No conversation about great horror anthologies is complete without a mention of Body Bags, which premiered on Showtime on August 8th, 1993. The anthology featured three individual segments, two directed by John Carpenter and one by Tobe Hooper, and what’s interesting about the film is that it actually began its life as a pre-“Masters of Horror” TV series.
In the early ’90s, when “Tales from the Crypt” was kicking ass on HBO, Showtime decided to get in on the fun by launching their own horror anthology series. The plan, like “Tales,” was to tell new horror stories on the network every week, but the plug was pulled after just three episodes were filmed. Those episodes were put together to form Body Bags, a made-for-TV movie.
My personal favorite segment in Body Bags is the John Carpenter-directed ‘The Gas Station,’ which plays out like a Halloween film – it’s even set in Haddonfield, Illinois! The isolated tale centers on a young woman working the late night shift at a gas station; strange customers (including Wes Craven in a cameo appearance!) put her on edge, and then bodies start piling up.
Tobe Hooper’s ‘Eye’ is another gem in Body Bags, highlighted by Mark Hamill’s wonderfully insane performance as a baseball player who loses his eye and has it surgically replaced by the eye of a sadistic serial killer. The weak link of the anthology, if there must be one, is Carpenter’s ‘Hair,’ a sci-fi story about sentient hair follicles that lets Stacy Keach have a whole lot of fun.
But the best thing about Body Bags, actually, isn’t even one of the three segments found within it. No, the best thing about Body Bags, rare for an anthology film, is the wraparound.
In a stroke of pure genius, John Carpenter cast himself as the host of Body Bags, playing an undead coroner whose adventures through the county morgue serve to introduce each of the three stories. Carpenter’s nameless coroner is basically Showtime’s take on the Crypt Keeper; a friend of mine once described the character as “white trash Beetlejuice,” which is pretty perfect.
Cracking wise and drinking formaldehyde, the coroner walks through the morgue looking for the most mutilated bodies he can find, and the stories then tell of how those people ended up there. It’s a pretty brilliant framework for a horror anthology, and Carpenter absolutely steals the show despite his limited screen-time; it’s just so much fun watching him have so much fun.
Carpenter noted on the commentary track for The Fog, a film he has a role in, that he stopped casting himself in his movies because he realized how bad of an actor he was. But watching Body Bags, it’s hard not to wish, at the very least, for more of Carpenter in that particular role. He totally nailed it, bringing to the screen one of my all-time favorite horror hosts.
If only the Body Bags series wasn’t canned. If only.