Carpenter Takes Horror to Cable

Article excerpt

IT'S nowhere near Halloween, but that's not stopping John Carpenter from unleashing new terrors.

Carpenter's career largely was cemented by his 1978 "Halloween," and while he's also made such diversions from chills as "Starman" and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man," he's returning to familiar territory with a new pay-cable trilogy.

"Body Bags," debuting Sunday on Showtime, makes Carpenter the eerily disguised host as well as the venture's executive producer. He also directed the first two of the stories: "Unleaded," with Alex Datcher ("Passenger 57") as an attendant at an isolated gas station; and "Hair," featuring Stacy Keach as a man who will do anything to make sure he doesn't go bald.

Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Poltergeist") was behind the cameras on the third segment, "Baseball Man," starring Mark Hamill as a fellow with definite eye problems.

Also appearing in the compilation are Tom Arnold, Robert Carradine, Sheena Easton, Twiggy, David Warner and horror-film icons Roger Corman, Wes Craven ("A Nightmare on Elm Street") and Sam Raimi ("The Evil Dead").

Carpenter (whose screen credits include "Escape From New York," Stephen King's "Christine" and the 1982 remake of "The Thing") confesses that becoming an actor himself to introduce the tales was the most daunting challenge he faced.

"I am not - I repeat, not - a very good actor," he says. "I had a lot of people helping me out, though, and (Oscar-winner) Rick Baker's makeup kind of gave me my character.

"Once I was into it, there were no problems. I had to say lines and hit marks, and I think it will - make me slightly more sympathetic as a director from now on."

Why did he decide to take on extra chores as an actor? "Why not? Very seriously, this was a chance to do a project that I eventually would own, and whenever you have a chance for that, as opposed to being one of the hired guns, it's great. That was an enormous incentive, and I also enjoyed the script. I thought, `It's easy for me to direct these things, but I want to see what this acting process is all about.'

"I went in with sort of a macho, `This-won't-bother-me' attitude," Carpenter continues, "and I came out humbled a little bit. It's rough to get up at 3 in the morning, and then go through several hours of makeup." He states that he learned something else from the experience: "I just don't like being in front of the camera. Looking at myself afterward was awful. I'm certainly not Orson Welles."

Nevertheless, Carpenter concurs that "Body Bags" keeps him in his element. "People associate me with horror movies, - and that's primarily because of `Halloween.' When I read the script" by Billy Brown and co-producer Dan Angel, "I could tell that this was a TV show made by, and for, people who love horror. …