In a bold creative move, horror masters John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper collaborated on a horror anthology and then apparently said, “I don’t know, how about we just have fun with it?” This is not nearly the masterpiece these two could have produced together, but there’s a palpable sense of enjoyment behind it that makes up for a lot. It’s like Tales from the Crypt redone as a campy hangout movie. We’ve got a ghoulishly gleeful John Carpenter as the host: swanning around a morgue, chewing the scenery, drinking formaldehyde martinis, and telling us the stories of the corpses in the body bags. We’ve got Mark Hamill doing a thick Southern accent for no good reason. We’re having a good time.
The first segment, “The Gas Station,” is the best and most effective: a reasonably tight horror-thriller with a good hook and a great, thorough use of a very specific setting. After the hoary old chestnut of a “this psychopathic killer has escaped and is on the loose!” radio announcement, Anne (Alex Dratcher) clocks in for the first shift of her new job: working nights in a gas station booth. While her eventual run-in with the escaped murderer is inevitable, Carpenter (unsurprisingly) does a nice job building the tension as Alex eyes the night’s customers for potential psychopathic tendencies. It’s like a whodunnit that slowly warps into a slasher.
“Hair” is another Carpenter story, a more openly satirical piece where Stacy Keach plays a man deeply demoralized by losing his hair; no matter how much his girlfriend reassures him, he’s convinced that everyone is as bothered by it as he is. He pursues an experimental treatment that promises to give him a “stallion”-like mine–and, unlike most other infomercial products, it lives up to its promise. He looks like he should be on the cover of a ’70s romance novel, and his girlfriend becomes sexually obsessed with him and convinced that he’s going to start cheating on her. There is, of course, a catch, one that emerges slowly and with a fair amount of body horror that’s decently disturbing as well as kooky.
Tobe Hooper handles the final segment, “Eye,” featuring Mark Hamill as Brent, a homespun, nice guy baseball player who could be on the verge of moving up to the major leagues … until a car accident robs him of the sight in his right eye. Brent, like Keach’s character, accepts an experimental transplant: he’s given a dead man’s eyes. In a particularly dusty, creaky twist, it turns out that his eye came from a serial killer, and now–gasp!–he’s seeing visions of the killer’s victims and getting possessed by his murderous urges. While this is thoroughly predictable even for an anthology that doesn’t specialize in originality, Hamill’s bizarre Southern-fried accent is an entertaining character in its own right, and the segment musters some genuine and gory darkness.
A lot of the charm, however, is in the Carpenter-headlined frame story, where the guy just seems to be having a ball and doing his best to invite us to the party. He sets the right tone for this display of morbid goofs, to the point where if you don’t like his introduction, you’re safe turning the movie off then and there, and if you do, you’re fine to stick around. More movies should inform you from the start whether or not you’re going to enjoy them.
Body Bags is now streaming on Peacock, Vudu, Shudder, Pluto, and Freevee. It’s available on so many platforms that it may well already be inside your home.