Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (US - DVD R1)
Gabe tries to avoid abortion themed metaphors while reviewing this short
Fifteen-year old Angelique (Caitlin Wachs) Burcell is pregnant and seeking an abortion at the local clinic, and literally runs into two of the clinic's doctors on the road from her house. Unfortunately, her right wing, Christian father, Dwayne (Ron Perlman), is very pro-life. He has a restraining order placed against him from the clinic, and cannot follow her onto the grounds. When he thinks he's heard word from God himself to protect Angelique's unborn child, Dwayne and his sons attack the clinic. Meanwhile, the two doctors are shocked to learn that Angelique's bizarre claims of demon rape may not be entirely insane...
You'd think that mixing John Carpenter, Ron Perlman, and a really upsetting subject would make for a movie Gabe could get behind. Adding plot elements from Rio Bravo (which Carpenter already remade as Assault on Precinct 13), The Thing from Another World (which Carpenter already remade as... The Thing), and Rosemary's Baby (which Carpenter took elements from for Prince of Darkness, kinda) can only make for a great, slam-bang, blood and guts horror show, right? Eh, yes and no.
The idea behind this Masters of Horror episode is pretty great. Taking some very familiar cinematic mainstays and infusing them with a very, very controversial subject matter is almost brilliant. Horror, fantasy, and sci-fi films have and will always be an easy way to deal with rough political and ethical issues. If things get a little too heavy a filmmaker can easily reiterate the fact that it's only a movie by throwing in a monster or flying car.
The problem is that the allegory or undercurrents often end up being much more interesting than the fantastic elements of a story, or vice versa. Pro-Life is a case of the real world issues of the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life ideals very much overshadowing the Rosemary's Baby in an abortion clinic story that belongs on an episode of Masters of Horror. I appreciate Carpenter and his Aintitcool writers attempting the balance, but it never works. This is perhaps because the subject matter needs to be so dark that a man-in-suit finale isn't possible.
I don't blame the filmmakers at all for avoiding taking obvious sides on the issue, because it would be insulting to tell an audience what to think on such a personal issue. It's not a horror film's job to answer the tough questions necessarily, just to bring them to the table, and playing with touchy subjects is a great way to get a desired horror movie response from viewers on all sides of an argument.
Ron Perlman's Dwayne is a very well rounded and respectable person, and even though he's a killer, and I don't agree with his hard-lined stance, I felt some emotional connection with him, due in no small part to Perlman himself. He actually represents the Pro-Life side of the abortion argument and its ideals pretty well. Despite his crimes I felt for the guy, but this all goes to Hell in the film's most shocking sequence, where Dwayne crosses a line that no realistic sympathy can overcome. It's a great, ironic, and gory horror movie moment on paper, but really puts the kibosh on my support of the character. Again, we can't have it both ways.
Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan have grown as writers, as a second viewing of Cigarette Burns (the teams first episode of Masters of Horror) tells me that I was wrong in my initial acceptance of it. It's actually a pretty bad episode. The problem here is two-fold; one, they have trouble committing to ideas (a group of entirely extraneous characters' threads are only partially completed), and two, they write too much comic-book dialogue. I don't mean that they write extremely broad dialogue, I mean that they make characters say things that are better left unsaid. It's the kind of stuff that belongs in a thought balloon.
The real ball-dropper here is, again, the Master himself John Carpenter, who again does little to discern his picture from all the other films in the series. Originally a visually powerful director, Carpenter seems to have either run out of ideas, inspiration, or both. This isn't a poorly directed feature, but it isn't a John Carpenter film either, and it still looks like it was made for TV. The best example of this lack of intrigue is the birthing scene, which has almost no suspense, and bumbles most of the scares, cliché or not.
Yet this was still an above average little horror film, and it has some cool creature designs. The actors are solid overall, and Carpenter puts just enough effort into his direction to create a few memorable images. Between this and Argento's episode the new season is off to a decent start. I said decent, not good.
Season two is definitely an improvement over the bulk of season one so far. Here we still have some problems with low-level noise in dark corners, and so digital blocking in brighter colours (reds especially). Noise continues to be far too prevalent for an HD recorded series, but details are better even than the Argento episode, Pelts. Pro-Life takes place mostly under the daylight sun and the florescent lights of the abortion clinic, so the episodes overall success isn't entirely surprising.
Like every other Masters of Horror release, Pro-Life is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. The sound is, again, like every other episode, not very overwhelming, but it gets the 'low-budget horror' thing done. The monster sound effects are cool and bassy, and the gunshots have nice punch. I didn't notice a whole lot of surround channel effects, but the stereo field was pretty active. Carpenter's son, Cody, once again supplies the short's soundtrack, and has grown a lot since Cigarette Burns. The score is a little old fashion in its use of synthesiser effects, but is charming and at times very effective (though incredibly obvious at others). It also sounds very rich through every channel.
Cigarette Burns ate up all the Carpenter specific extras, and Pro-Life is left a little bare. The starter is the commentary track, which has Carpenter and his writers, which is a better idea than the two separate tracks of Cigarette Burns because the Master and his apprentices can bounce off each other. The problem here is that Carpenter, usually one of the best commentary men in the business, really has no interest in the track, and even leaves halfway through for a cigarette break. McWeeny and Swan are geeks, no doubt, and tend to gush, but still offer up some decent information.
The featurettes are pretty weak. ‘Final Delivery: The Making of Pro-Life’ is short and not very sweet. It's an ad for the episode, and only writers McWeeny and Swan really put any effort into telling us what went into production. They look and sound like geeks, but this acts as an assertion to all the other geeks (myself included) that perhaps one day, we too can work with our idols and be a part of a DVD featurette. Any real information about the episode is available on the commentary track.
‘Demon Baby: Birthing the FX Sequence’ doesn't offer much in the way of 'how-to', and is overall very rushed, but I'll always have a soft spot for all the KNB Effects guys and what ever they happen to be talking about. Carpenter seems to have had a lot of input into the level of gore in the film, which was going to be a little more realistic initially, apparently.
The rest of the disc is made out of a series of storyboards and stills, a selection of Anchor Bay release trailers, and a Carpenter bio.
I'm still disappointed, but still think Pro-Life is a pretty effect little (emphasis on little) thriller. Like so much horror, it doesn't gel in its parts, but is effect in each. I really regret giving this teams first Masters of Horror episode a passing grade initially, and really don't get how so many fans can consider it first season's best. This one has some originality on its side, and doesn't feature some of the most ill advised CG in horror history. It looks like a made for TV movie, but that's what it is.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 20th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English
Extras: Director and Writer Commentary, Final Delivery: The Making of Pro-Life, Demon Baby: Birthing the FX Sequence, Storyboard Gallery, Stills, Trailers, Directo Bio
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Ron Perlman, Emmanuelle Vaugiere, Caitlin Wachs
Length: 57 minutes
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