Sometimes film­mak­ers make movies because they have a vision that they have to share with the world — and some­times they make movies to stay in the game, to get a bit of prac­tice and main­tain vis­i­bil­i­ty in the mar­ket­place between big­ger gigs.  Body Bags is the lat­ter kind of movie.  John Carpenter spear­head­ed this made for cable hor­ror anthol­o­gy between big­ger the­atri­cal film gigs, also bring­ing in Tobe Hooper to helm one of the three seg­ments.  The results offer a sim­ple, straight­for­ward romp through famil­iar hor­ror ter­ri­to­ry.

The setup of Body Bags unapolo­get­i­cal­ly apes the style and struc­ture of the then-pop­u­lar Tales From The Crypt t.v. show, with Carpenter him­self play­ing a “coro­ner” who makes macabre jokes in a morgue as he sets up a trio of tales…

The Gas Station: Carpenter revis­its the slash­er flick ter­ri­to­ry he pio­neered with Halloween in this tale of a new night-shift cashier (Alex Datcher) under­tak­ing her first night of work at the title loca­tion.  She finds her­self deal­ing with a vari­ety of odd types, one of whom hap­pens to be a homi­ci­dal lunatic.  It’s a slim premise but Carpenter keeps it afloat with plen­ti­ful guest stars — Robert Carradine, David Naughton, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, etc. — and han­dles the shocks with a pro’s con­fi­dence.  It’s worth not­ing that the end is a lit­tle blood­ier than usu­al for the direc­tor.

Hair: the best sto­ry of the trio is also helmed by Carpenter, this time in a satir­i­cal, qua­si-sci-fi mode.  The hero is a well-to-do man (Stacy Keach) who is con­sumed by the fact that he’s los­ing his hair.  He tries out a new cure adver­tised on t.v. by a slick doc­tor (David Warner) and gets a lush new mane of hair.  Of course, it comes with a ter­ri­ble price.  The setup is spar­tan but played well: Keach gives a fan­tas­tic comic per­for­mance as the embod­i­ment of mid­dle-age male inse­cu­ri­ty and the sting-in-the-tail end­ing is clev­er.

Eye: Hooper helms the final seg­ment, a tru­ly grim piece of work in which a base­ball play­er (Mark Hamill) who los­es an eye in a car acci­dent under­goes an exper­i­men­tal eye trans­plant surgery.  It works but he starts to see visions of awful vio­lence from the eye’s orig­i­nal source that put his wife (Twiggy) in mor­tal dan­ger.  Despite a few fun guest stars — Roger Corman and John Agar as doc­tors! — this is a bru­tal affair.  Hooper brings the grue, includ­ing enough ocu­lar vio­lence to make Lucio Fulci grin, and is abet­ted by a sweaty, intense per­for­mance from Hamill.  The results aren’t sub­tle but they hit pret­ty hard.

All in all, Body Bags is mod­est but enjoy­able stuff.  It’s very deriv­a­tive of Tales From The Crypt and the sto­ries them­selves are most­ly for­mu­laic — but the craft of the film­mak­ers involved and the plen­ti­ful guest stars make it easy to watch.  Keep your expec­ta­tions in check and you’ll dis­cov­er it’s a lit­tle more fun than you might expect.