John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper decided to team up in the early nineties to direct “Body Bags,” an anthology horror movie that tries really hard to be good but keeps falling just short. Maybe it was ham-stringed by the budget; it was made for TV after all. On that thought, what circumstances led to these two individuals of all people making television content in the nineties? If it was now, it would totally make sense but given the time period this was made it just feels like they’re slumming it. Or in the doghouse. Speaking of slumming it, let’s get going shall we?
(there are some spoilers below so avoid reading if you intend on catching this anytime soon. Not that the twists and turns are so hairpin they actually come as a surprise or anything, but just a word of warning if you prefer to go in completely blind.Onwards…)
Like any good anthology, “Body Bags” has a wraparound narrative with a character acting as a storyteller or host, in this case John Carpenter himself. Let me put this on the table; I love John Carpenter and pretty much all of his work. He seems like a cool dude I could smoke a joint and play video games with. Regardless of my feelings about the Halloween re-remake, I have massive respect for the man and his work. It has entertained me going on a few decades or so at this point and probably won’t stop any time soon. That being said, this man NEEDS to stay behind the camera, as his take on the “morgue attendant” host character is one of the hardest things to watch in this movie, and not in the good, questioning-my-life-choices-on-a-Friday-night kinda way. As well as providing the lulzy storyteller character, Mr. Carpenter also directed the first two installments in this movie, one of which is starkly better (if head-scratchingly stranger) than the other. Head and shoulders above the competition one might even say.
The first story takes place in and around a gas station and is imaginatively titled “The Gas Station.” It’s also the least interesting of the three stories in “Body Bags” so we can be thankful they got the worst out of the way first. “The Gas Station” is set just outside Haddonfield, Illinois which I’m pretty sure means we can confirm that John Carpenter beat Marvel to the continuous movie universe bit by at least a few years. This is the stereotypical serial killer on the loose story, minus my man Michael of course, but with a cameo’s from horror luminaries Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. The story sees the main character, a young woman named Anne, working the night shift on “the night someone came home,” paranoid that every person who walks through the door is the escaped serial killer that totally isn’t Michael Meyers even though John Carpenter is directing this. See how derivative this shit is? Why a slasher, of all the kinds of stories you could have told that you haven’t already? This question becomes even more pertinent in a few minutes. Anyways, this is the worst “Body Bags” has to offer and no one would blame you if you fast forwarded through to the next story, “Hair.”
Obviously, this short is the reason I found myself with this movie in front of my eyeballs in the early hours of the day. The gist of the story is as follows: A man goes in for a hair transplant and ends up infested with alien worms. Sounds great, right? I’m almost ashamed to admit here that I hadn’t seen this movie yet with a synopsis like that. Before going for his extraterrestrial follicle folly, Stacy Keach’s character tries a couple different hair replacement options, as you do. I never really understood the concept of shellacking your head with what seems to amount to spray paint with hairs in it (I was but a tiny nerd in the nineties, nary a bald spot in site, during the hair shellac halcyon days); did people actually think this was fooling anyone?
After exhausting his other options, a late night infomercial informs him of a new procedure and being at the end of his rope and desperate, he decides to have the procedure done. For some reason, he decides on what I can only describe as heavy metal thunder style hair which makes no sense at all for a character whose entire wardrobe has consisted of suits up until this point. Anyways, JC likes weed and I like JC so let’s just forget about this strange plot choice and move on. This heavy metal thunder hair quickly gets out of hand, and he wakes up the next day looking like Wolfman Jack’s long lost brother. Attempting to cut the hair off, he discovers that it’s actually a small, snake-like creature when it grows a little mouth and bares its teeth. So yeah, how the FUCK did I not know about this movie until now right? After discovering that his head is essentially covered in little alien Medusa snakes, he makes his way back to the doctor’s office because obviously they will be most forthcoming with an answer. As expected, we find out they are in fact themselves controlled by the micro-follicle alien worms, so this is essentially that episode of Futurama where Fry eats the egg salad sandwich from the truck stop and gets worms. The story ends with us staring into the hopeless eyes of the Stacy Keach before we move onto “Eye.”
I’m sensing a theme that got abandoned two-thirds of the way through here. “Hair,” “Eye” – both body parts, got it – but then “The Gas Station” which is decidedly anything but a body horror, at least by the terms I use to define them. Strange right, why have most of the movie follow a theme but not the whole thing? Might be time for me to hit up the Google machine. “Eye” stars Mark Hamill , is directed by Tobe Hooper and is the most serious of the three even if it does feel a bit samey to the story that precedes it. Hamill plays a baseball pitcher who loses his pitching eye (it’s a thing) to a Fulci-style stake through the eye. Somehow this doesn’t make his brain a stirred up milkshake-style mess, because storytelling.. They decide to try an experimental new transplant procedure as Hamill’s character is desperate for any option at this point. Mark Hamill soon becomes possessed by the eye, which is of course from a dead serial killer and necrophiliac. I mean , I guess there aren’t just spare eyeballs floating around out there or growing on trees (unless you are in Headless) so you kinda gotta take what you can get. While possessed, Hamill attempts to kill his wife and eventually ends up cutting out the transplanted eye but as a result, he bleeds to death.
Lucky us, we’re back with Uncle John to cap of the end of the movie. Turns out, our lulzy host was himself a body bag stuffer this whole time – so spooky! This movie has “Tales from the Crypt” and/or Darkside written all over it, minus a lot of the charm. Whether that charm was lost due to budget constraints or a lack of focus who knows, but “Body Bags” manages to entertain most of the time, even if it’s a little lost at time. I would have been interested to see a version of this movie where the body horror theme was realized and used properly, as these two are not names that come to mind when thinking of that sub-genre. Watch “Body Bags” for the alien hair story at least, because we can’t be friends if you don’t think that’s a fantastic concept for a movie.
– Scotty Floronic (@drunkgraveyard)