Halloween Scene Blu Review: Scream Factory’s Body Bags (1993)

body bags I love seeing horror movies that I’ve heard about over the years but never actually seen. I also love the TLC that Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint gives to films like that as far as presentation and special features go. So, as you might expect, I loved Scream Factory’s recent Body Bags Blu-ray.

Originally conceived as a Tales From The Crypt-like horror anthology series for Showtime. Body Bags features director John Carpenter as The Coroner, a creepy, pun-loving ghoul who opens various black bags in the morgue and tells the person’s tale. Carpenter directed the first two installments, “The Gas Station” and “Hair” while Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper came in and did “The Eye.” As with most of the horror anthologies I’ve seen — like Cat’s Eye or Creepshow 2 —  this one features two solid stories and one weaker one.

I loved “The Gas Station.” It’s about a young woman named Anne (Alex Datcher) working over night in a gas station in one of those small booths so she can take money and sell cigarettes. While there she encounters a few creepy regulars, a few nice guys and a bum-murdering adversary who wants to add her to his kill list. Carpenter does a killer job of making this whole thing feel tense and dangerous. There’s a scene where Anne locks herself out of the booth and has to go find keys in the main building. I got super nervous during this portion of the short. Then you’ve got the end where she actually faces the killer. It’s great how Carpenter never leaves the gas station and makes it seem both cramped and huge depending on the scene.

There are a lot of fear elements here, many of which are simply related to work. She’s new, wants to prove herself and also make herself seem super capable. This seems like less of a pride thing and more a need for cash to keep putting herself through school, which is super important to her. You’re also dealing with the claustrophobia of the booth which goes from safe zone to cage and the seemingly expansive space between it and the main building.

Sometimes with anthologies or shorter form horror stories, they feel like truncated films, but I thought this story was perfectly suited for this format and used the timing well. Too much longer and it would be filled with too many fakeouts and lose suspense, which it has in spades.

SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH I want to talk a bit about the killer reveal in this one. Carpenter set up several possibilities for the killer in the forms of various customers — including a super-creepy Wes Craven — but I’ve got to say, I never once thought it was going to be Anne’s fellow employee played by Revenge Of The Nerds star Robert Carradine. He got me there. Even though I didn’t recognize Carradine right away, I knew he was a nice guy and didn’t even think about him again  I also liked how Carpenter included a few nods to his other films like when Carradine’s character does the background sit-up Michael Myers style with Anne in the foreground.

I wasn’t nearly as interested in “Hair” which stars Stacey Keach as an aging rich business guy who becomes obsessed with his thinning hair. I understand that this is something that does get into peoples’ heads, but it’s not really on my radar. Anyway, Keach goes to Doctor Lock whose method for hair growth seems to work really well, so well in fact that hair starts growing everywhere. I won’t get into the end reveal, but I’ll say it didn’t do much for me. I’ve actually gone back and watched this segment with an eye for the satire of it all and enjoyed it a lot more. 

Thankfully, I enjoyed the third installment, “Eye” starring Mark Hamill and Twiggy. Hamill plays baseball player Brent Miller who gets into a car accident that leads to the loss of an eye. He gets a transplant, but soon comes to realize that this new organ might be a bit defective as he begins seeing morbid scenes some of which are genuinely spooky. As it turns out the new eye came from a misogynistic killer who starts taking over his body which doesn’t work out so well for his wife. This is definitely the darkest, most intense entry in the series as Hamill struggles for his sanity.

It’s funny, while watching the movie again with audio commentary, “The Gas Station” whizzes by. The first time I watched, I was so absorbed and freaked out that it felt like a feature. Carpenter also points out that he used a station out in the middle of nowhere so it would feel even more remote and lonely. He also pointed out a number of shot set-ups that add to the feel of the picture. Carradine also joined in on the fun. The pair caught up a bit and talked about a few other things, but mainly stuck to the story at hand offering lots of insider details.

Keach comes on and does the same for “Hair” and it’s a ton of fun listening to these two longtime pros talk craft. More than that, Keach says that this story was very personal for him because his parents always told him to wear his hairpiece in part because his dad thought he didn’t make it as an actor for being bald. They even went off on a bit of a tangent about zombie movies after pointing out effects artist Greg Nicotero in a quick shot which was a lot of fun. Listening to this track actually framed the story in a better light for me which will definitely make repeated viewings more fun.

For “Eye” Hooper wasn’t available, so producer (and Carpenter’s wife) Sandy King and Justin Beahm talked about not only his segment, but also some of the goings on behind the scenes that went into filming the various segments and how the movie came to be. This one’s a bit more dry, but still really interesting.

The last major bonus feature on the disc is a doc called Unzipping Body Bags. Carpenter and King get a little more into the background of the show, which started out as an anthology script that they presented to Showtime who bit. So, they decided to do the first one without much thought to anything beyond this first offering. Carradine and Keach also joined in on the doc, which adds a lot of depth to the proceedings.

I’ve been on a John Carpenter kick lately and this movie just continues to build my feelings of affection for this director who has such weird, great sensibilities that have resulted in some of the most fun, creepy and adventurous films around.

Halloween Scene: Village Of The Damned (1995)

Almost immediately after finishing Prince of Darkness, which I didn’t focus on as much as I should have, I popped on Village of the Damned on the NetBox. I actually didn’t even realize that this was a John Carpenter movie (I’m woefully uneducated about his films, it turns out). I do however have pretty vivid of this remake movies when it came out. Besides just boasting generally creepy commercials and comic book ads, I actually knew a girl at this time who was like one step above albino and had white-ish blonde hair. Even though she didn’t REALLY look like on of the VOTD kids, the nickname came up and she was cool enough to own it and diffuse it. Even so, I still thought about her when those creepy kids showed up on screen.

If you’ve never seen the movie or the 1960 British film its based on (which I have not), an entire small town blacks out and wakes up with some of the women pregnant. They give birth to babies who have mind control powers and wind up being something out of this world (not in a good way). The adults in town include doctor Christopher Reeve in his last role before his accident, Mark Hamill as the local priest, Kirstie Alley as an out of town doctor who knows more about what’s happening than she lets on. There’s also, of course, the mothers, none of whom I actually recognized.

I’m not the biggest fan of the killer kid subgenre of horror. Before I was a dad, I used to think, “Just take those kids out, how hard can it be?” In this case, it’s pretty tough and one of the ways I thought of while watching to get rid of them was brought up by a crazy janitor. Anyway, now that I’m a dad, I certainly don’t want to see any children killed on screen, even jerky, evil ones. This movie also handles that well and in such a way that didn’t bother me too much.

What impressed me most about this movie is how complex it is without going into huge expository detail about what’s going on. This isn’t Gremlins and there aren’t rules explained for dealing with these kids or how they came about. Their origins are interesting and fun to think about. There’s also a lot that’s hinted at about how crazy this town is thanks to the introduction of these kids. A lot is the same and yet pretty much everyone has accepted the fact that this group of children was spontaneously created and later born. It’s like a longer and bigger version of that Twilight Zone episode where the family is terrified of their kid who can send them to a cornfield, but in a great way.

As a parent, I put myself in the place of someone like Reeve or the other adults in this story and really am not sure what I would have done in that situation. Like I said, everyone knows what’s going on and yet no one really does anything about it in a smart way. Whoever the invading things are, they’re smart enough to use humans’ built-in desire to protect and care for children in order to get their offspring to live. It’s also interesting to think about what it says about American society that the other places these things tried to do this took care of the problem pretty quickly and we didn’t. Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack in here.

Hey, I just had a weird thought, what if all the evil bad guy things in Carpenter’s horror movies were being sent from the same source all trying to destroy our dimension? You’ve got the kids from VOTD, Michael Myers, the thing, the green liquid from POD, those dumb pirate ghosts, a killer car, vampires, the They Live aliens and whatever the heck those things on Mars were. Show me the non-evidence.

Quick Movie Review: Corvette Summer (1978)

I’m not generally a car movie guy. I don’t really understand cars, which frustrates me because I’m certain I’m getting screwed every time I go to a mechanic. So, the car in this flick wasn’t the draw it was Mark Hamill. This was his first movie after Star Wars the previous year and, frankly, I’ve never seen him in anything from that time other than those flicks. Sure, I’ve caught him in cameos more recently, but this is probably the only movie I’ve seen that he didn’t get based on playing Luke Skywalker.

The plot of the flick revolves around high school senior Hamill, a real gear head who salvages a Corvette body and brings it to his auto shop class where they spend the rest of the school year rebuilding the car into the bad ass vehicle you see on the poster (which doesn’t show off the lightning bolt paint job). Then, on the first day of test drives, the car gets ripped off. Distraught, Hamill puts posters up all over his town and gets word the car’s in Vegas, so he hitches to Vegas with Annie Potts who’s on her way to town to become a prostitute. Hamill then spends the rest of the summer trying to find the car and eventually does after plenty of near misses, but then there’s a big twist that facilitates the last 20 minutes or so of the movie.

What really impressed me about this movie is that it wasn’t just a goofy comedy about a car. There were some real, human elements involved. Potts and Hamill’s relationship is incredibly complicated, but still reads as true. I also really liked that Hamill spent his first few nights sleeping inside of unlocked UHaul trailers. Something about that rang as really clever to me. And then there’s the ending, which I am about to SPOIL. See, it turns out that the car was stolen by the auto shop teacher’s former student who steals cars and resells them. The teacher, who Hamill considered a real friend, does this to make some extra money after taxes and bills got increased on him. Hamill then starts working for the chop shop guys designing cars, but something snaps in him, he kicks some ass, grabs Potts from a really strange porno scene involving the flippers you see in the poster and then drives the car back to his friends.

Hamill does a great job that makes me want to see him in more movies from this time and Potts even avoids being as super annoying as she would become in later years. Fun stuff, you should definitely check it out on Netflix Instant Watch!