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30 Years Later, Body Bags Is Still a Macabre Delight from Two Horror Masters
John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper's horror anthology film is still creepy fun after three decades.
The 1980s formed a new boom for the horror anthology. Spurred by the success of films like Creepshow, television anthologies of scary stories began to make a big impact, particularly amid the rise of cable networks. We got Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, and eventually the success spilled over into the 1990s with things like Are You Afraid of the Dark?. It was a very good time for horror creators to roll up their sleeves and work on some short-form scares, and it gave us a lot of gems, including a few your probably haven't seen.
Body Bags, the 1993 film from horror legends John Carpenter (Halloween) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), falls into the realm of these underseen treasures from the post-Creepshow anthology boom. Picked up by Showtime as a potential vehicle for a new anthology series that would air on the network, the concept was eventually dropped in favor of a single TV movie, and unless you saw it when it aired in '93, you might not have ever taken time to experience this particular gem. Now, though, Body Bags is turning 30, and thanks to the rise of streaming (it's on Peacock right now), it's gaining new fans all the time. That's a very good thing, because while it never made it to series, Body Bags remains a delightful, blackly comic journey courtesy of two of horror cinema's brightest lights.
Why you should revisit John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper's Body Bags
While it certainly retains a lot of the same comedic tone as things like Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt, one thing that immediately sets Body Bags apart is the rare presence of John Carpenter in front of the camera. The framing story for each of the three dark tales contained in the film is, as the title suggests, a morgue attendant unzipping a series of body bags, then revealing the strange fates of each corpse. To pull this off, Carpenter (with some help from cameos by Tobe Hooper and Tom Arnold) takes on the role of the lead morgue attendant, a gallows-humor-loving ghoul who never passes up the chance to make a corpse or a body part into a gag. Despite rarely working as an actor, Carpenter absolutely nails the performance, giving off working class monster vibes while still carrying some of the delightfully over-the-top flair of characters like The Cryptkeeper.
Then there are the segments themselves, which summon a wide variety of guest stars ranging from Mark Hamill to Stacy Keach to Sam Raimi. Narratively, they're fairly straightforward, and if you've watched horror-comedy anthologies before you sort of know what to expect. One is about a gas station attendant (Robert Carradine) stuck at a creepy all-night spot; another is about a man (Keach) who takes a hair growth treatment gone horribly wrong; and still another is about a baseball player (Hamill) who receives an eye transplant from a murderous donor. You can guess where a lot of this is going even before the stories start to unspool, and while that might be a problem for some viewers, it's certainly not a problem for the horror faithful who love indulging in these kinds of formulas.
And indeed, what makes Body Bags special is the way it chooses to play with those formulas, in the same way the Creepshow TV series over on Shudder has gotten a lot of mileage out of working through familiar ideas in new ways in recent years. The one-two punch of Carpenter and Hooper in the director's chair means that the film is always rendered in a stylistically dynamic way, and while Carpenter's technical skills and methodical approach are always on hand, Hooper's wicked sense of humor and often chaotic horror staging style never stops shining through. They make a good pair for two guys whose films play very differently, and the result is an anthology with its own particular flavor. Sadly, that flavor was never replicated again, but at least we have this reminder that these two masters could work well together, and blend their sensibilities into something that's very fun to watch.
So, on the occasion of its 30th birthday, give Body Bags a try. It's not the most famous work from either director by a longshot, but time has shown it to be an essential in both of their filmographies.