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TV REVIEWS : Carpenter Trips Over 'Body Bags'

August 07, 1993

What's that stench coming from your cable converter? Just the rot of "John Carpenter Presents Body Bags," a horror trilogy premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime. It makes a strong case for quick burials.

Seven words sum it up: The poor man's "Tales From the Crypt." Showtime's formaldehyde-fueled new competitor aims to give HBO's successful series a run for the money in the tastelessness department and gruesomely succeeds there, but its predictable attempts at macabre wit misfire at every yawning, graphically violent turn.

Instead of the Cryptkeeper, here we get director Carpenter himself hosting each half-hour, as a madcap cutup (!) of a coroner who bloodthirstily aims to show us just how each corpse in his morgue got there. Carpenter's supposed to look sickly, but his appearance unfortunately suggests the anemia his segments bookend.

The first of the trilogy, "The Gas Station," is strongest, as Carpenter overtly recycles his own "Halloween." It even offers identically composed shots of the woman in distress who's turned her back on the slasher she's just bashed, with said madman naturally seen out of focus in the background rising to his feet, cleaver still in hand. The setup is spooky--a substitute filling-station cashier alone in the booth at night, knowing a maniac's on the loose--but the increasingly silly play-out requires that the woman repeatedly act as stupidly as no one who'd ever seen "Halloween" possibly could.

The middle segment, "Hair," stars Stacy Keach as a man obsessed with his increasingly visible scalp, visiting mysterious hair doc David Warner to procure a thick mane. The unfortunate result recalls Carpenter's stab at social satire in "They Live," but the humans-are-brainless-lemmings message is even more broadly and patronizingly overstated this time.

The final story, "Eye"--directed by Tobe Hooper--hits rock bottom, borrowing liberally from the recent feature "Body Parts," which was none too original itself. Mark Hamill loses an eye in a car accident--betcha can't wait to see that protruding shard of glass--and gets the world's first peeper transplant. Guess what? It's from an executed mass-murderer! And it turns Hamill into a lunatic too!!

It's worth recalling here that Carpenter made two of the better horror films of the modern era ("Halloween" and the vastly underrated "The Thing"), but career-nadir "Body Bags" is best zipped up quickly and abandoned along the comeback road.

--CHRIS WILLMAN

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