Originally planned as an anthology television series for Showtime, 1993’s Body Bags features three unconnected short horror stories, each of which are introduced by none other than John Carpenter. Carpenter plays The Coroner, a Crypt Keeper influenced morgue worker who gets his kicks out of sharing the gruesomest stories of horror from the numerous cadavers that litter his pristine morgue. Of the three stories, Carpenter directed two – The Gas Station and Hair – while Tobe Hooper took the reigns on the film’s third and final segment, The Eye.
The Gas Station
Somewhere near Haddonfield, IL, a female gas station attendant, Anne (Alex Datcher), is stalked by a madman looking to make her first night on the job her final one.
The Gas Station is a straight-forward slasher film set in a remote location, and it’s the location that works as the most compelling aspect of this opening segment. I think anyone who has ever been to a gas station late at night knows how unsafe they feel, and Carpenter thoughtfully exploits that feeling in a way that is simple yet effective. Anne spends much of the segment inside of a small kiosk located next to the main gas station. While there is a slight feeling of safety and protection that comes with being behind a locked door, you know that she is never completely safe if someone really wants to get to her.
Throughout her first night on the job Anne deals with various customers, many of whom are played by a slew of familiar faces (something that carries on throughout the entire film). This includes David Naughton, George “Buck” Flower, Peter Jason, Robert Carradine, Wes Craven (who is thoroughly entertaining as an oddball), and even Sam Raimi, who shows up in an ‘Employee of the Month’ photo. These cameos might take away from the overall effectiveness of The Gas Station as a piece of horror, but they certainly add a level of amusement to the segment as well as the project as a whole.
Richard (Stacy Keach) is struggling with the fact that he is losing his hair and will do anything he can to reverse the process and regain his youth.
Much of Hair is relegated to Richard trying a number of techniques to give the illusion that he isn’t balding, which includes an ill-fitting toupée, a comb over and a spray-on hair type of product. After giving up all hope, Richard comes across a TV ad for a company similar to the Hair Club for Men. As a last ditch effort, Richard decides to give this company a try, and the results are quite impressive. In fact, within one night, Richard has a full head of hair so long and luscious, that everyone suddenly becomes completely enamored with Richard in a way they never have before – and Richard eats up every second of it. However, as you would expect, this amazing transformation is too good to be true, and soon Richard learns that his newfound happiness comes at a hefty price.
Hair is certainly the more comedic segment of Body Bags, but there is also an underlying message about the insecurity that comes with being a middle-age man trying to deal with the effects of old age. Richard’s reaction to his hair loss triggers a midlife crisis, something that many men his age go through when they begin to lose their hair and gain weight. Despite being a seemingly successful man with a beautiful wife (played by Sheena Easton), Richard feels severely insecure at the prospect of losing his youth. This is likely a result of the standards placed upon him (and men and especially women in general) by the marketing media that sends a message that your dick needs to be bigger and harder, you need a full head of hair, you must have a six-pack, and you have to own a nice car – and without these things you just aren't a real man, let alone a desirable one.
While that might be getting a little too heavy-handed for a segment in an anthology film, the value of Hair comes less from insecurity and more about how funny it is to see Stacy Keach with hair like Anthony Kiedis in the Under the Bridge video. It’s simply brilliant, especially with how perfectly Keach sells his newfound beauty throughout the segment. Truly joyful.
After losing an eye in a horrific car accident, Brent (Mark Hamill) receives an eye transplant to save his budding baseball career, but soon finds himself suffering from numerous visions of violence.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, The Eye is unquestionably the darkest of the three segments in Body Bags. The visions that Brent is subjected to are extremely violent, and it isn’t long before they shake up Brent’s mental stability. This results in Brent being unable to differentiate between the real world and the dark visions he is being constantly subjected to, which causes him to become violent towards his wife, Cathy (Twiggy).
While the story itself is pretty standard, The Eye is well executed and features a good performance by Hamill as man who's going completely insane. The dark tone of the segment brings a nice balance to the overall project, something of which is a necessity in any good anthology film.
Body Bags is bookended with some shenanigans courtesy of our host, The Coroner. The Coroner’s segments are brief but entertaining, and it's nothing short of amusing watching Carpenter hamming it up, especially since this type of performance goes against his laid-back nature as a person.
Body Bags isn’t at the top of the food chain when it comes to anthology horror, but it’s certainly not at the bottom. The numerous cameos from various horror icons and self-referential nature of the project show that Carpenter and company were there to have fun, and it shows in the final product.)