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Body Bags: Collector's Edition
DirectorJohn Carpenter, Tobe Hooper
Release Date(s)1993 (November 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Showtime (Shout/Scream Factory)
It may be hard to believe today but one of HBO’s first big successes in original programming wasn’t The Sopranos or The Wire. It was the tongue-in-cheek EC Comics adaptation Tales From The Crypt. So it’s hardly surprising that rival network Showtime would want their own piece of the horror action. In 1993, they gave a green light to Body Bags, a three-part anthology from genre heavy-hitters John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.
Carpenter himself hams it up as The Coroner in the linking segments, introducing the three stories. The Gas Station is a standard girl-in-peril story. Alex Datcher stars as a young woman working the graveyard shift in an out-of-the-way gas station, terrorized by a serial killer stalking nearby Haddonfield (nudge nudge). Stacy Keach stars in Hair, undergoing a bizarre hair rejuvenation procedure at the hands of David Warner that works all too well. And in Eye, Mark Hamill plays a minor league baseball player whose experimental eye transplant results in some Hands of Orlac-style complications.
Body Bags is a bit of an odd duck in Carpenter’s filmography. It feels almost as if Carpenter knew the material wasn’t all that fresh, so he might as well try to make it fun for horror fans, if nobody else. To that end, he casts a bunch of familiar faces, some expected (Robert Carradine, David Naughton, Warner, Hamill), some less so (Sheena Easton, Deborah Harry, Twiggy and Tom Arnold), and peppers in lots of cameos by fellow horror filmmakers (Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman and Hooper all turn up). It’s a little distracting, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the stories themselves are pretty routine.
Hair is the stand-out, benefitting from an engagingly nutty premise and a go-for-broke performance by Stacy Keach. Good performances also help elevate The Gas Station, as does the fact that Carpenter could competently film a stalker story like this in his sleep. As for Eye, it’s the darkest of the three stories and Tobe Hooper works his way around the material well enough. But there aren’t any real surprises here, so a sense of humor might have helped liven it up a bit.
Body Bags hasn’t been in print since it was released by Artisan (remember them?) way back in 2000, so there are likely quite a few Carpenter fans who will be thrilled to pick up Scream Factory’s new DVD/BD combo pack. This is a fine, widescreen (1.78:1) transfer of what appears to be the uncut version of the film. Presumably the movie was not in widescreen when it was first broadcast in 1993 but the framing looks appropriate and the movie looks a lot better than I’d remembered. The audio, presented in both 5.1 and 2.0, seems to suffer from a little distortion at times, especially early on, but it’s not bad. Extras include a three-part commentary featuring Carpenter and Carradine on The Gas Station, Carpenter and Keach on Hair, and producer Sandy King with moderator Justin Beahm on Eye. Carpenter’s tracks are chatty and laid-back, almost spending more time catching up with his guests than talking about the film itself. King’s track is more nuts and bolts about the project’s genesis, Hooper’s directorial style and that sort of thing. The featurette Unzipping Body Bags features new interview footage with Carpenter, King, Carradine and Keach. It’s a bit perfunctory at just under 20 minutes but it’s worth checking out. A trailer is also included.
Body Bags is one of John Carpenter’s least essential movies and I say this as a die-hard fan of the director. It often feels less like a real movie and more like Carpenter just corralled a bunch of friends together and happened to bring a camera along. It’s very much a “For Fans Only” project but if it hits you in the right mood, it’s kind of fun.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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