Zip Yourself in Tight!
This anthology film originally aired on cable channel Showtime, and features three different horror stories that are tied together in the most minor of ways—the corpses of at least one person who died in each story end up in the same morgue. Those corpses are given a cursory once-over by the demented Coroner (our horror host, John Carpenter), who then relates the tales to the viewing audience.
Overall, this is a formulaic but enjoyable film that is equal parts horror and black humor, although the humor occasionally falls flat, and our host’s incessant punning is far too reminiscent of (and not as entertaining as) the Cryptkeeper from TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Like most anthology films, the quality of shorts is somewhat uneven—that’s simply the curse of the format—but manages to hold together better than many others.
The first segment, creatively titled The Gas Station, is typical slasher fare that feels like a deleted scene from one of the URBAN LEGEND films. New employee Anne (Alex Datcher, PASSENGER 57, 1992) is immediately left alone for the overnight shift at a desolate gas station and every customer seems suspect in light of the news that a serial killer is operating in the area. Is she being stalked or is she merely being paranoid? This is a horror film, so I’m sure you can deduce the answer.
It’s a decent enough watch, but doesn’t bring anything new to the proceedings aside from an admittedly interesting locale—and as someone who used to work late and alone in a rather desolate gas station, I can attest to the accuracy of isolation and weirdos depicted here. Gas Station was directed by John Carpenter, and gives a nod to fans of his HALLOWEEN by having the story unfold just outside of Haddonfield.
This segment also features Robert Carradine (CANNONBALL, 1976; ORCA, 1977; the REVENGE OF THE NERDS films) as gas station attendant Bill; familiar-face Peter Jason (THEY LIVE, 1988; IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, 1994) and Molly Cheek (the HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS television show; the AMERICAN PIE franchise) as a drunk and obnoxious couple; David Naughton (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, 1981) as Pete, a particularly-debonair customer; Lucy Boryer (DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D.) as Anne’s roommate Peggy; and cameos by Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and George “Buck” Flower (who plays a homeless man, naturally).
The second segment is called Hair, but has nothing to do with hippies and is decidedly not a musical. Middle-aged Richard Coberts (Stacy Keach) is extremely self-conscious about his receding hairline, despite the fact that his girlfriend Megan (1980s pop star Sheena Easton) obviously loves him, expanding forehead and all. After the toupees, Hair-in-a-Can, and other assorted quick-fixes fail to work, he stumbles upon the services of Dr. Lock (David Warner, THE OMEN, 1976), and Richard has a full, flowing mane by morning. The only problem is, it just won’t stop growing.
There’s an underlying humor throughout most of the film, but this is the most outright humorous of the segments. This one tends to be a fan favorite (for myself included), and it’s also the most original. Stacy Keach does a solid job, going from the morose middle-ager to being downright giddy when he discovers that he suddenly has locks like a supermodel. The scene where one of his hairs crawls across the floor of its own volition always creeped me out as a youngster, but unfortunately the grand reveal just comes across as a bit too silly.
Also to be found in Hair: fashion model Kim Alexis strutting her stuff; SFX maestro Greg Nicotero walking his pooch; and rock star Deborah Harry of Blondie fame as a delightfully flirtatious nurse.
The final segment is called Eye, and revolves around minor league baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill) whose rise to the majors hits a speedbump when he loses one of his eyes in a car accident. Fortunately, Dr. Lang (western and B-movie regular John Agar) is willing to attempt an eye transplant, which turns out to be a success—aside from the bloody hallucinations that Brent begins to suffer from, and his growing desire to make them a reality.
Mark Hamill does a pretty decent job for the most part, but he really hams it up on occasion. This is the goriest of the segments, with a good shot of an eye-gouging and a dismembered hand in the garbage disposal…if that’s the sort of thing that you’re into. There’s a long history of transplant terror films, and while most of them revolve around hands or arms, an eye isn’t completely unheard of either. Luckily, BODY BAGS predates many of the eye-centric horrors, so it doesn’t feel as if it’s retreading too much territory.
Other appearances in Eye include fashion model icon Twiggy as Brent’s wife Cathy; Roger Corman as Dr. Bregman; and character actor Charles Napier (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, 1970) as the baseball team manager.
Following the telling of these three tales of terror, the Coroner crawls into a body bag and zips it up—he was actually a living cadaver this entire time—before proceeding to be worked over by two actual morgue attendants (the unlikely pair of Tobe Hooper and Tom Arnold). Too bad there wasn’t a fourth story, perhaps a brief coda during the credits, that showed how he ended up there.
The entirety of the film was written by screenwriting duo Billy Brown and Dan Angel, who must have enjoyed the abbreviated horror format, as they continued to work in the medium. Together they wrote a two-part episode of EXTREME GHOSTBUSTERS (1997), an episode of THE X-FILES (1998), and dozens of episodes of GOOSEBUMPS (1995-1998), NIGHT VISIONS (2001-2002), and THE HAUNTING HOUR (2010-2014). One hell of a team, these fellas.
I always found it odd that Gas Station doesn’t seem to fit in with the “body horror” theme that the other two segments bring to the table, though this was likely never planned as a themed film. In fact, it wasn’t even planned as a movie at all. John Carpenter had intended BODY BAGS as an anthology series for cable channel Showtime, but it didn’t pan out that way. What we have here is either the pilot film for that would-be series, or a stitching together of the only three episodes that were produced, depending on what source you believe. The project was begun as a direct response to HBO’s own TALES FROM THE CRYPT, whose producer Joel Silver had publicly made a comment insinuating that he was in it for the money, not for the art. This comment angered Carpenter and he fired back with this, claiming that BODY BAGS would be “a little stronger, a little more oddball.” In that regard, it’s difficult to say that Carpenter won. The strongest episodes of TALES FROM THE CRYPT beat out any of the stories in BODY BAGS, if only because they had nearly 100 opportunities to nail the formula.
But had BODY BAGS actually gone to series, who knows how the scorecard may have turned out?