that town really can’t catch a break).

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Elsewhere it’s a decidedly mixed bag with Carpenter’s second entry, “Hair”, falling a little flat as it tries to emulate the camp lunacy of Tales Of The Crypt wholesale as Stacy Keach’s mid-life crisis leads him to inadvertently have alien follicles planted into his head. This is the director trying to inject a broader, EC Comics style into the film along with a goofy soundtrack and performances that veer on pantomime (I’m looking at you Debbie Harry), but it’s often hindered by the fact that it’s as funny as owning a puppy with explosive diarea, even if the plot is admirably bonkers.
The final story seems to suggest that maybe Tobe Hooper didn’t fully understand the brief, which is odd considering that out of control, ghoulish camp is often his speciality with memorable crazy-thons such as Lifeforce and Texas Chainsaw 2 creating their own brand of insanity. However, once Hooper gets his mitts on this rather standard version of the old “transplanted body part of a serial killer” plot, he turns in something that’s tonally way too serious compared to the previous two stories. All the squirm-inducing eye related trauma doesn’t exactly help, but certainly doing his part is Mark Hamill who strangely upsets the apple cart by actually being too good. Shifting body language and even accents as his villainous eye begins to assert control, it feels like a performance that’s in search of a better platform. His switch between God-fearing baseball player to blonde hating, mother obsessed maniac is certainly more nuanced than Twiggy’s whimpering spouse who’d even test the patience of someone not being possessed by a serial killer’s eyeball.

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The whole experience is best summed up by how much you enjoy the deliberately toe curling performance of Carpenter as the host as he plays with body parts, makes severed heads kiss and utters puns that makes the Crypt Keeper seem like David Chappelle in comparison. But that’s the point, it’s supposed to be silly (you hear that, Hooper) and anyone who puts way too much expectation on it might find that their sense of humor should be laid out on a slab next to the Coroner.
It’s fun, but these Body Bags are hardly zipped up tight.

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