FANGO Flashback: “BODY BAGS”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
For any horror fan, the ‘90s can be a point of contention in the genre’s history. While the decade has produced some truly excellent fright fare, the decade didn’t quite find a popular groove in the genre until the post-SCREAM slasher boom, with many of the successive entries falling upon retrospective scrutiny. Yet potentially most damning about the ‘90s to fright fans was that many of the ‘80s horror masters found themselves marginalized and alienated by the studio system. And it was with that disdain that John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper fled to Showtime to set up shop with for televised terror, only to wind up with one of their most underrated titles to date: BODY BAGS.
With Carpenter sporting a rare on-screen appearance as the show’s pun-savvy host, aping the likes of The Cryptkeeper, BODY BAGS was the product of a canceled anthology series that later was assembled into a TV-movie. With a star-studded cast and more cameos than you can shake a fist at- including filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Wes Craven and Roger Corman- BODY BAGS’ debut on Showtime has defined the film as one of the harder-to-find titles in both filmmaker’s oeuvre, at least until Scream Factory gave it a proper Blu-ray release two years back. And while BODY BAGS isn’t the scariest or even most fun project for either filmmaker, the film makes for a hell of a good time, offering a trio of terror tales that offer the imaginative and twisted visions of the previous decade in spades.
The first segment follows a young, newly-hired gas station attendant who becomes freaked out by creepy clientele and an oddly ominous warning of an escaped mental patient. The second segment follows a self-conscious balding man whose desperation for perfect hair sends him down a petrifying path. And the third segment, directed by Hooper, follows a professional baseball player who learns that his eye transplant donor may have given him something much more haunting than the gift of sight.
Stylistically speaking, BODY BAGS offers something very unique from each filmmaker. The first segment provided John Carpenter with perhaps his most minimalist project in years, harkening back to the filmmakers brilliant use of space and atmosphere in films like HALLOWEEN, THE FOG and PRINCE OF DARKNESS yet with a post-slasher awareness to the proceedings. The second segment allowed Carpenter to venture further into comedy than ever before with arguably his best results to date, allowing Carpenter to play with both dialogue-driven human comedy as well as the over-the-top camp of the antagonistic elements. And the third segment took Hooper away from the colorful lighting and epic staging of his most recent work for something much more disturbing and grounded, allowing Hooper to produce his most visceral results in quite some time.
Furthermore, Carpenter and Hooper fill BODY BAGS with top notch performers, many of whom liven up the proceedings with their committed takes on the material. The first segment offers a fantastic Alex Datcher opposite a phenomenal Robert Carradine as her eccentric co-worker as well as a solid David Naughton and even Carpenter vets George “Buck” Flower & Peter Jason. The second segment is anchored by a hysterical, brilliant turn from Stacy Keach as well as a surprisingly great Sheena Easton, a wonderfully wicked David Warner and a scene-stealing Debbie Harry. And the third segment features an exceptionally vicious turn from Mark Hamill as well as a strong turn from Twiggy as his tormented wife.
Overall, while BODY BAGS isn’t going to inspire one to sleep with the lights on, it’s perhaps the last time Carpenter and Hooper would have that much fun telling scary stories with old school tools and tricks. BODY BAGS provided a forum for Carpenter to explore his more comedic side as well as his tension-fueled early styling while Hooper got the opportunity to once again drop-jaws with a legitimately demented tale. And now that BODY BAGS is a bit easier to add to one’s collection, perhaps more horror hounds will give this anthology the acclaim it deserves.