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John Carpenter’s Body Bags – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

John CarpenterJohn Carpenter’s Body Bags is a an oft forgotten film of his and horror anthology.  It was a Showtime movie back in 1993, back when it wasn’t as “cool” to have an original idea on Showtime (Showtime did do Psycho IV as well).  In Carpenter’s mind, this was a one shot.  But Showtime wanted this to go to series and be their Tales From The Crypt.  Carpenter got his way as he didn’t want involved in it if it was going to go to Canada and not shoot in LA.  The film itself has been pretty nonexistent in the home media form for over a decade.  There was a DVD release from Artisan at the turn of the century but that went out of print rather quickly and Artisan went out of business as well.  Thankfully, saving the day as always, is Scream Factory, who gives this film a treatment we never thought possible.  And this is a film that upon looking back, is actually deserving.  It’s a fun little movie that I think people have forgotten and will be pleasantly surprised when venturing back to it.

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Film

Body Bags’ main setting through which the other stories interweave is “The Morgue”.  John Carpenter plays The Coroner who looks akin to the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera and tells a bunch of (purposely) groaner jokes as he looks for a body to lead into the story that’s about to be told.  This is a rare look at John Carpenter acting and he’s absolutely having a blast here with this part.  I’m surprised he didn’t show up in tiny bit parts in his own movies after this.  He’s said he loved doing it.  Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper show up in this wrap around as well.

“The Gas Station” kicks off the short tales of horror with what is probably the best overall story in the whole bunch.  Not that it’s a steep drop off from here or anything, but this one is a whole lot of fun and just works really well.  It’s a slasher tale set at a gas station miles away from anywhere.  Its got the feel of an urban legend or one of those “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” tales come to life.  Its also got a lot of cameos popping in, including a fantastic little bit of creepiness from Wes Craven.  “The Gas Station” kicks off the anthology on a really high note.  When looking back, and knowing the structure, this one should have been held back either the middle or the end of the feature.  It also has a lot of replay value, as once you notice the twist, there’s some fun kinda layered easter eggs to be seen when watching it for a 2nd or 3rd time.  That’s how well this one works.

The second short is the Stacy Keach-led “Hair”.  This plays as the comedic foil to the anthology as a man self-conscious about his thinning hair tries a mysterious new method to gain it back.  It works, but is more than he bargained for.  This one also features David Warner in the role of dubious restrained mad scientist.  It’s also got some terrific earned laughs in here as well which is a pleasant surprise.  The scene where Keach’s girlfriend kisses his head and gets head coloring on her lips is rather funny.  This one plays to the goofy side of horror and is apparently the one Carpenter and Hooper really wanted to direct and had to “split hairs” to figure out who would do it.

The final piece is “Eye” and feature Mark Hamill as a minor league baseball player who gets into a car accident and gets an eye transplant unknowingly from an executed serial killer.  He then begins to have violent rages and starts’ having crazy visions from the killer’s past as the killer begins to consume him.  This is a very dark entry into Body Bags.  Tobe Hooper directs this tale of horror.  And it’s the only film in this one that genuinely is disturbing and creepy.  The only thing holding it back is that it looks very much like television instead of a movie.  You also get to see Mark Hamill’s forest moons of Endor and in an uncomfortable sex scene.  This one is trying watch and truly sets out to scare, but it really is out of place from the rest of what has been a very lighthearted affair.

John Carpenter’s Body Bags has unfortunately probably been forgotten by most, but will hopefully be rediscovered with this new release.  It’s a fun little horror romp and a very underrated addition to the horror anthology pantheon.  There’s a lot of fun cameos abound in this to make it worth your while and that’s what helps some of it to work.  I agree with Carpenter and King, that if this had gone to series and been shot in Canada, a lot of what is working in this movie would cease to exist.  As is, it’s a fun little venture and something very different from John Carpenter.  I like it more and more each time I revisit the film.

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Video

John Carpenter’s horror anthology looks absolutely marvelous on Blu-Ray.  Body Bags has a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding that should shock anyone who’s ever seen this film before.  Not only are we treated to it in 1:78.1, but we also get a very detailed, crisp and sharp picture to go with it.  Scream Factory’s video transfer on Body Bags has managed to somehow uplift and enhance this film’s quality.  I found myself enjoying this film more than I ever had before thanks to this video transfer.  Skin tones look great.  The surfaces and textures of everything pop in full force.  People are going to be in for a surprise when they see how good this thing looks.  Also a treat, John Carpenter does really ever shoot in 1:78.1, so you get to see a different angle on his craft in this film.  Hats off on whoever is responsible for this one, you’ve done a brilliant job!

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Audio

Body Bags unzips a slightly troublesome 5.1 DTS-HD MA track.  Upon further research in the 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, it seems the issues lie in the source for the film.  Mostly occurring in “The Gas Station” certain actors pronouncing their S’s brings about a little bit of his and static.  During the first “Morgue” sequence there’s also a low buzz during a line of Carpenter’s.  There’s also a scene with a noisy buzz in “The Gas Station” during one shot of Alex Datcher that isn’t present at all when the shot flips to Robert Carradine for dialogue, but returns when Alex Datcher is the focus.  The S issue happens minimally in the other shorts, but is still there.  But, like I said, due to it being present in both tracks, its likely present in the sourcing.  Aside from that, it’s a little bit lower of a track, but is perfectly fine.  Delivering well on its score and dialogue.

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Extras

While on paper this isn’t going to appear to be a slew of extras, but emphasis should be put on the fact that this is the uncut version of the film.  It’s the first time the film has been made available that way and available in its original 1:78.1 frame.  It also comes with a DVD copy of the film.  The few bonus features carry a load of information too.

Audio Commentary With Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, And Actors Stacy Keach And Robert Carradine – This track is primarily John Carpenter and the appropriate actor with the short.  For “Eye”, Carpenter takes a break and we get Sandy King moderated by the great Just Beahm.  It’s explained that Toby Hooper was supposed to be there, but scheduling couldn’t line up.  While some of the info from the doc is repeated, this track is a lot of fun and everyone involved seems to be having fun revisiting this film.

“Unzipping Body Bags” Featurette With Cast & Crew Interviews (HD, 20:08) – A terrific look back at the film, from its roots to the possibility of the series it could have been.  Would have loved Mark Hamill to have been a part of this, but that’s nit picking.  After Prince Of Darkness and now Body Bags, I must commend Justin Beahm on delivering some of the best, most comfortable and candid interviews done with John Carpenter I have ever seen.  I don’t know what Justin does differently than others, but Carpenter seems free flowing, positive and animated about his work whenever it’s Beahm behind the lens.  Great work, I hope if there is a special edition of The Thing or Escape From New York down the road you are heavily involved with the bonus feature interviews.

Trailer (HD, 1:35)

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Summary

Body Bags is a forgotten horror anthology and John Carpenter project that hopefully will be forgotten no more with Scream Factory’s new release.  The picture quality, especially for something like this, is incredibly stunning.  The extras, while short in list form, pack plenty of an information load.  They aren’t going to take up too much of your time and they surely aren’t going to waste it.  This has been a John Carpenter year in Blu-Ray and I’m really glad something rare of his like this has come out of the woodwork and been given a king’s treatment.  If you’re a fan of John Carpenter or a fan of horror’s history in general, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be an addition to your collection this fall and popped in your player every October (you’ll have to wait til next October though as this streets November 12, sorry).  A definite recommend!


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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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