• 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: August 15, 2017.
    Director: Tom Schulman
    Cast: Joe Pesci, Andy Comeau, Kristy Swanson, Todd Louiso, George Hamilton, Dyan Cannon, David Spade
    Year: 1997
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    What happens when you pull Joe Pesci's badass character (pick one) out of a Scorcese flick (pick one) and place him into a comedic setting? Pure gold, one would hope. Tom Schulman, who had a writing hand in Dead Poet's Society, What About Bob?, and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids certainly would have hoped so when he penned 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, was attached to direct, and even got Joe Pesci himself to play the lead role; a tough guy gangster named (fittingly) Tommy.

    A mob war between families comes to an end in New Jersey, when the rivals of mafia boss Big Seb are put on ice, permanently. But Big Seb is so incensed by the actions of these dead goons that he refuses to take the word of his own crew that they've been taken care of. No, Big Seb demands proof in person; and that proof is eight severed heads, to be delivered to Seb in San Diego. Wiseguy Tommy (Pesci), known for his TCB attitude, is chosen to transport the grisly cargo to the boss, which should be a piece of cake in a pre-9/11 world. Creating a distraction, Tommy gets the head-laden duffel bag through customs, and even manages to intimidate a fellow passenger into giving up space in the overhead compartment, a sure sign that the next day deadline for delivery will be met.

    But decapitation is bad, and fate decides to intervene by seating Tommy next to the wholesome Charlie (Andy Comeau), a young man with the EXACT SAME DUFFEL BAG as Tommy, on his way to visit his girlfriend and her parents at a Mexican resort. At the San Diego stopover, Charlie obviously grabs the cadaverous carry-on, with Tommy snagging a bag full of college essays and t-shirts. Charlie goes on to hook up with his ladyfriend, Laurie (Kristy Swanson) and her parents (George Hamilton and Dyan Cannon), and hijinks ensue when Charlie discovers that he's transporting a bag of dead heads, turning his vacation into a full-time job of poorly keeping the secret from his potential in-laws while simultaneously dealing with banditos and feisty puppies.

    Tommy, meanwhile, uses the college papers in his newly acquired bag to follow the wrong trail back to Bethesda University, where he poorly attempts to match wits with Charlie's frat brothers Steve (Todd Louiso) and Ernie (David Spade) and find out where his missing luggage has gone. And with the battle of wits failing, hijinks ensue when Tommy resorts to good old-fashioned intimidation, that inspires Charlie to gather up his heads and sneak back across the border to save his friends. Will more hijinks ensure? Probably, especially when you add coyotes and more banditos into the mix. And then there's that musical number by the dearly departed....

    Pure gold it should be, but brother, pure gold it ain't. Roger Ebert commented that Pesci is hilarious in this film whenever he's on screen, and that comment is dead on. You never know if Pesci is playing this straight or for laughs...or both, but one thing is for certain, that Pesci/Scorcese menace is brutally funny in the context of the film. Hell, even David Spade, normally as annoying as annoying gets, is fantastic when he's sharing screen time with Mr. Pesci. Pesci's Tommy is a treasure, and if 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag focused solely on him, Orion Pictures surely would have had one hell of a slam dunk that would have been a welcome compliment to Goodfellas and Casino.

    But no! We get a good chunk of awesome Pesci, but we also get a whole lot of Charlie. And no offense to Andy Comeau, but the character is not one that has the capacity to carry such a film. And although I have a great sentimental attachment to the original Vampire Slayer and Deadly Friend Kristy Swanson, the Academy wasn't going to be handing out awards to her for this, either. George Hamilton as Laurie's intense father is pretty great in this, but Dyan Cannon? She's just fine if you like over-the-top reactions to zany situations, like discovering that your future son-in-law has a bag of heads in his room, a facial expression-full gag that she manages to drag out through every scene she appears in. It's about as funny as the, "Oh shit, Mexicans are going to steal my car...again" jokes, but when contrasted with Pesci slapping Charlie's roommates with towel before telling them very convincingly that he's going to have to murder them, it's just not funny. And so, a film that had the potential to be so much more, as seems to be the case with so many films from this era, falls flat, with Pesci's scenes being the only standouts.


    Twilight Time brings 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that looks great. Detail is crisp here, blacks are deep, colour palette is lifelike and dynamic enough to accommodate all of the different locations adequately, and there are no compression artifacts or other issues to speak of, aside from very mild instances of speckling .

    Audio options here include a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, both English, as well as the usual Isolated Score Track With Some Effects. Both of the primary audio tracks are sufficient, though the edge goes to the surround option which allows the sound to breath a bit more. Action is light in the rear channels, very subtle, with dialogue front and centre and balanced nicely with foley and score. No hisses, pops, or distortion were noted, and English Subs for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are available.

    A Theatrical Trailer, Twilight Time Interactive Catalogue, and insert essay by Julie Kirgo are also available.

    The Final Word:

    As I watched 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, I was reminded of the disappointment I experienced viewing it for the first time during its theatrical release. Pesci is fantastic in this, but he gets too little screen time. Still, for fans of the film, the Twilight time disc is a nice option, even if it is largely barebones.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!