Body Bags (TV movie 1993)
Mateo Keegan Burbano
5 October 2019
Body Bags is a made for TV horror anthology film written and directed by John Carpenter, of Halloween (1978) fame, and Tobe Hooper, director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). John Carpenter also stars as the anthology’s ghoulish host. Opening in a morgue, Carpenter’s host introduces and sums up the three stories in the film as he guides the audience in examinations of the corpses of characters from each of the stories. The framing device effectively gives the desperate stories connectivity, and allows for some entertaining black, Crypt Keeper-like humor.
The first segment, “The Gas Station,” is written and directed by Carpenter. Each of Body Bags three stories are similarly creatively titled. Alex Datcher plays Annie, a psychology college student starting her first graveyard shift at a gas station. Annie is a rarity in slasher films, she may be the first black female final girl. As Annie’s friend drops her off, the car radio reports that a serial killer is on the loose and his victims have been found nearby, off the highway. Annie takes over from the attendant, Bill, played by Revenge of the Nerds (1984) star, Robert Carradine. Carpenter populates “The Gas Station” with stunt casting. Legendary horror director, Wes Craven makes an appearance as a skeevy customer who sexually propositions Annie with an offer of sharing his car-bourbon. David Naughton of An American Werewolf in London (1981) is another customer, known only as Gent. Annie comfortably shares some flirtatious banter with Gent. Other star casting includes Sam Raimi, director of the Evil Dead films, who plays a corpse significant to the serial killer’s identity reveal. There are a few more fun cameos, including a number of Carpenter films regulars.
Left: Alex Datcher as “The Gas Station” final girl. Right: Robert Carradine as bloodied machete salesman.
Carpenter effectively uses a number of storytelling elements to heighten the tension. Annie is working in a standalone booth that automatically locks, for which she needs a key to reenter. The booth is cramped, and its window only offers her a view of the gas pumps in front of the gas station. “The Gas Station” shows just how scary nowhere gas stations can be in the middle of the night. The oppressive silence when no one’s there and the only sound comes from the hum of the electric lights. Transients bring jump scares as they pop out of nowhere looking for the bathroom key. Lights reflect eerily off the wet asphalt. People’s voices ring out louder and their gestures seem larger and more aggressive in the stillness of 3 AM.
Her first shift quickly goes to hell when she locks herself out of the booth. In the adjoining garage, she finds the transient in a pickup lifted on a forklift, his throat cut. What follows is a tense confrontation with the serial killer. The serial killer has messed with the wrong final girl is not a final girl. She’s not going down easily, nor does she need any rescuing. Gent shows back up, and intervenes, but Annie ends up saving him and gruesomely dispatches the killer using some of the nearby mechanical equipment. Don’t mess with a grad student working an overnight to pay the bills.
The second segment, “Hair,” is also directed by Carpenter. “Hair” leans hard into humor and satire about 1990s obsession with appearance and masculine sexual anxieties. Veteran actor, Stacy Keach, plays Richard, a middle-aged man dating a younger woman. He’s freaking out because his hair is badly thinning, though his girlfriend, Megan, finds him sexy as he is and tries to encourage him to accept his receding hairline. Richard refuses and, in desperation, attempts varied combovers, beauty products, and hair restoration tools. He goes to a renown LA hairstylist looking for a solution, who also tries to get Richard to accept that his hair loss isn’t the end of the world. He tells Richard, “You’re becoming a cue ball! Your head is going to look like a Christmas Tree lot in January.” Richard’s obsession with his thinning hair ends up pushing his girlfriend away.
Jilted and losing more and more hair daily, he responds to an infomercial for a miracle hair restoration program. The program’s doctor subtly emasculates him during the intake, implying that bald men are seen as weak, which is a good thing because Richard will no longer be seen as competition by other men, therefore avoiding potential confrontations. The doctor, aided by the sultry support of his nurse, played by music icon, Debbie Harry, easily convinces Richard to take part in an experimental hair restoration procedure.
Richard wakes from the operation with flowing, Fabio-length locks, and a renewed confidence and sexual vigor. In fact, the procedure works too well. His hair keeps growing, and not just on the outside of his body. He soon learns the miraculous hair loss treatment doesn’t use hair at all, but something more alien, something hungry. “Hair” is light on the scares, but hilarious in its skewering of male insecurities.
The final segment, “The Eye,” is directed by Tobe Hooper. Mark Hamill, with a glorious 80s stache, plays Brent Matthews, a minor league baseball player in the middle of a home run streak. He races home after his wife calls him with the promise of surprising news. He becomes distracted as he reaches for a cassette for the car radio (and people complain about driving and cellphones) and crashes his car to avoid a deer in the road. The accident results in the loss of his right eye. If you have any phobias regarding eyes, things penetrating eyes, and eye surgery, you’ll want to avoid this segment.
Fearing he’ll never play ball again, he eagerly agrees to try an experimental eye transplant using an eye from a deceased donor. If you know your horror tropes, you can probably see (a pun!) where this is going. At first, the surgery seems successful, but Brent begins to suffer from debilitating migraines and intrusive, disturbing visions.
He returns home from the hospital and his wife, Cathy, played by supermodel Twiggy, reveals her surprise; she’s pregnant! Brent’s new eye, a brown that clashes with the blue of his original eye, creeps out the wife. The tension in their sex life soon becomes the least of his worries as the eye starts showing him unpleasant visions of death and torture. The good old boy that he is, he turns to the Bible for comfort. But the Bible doesn’t protect him from the eye and the depraved and violent hungers of its previous owner. After confronting the doctor, and an obligatory scene of a library visit, Brent learns that the eye belonged to an executed serial killer (1991’s Body Parts, anyone?). Brent shrugs it off as, “Oh well,” and the next moment he tries to kill his wife. She pleads for him to turn back to the Bible, where he sees his name inscribed inside the front cover and is momentarily restored to his sanity. The story concludes with a pair of gardening shears, the deceased killer’s preferred weapon. You can probably guess what happens.
Body Bags draws to a close with the real morgue attendants, played by Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper, returning, and Carpenter’s narrator zipping himself back into his body bag. Body Bags does its best to entertain despite television’s constraints and limited budget. Unable to go full-on gore, the genuine frights during the film are scarce, but the filmmakers make up for it with plenty of knowing humor. The film is of its time, an early 90s still dominated by 80s fashions. The women have big hair and high wasted jeans. The men wear sports coats with huge shoulder pads and show off plenty of chest hair. Carpenter, with his long, thinning hair and lanky frame, makes for a suitably creepy narrator. The actors seem to be relishing their roles. Keach convincingly plays against type as a man insecure in his masculinity. Carradine and Hamill seem to be loving the chance to fully commit to their evil turns. Overall, the film is an enjoyable capsule of its times.
3.5 out of 5 human viscera filled body bags
Body Bags is available to stream on Shudder