Sunday, May 13, 2018

Body Bags (1993)

The Showtime TV movie Body Bags is a horror anthology in the classic style, featuring three independent stories, the first two directed by the great John Carpenter, the other one by the sometimes great Tobe Hooper, connected by a framing device in which Carpenter himself gives a somewhat dead looking guy the film credits as The Coroner and presents the tales cracking jokes that’ll make the Crypt Keeper look funny.

Tale number one, “The Gas Station”, concerns the misadventures of psych student Anne (Alex Datcher) working the night shift at the titular establishment. She has to cope with bad luck, strange customers, and a serial killer. It is the simplest story of the three, the sort of thing Carpenter could probably direct in his sleep, but it’s made with the slick hand of an old pro, and while it certainly isn’t Halloween, it is a fun way to get the audience in the right mood for the rest of the film.

The second segment, “Hair”, is the mandatory comedy bit, but unlike most comedy segments of horror anthologies, it is indeed funny. It tells the sad and tragic tale of one Richard Coberts (Stacy Keach), whose once copious mane of hair has begun to thin considerably – so much so that the word “bald” is beginning to rear its ugly head. Desperation and ridiculous attempts at solving his problem culminate in Richard following a TV advert into the hands of the conspicuously named Dr. Lock (David Warner) and his lovely assistant (Debbie Harry) whose treatment does indeed work wonders on Richard’s head. Unfortunately, it might not exactly be hair he now has to cope with.

“Hair” is probably the high point in Carpenter’s career as a comedy director, at least in so far as it is indeed funny (though how funny for those of you who aren’t middle-aged guys losing their hair like Richard and I, I’m not sure), has a friendly satirical edge and features a wonderful turn by Keach that gets the desperate ridiculousness of getting upset over hair, and the way this stands in for the fear of mortality absolutely right, while being very funny indeed.

Tobe Hooper’s segment “Eye” tells the tale of minor league baseball pro Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill). Mark’s always just on the verge of breaking into the majors (with probably his latest and last chance coming up soon), but things never quite go his way. At least, he’s happily married to Cathy (Twiggy), and seems a pleasantly down to earth guy. When he loses an eye in an accident, he agrees to undergo an experimental full eye transplant. As we all know, that sort of thing always leads to the new eye owner either seeing dead people or terrible visions from the life of the former eye bearer. It’s the latter in Brent’s case, with the added complication that he’s also increasingly being infected by quite a bit of the former owner’s mental state. That’s particularly unfortunate since the man in question was a serial killer and necrophiliac. Even worse, Cathy looks rather a lot like the killer’s type.

This last story is a properly nasty bit of short horror, with terrible things happening to perfectly nice people for no good reason whatsoever. Hooper uses his penchant for the grotesque particularly well in a handful of daytime visions that show the worst of the killer’s exploits, while Hamill portrays Brent’s shift from good man and husband to insane monster with just the right amount of scenery chewing. There’s also a truly upsetting scene in which Brent sexually assaults his wife while fantasizing about her being a corpse that makes this final episode an escalation from the EC fun of the Carpenter stories and the framing device into the realms of horror that hits a bit closer to home, and a bit deeper. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, it’s just not the typical way horror anthologies work.

As a whole, Body Bags is a fine example of its form, with Carpenter and Hooper showing themselves from their good sides, featuring a bunch of great performances, more gore and violence than you’d probably expect after hearing of its provenance as a cable TV movie, and a cornucopia of horror actors and directors in roles minor and somewhat larger.

No comments: