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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

'John Carpenter Presents Body Bags:' Showtime's Tales From the Morgue

Body Bags [Collector's Edition] with Exclusive Poster!
Truly gory special effects, especially perverse dark humor, and purposefully cheesy plots and low production values make 'John Carpenter Presents Body Bags' a perfect choice to kick off Unreal TV's series of Halloween-themed reviews.

The trick that Shout Factory! is playing related to this treat for horror fans is that it is not releasing the Blu-ray/DVD combo of this film until November 12, 2013. Shout offering folks who buy this set from their site a free limited edition (and quantity) poster of the artwork that was created for the release as compensation for this post-Halloween release.

In many respects, "The Son of Tales From the Crypt" would have been an apt title for "Body Bags." Like the 1989-96 HBO horror anthology series, the one-time 1993 Showtime production featured a gruesome-looking and acting host who introduced a tale of terror. The Cryptkeeper filled that role in the HBO series, and "Body Bags" creator John Carpenter played an a gleefully over-the-top crazed coroner who used the eerie circumstances under which some of his "clients" perished as fodder for his three stories.

Both series also utilized the "The Love  Boat" method of casting B-List and/or has-been actors and/or performers in the tales. Including Tom Arnold and "It's Garry Shandling's Show" Molly Cheek in the cast illustrated this well.

The difference is that a "Crypt" fan who is expecting "Body Bags" to offer the same level of storytelling is likely to utter a slight variation of the aforementioned "son of " expression. The better news is that fans of Carpenter and slash horror will love this one.

One large difference between "Crypt" and "Body Bags" is that the Cryptkeeper is a skeletal puppet with an awesome dark sense of humor and Carpenter's coroner is a live-action psychotic maniac who has a great deal in common with folks that many of us have encountered on the street and in train and bus stations. Another is that "Crypt" has a wonderful '50s pulp comic vibe, and "Body Bags" is more akin to the Carpenter's more graphic horror and scifi films.

Additionally, "Crypt" was a collaborative effort in which a figurative "cast of thousands" of accomplished writers and directors participated over the years. As mentioned above, "Body Bags" was more exclusively a production of Carpenter's wonderfully warped mind.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of an interview with Carpenter provides a little more insight into creating "Body Bags." The special features on the Blu-ray/DVD set includes the full interview. Other features include the film's trailer and other interviews with behind-the-scenes folks and actors.

The first tale of terror titled "The Gas Station" has a college student experiencing an imaginably bad first night working an aptly named graveyard shift at a gas station. David Naughton of "An American Werewolf in London" and the sitcom "My Sister Sam," which would make a great addition to the Shout catalog, stars in this one with Robert Carradine of "Revenge of the Nerds."

We then move onto Stacy Keach of the "Mike Hammer" television series and many other projects in "Hair." His co-stars include David Warner of "The Omen" and numerous other films and rock band Blondie front-woman Deborah Harry in a role that should have been named "slutty nurse."

It is unsurprising that the quest for hair restoration by the aging playboy who Keach portrays takes a very macabre turn; the manner in which it does is unexpected and involves many cringe-worthy moments. Any horror involving eyeballs will do that.

In perhaps the most severe fall from grace, Mark Hamill from "Star Wars" Episodes IV - VI stars in "Eye" as an up-and-coming minor league baseball pitcher who loses his eye in an especially gruesome manner. This leads to agreeing to an eye transplant with results that prompt a series of jokes about husky dogs.

"Eye" is a bit more predictable then "Hair," but the result is the same.

The "autopsy" results regarding "Body Bags" is that it is a good marriage between "Crypt's" narrative style and dark humor and slasher films. It also provides Carpenter's fans a chance to see more of his work and also enjoy the surprise of cameos from his colleagues.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Body Bags" or "Crypt" is welcome to email me. I am also available on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.