This was meant to be Showtime Network’s equivalent of the Tales from the Crypts serials. The EG Comics influence is melded with John Carpenter’s Spartan gallows humor immediately with the rockabilly keyboard score. Carpenter is the emcee of three ghastly tales and he is clearly effervescent in the ringleader role of the morgue attendant. He guzzles formaldehyde and makes sardonic remarks directly to the audience about the “arriving departed” like a Rat Pack lounge singer. It’s a shame the show wasn’t greenlit for more seasons. He desecrates corpses with a nihilistic lightness of touch and he moves like Danny Kaye.
The first segment is The Gas Station, a Hitchcockian story about a new employee at a gas station. Carpenter plagues the viewers with the fear of claustrophobic isolation where the customers could be unhinged and there is no backup for miles. Mostly though, it is a sluggish litany of in-jokes to Haddonfield, a David Naughton (from ‘An American Werewolf in London’) appearance and a voyeuristic cameo by Wes Craven which is amusingly leering nevertheless. It basically recycles the vexing customers of ‘Clerks’ with a highly transparent paranoia twist.
The next segment, Hair, is more openly facetious in tone. Stacy Keach is a vain gentleman with rapidly thinning follicles and he is obsessively looking for alternatives to his issue. It’s a debatably superior step above the previous yarn and Keach is vulnerably tongue-in-cheek with his quiet desperation of hair restoration via therapy tapes and dye treatment. It is ebullient when he rejoices happily in front of the mirror with his new Stallion hairstyle and it’s an astute social commentary on the impotence of bald men.
The final vignette is Eye, which is the most taut of the three. Mark Hamill is full-tilt hammy and this could’ve been his audition for the Clown Prince. None of these stories are particularly innovative but the actors are unanimously stupendous. Overall, this failed pilot is a ghoulishly mischievous standalone feature but it doesn’t ascend to the top tier of anthology films.
Rating: 3 out of 5