Masters Of Horror: Pro-Life Review
It is a good six years since the rather underwhelming Ghosts of Mars, and since then, the man, who made Halloween, The Thing and Escape From New York, has made two one hour long films for television. With some of the other directors in the Masters of Horror series I would be applauding this scarcity of projects, after all does the world need another John Landis mess or the dubious output of series creator Mick Garris. Still, this is John Carpenter and somewhere in his almost sixty year old mind, I am convinced, lurks another great film. It would be great to see that western he has always wanted to make as he has shoehorned that genre into whatever project he is filming. His simple obsession with Rio Bravo has influenced any number of his films which have similar besieged anti-heros - Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, The Thing, The Fog and Prince of Darkness all have sieges in them. Guess what? So does Pro-Life.
Reprising his partnership with the writers who did Cigarette Burns for series one, Carpenter concentrates on a siege at an abortion clinic. Ron Perlman is the anti-abortion activist whose 15 year old daughter has checked in to end her foetus' life. Complete with his three bible bashing sons, they mount an assault on the clinic which goes from rescue to payback as things go from bad to worse. Pro-Life is small beer, I'm afraid, as any interesting tension created by the clash of ideologies is poorly written and disinterestedly executed. The tiptoeing of the script around the abortion issue is primarily to blame and this makes the bloody mindedly offensive approach Takashi Miike took to his MOH episode Imprint look foresighted as the inoffensiveness of the politics here renders the story little more than gore and rubber suited histrionics.
I did mention Ron Perlman, and after his great work with Guillermo Del Toro, his anti abortion terrorist here is another in his series of interesting grotesques. His Dwayne Burcell is poorly served by little in the way of back-story or character development to help Perlman create a satisfying anti-hero or villain. The resolute fence sitting of the writing means that his violence is not given any grounding in believable moral rage or even a satirical edge, and the result is a character who leaps from the discovery that his daughter has gone into an abortion clinic and is being held illegally, to a gun toting assault complete with horrific vengeance. It does seem strange that at no point does this character involve the authorities despite the law being on his side. Perlman does his best to rescue such script problems and it has to be said that no one else does growling menace like him.
As the siege develops and the monster movie side of the film is given priority, the film becomes cheap, silly and poorly acted. Robbed of Perlman, the rest of the cast are unconvincing in roles which can be extensively described as pretty nurse and handsome doctor with little weight given to these people that would actually make you care for them. When the monster arrives, it at least has a motivation and despite the awkward and cheap looking effects there is something to give a damn about at last. The special effects here are far from exceptional and the photography of the monster can not hide what is effectively a bloke in a rubber suit waving his arms about and going grrrr...Don't get me wrong, I usually love films where that happens, but give me corny Godzilla rip-offs before this kind of fourth rate nonsense. I'd love to blame the poor effects, bad acting and dodgy writing on other people and ignore who is responsible for holding the whole thing together but I think that would do JC no good. Mr Carpenter, you know you were slumming it here and you know this was not very good.
Pro-Life can just about be enjoyed on the brain-in-neutral level that a film like Big Trouble in Little China can. The French are right about Carpenter being a modern auteur and he has made great films, but Pro-Life is not one of them. It is a bit of cable TV that you may get through late at night, but I'd be amazed if people would want to own it and keep watching it.
As with the whole Masters of Horror series, the disc comes with a number of special features which outnumber the feature's length. The film itself is accompanied by a commentary where the director joins in as his two writers bang on about the film. Some of Carpenter's commentaries are rather wonderful, with Roddy Piper on They Live, for instance, but here the writers are in charge and present the film like a work of genius whilst JC chips in. Towards the end of the commentary he calls the writers "talented" and I did wonder if this was irony or a euphemism of some sort. The commentary is a bit like being sat behind kids on the bus sharing their "insights" about great works of art like the latest Gwen Stefani cover version whilst their parents butt in occasionally. Here's hoping that I am never stuck in a lift with them.
The extras also include the script in dvd-rom form, a JC bio which is written factually and with a lack of love, five other MOH trailers and a trailer for Hellboy: Blood and Iron. The two major extras here are a 10 minute FX featurette which explains the birthing scene and somehow manages to not mention Aliens, and a 15 minute making of featurette where cast and crew are painfully sincere about the project - JC makes the stunning revelation that "we are all afraid of death".
The quality of the presentation is good despite being single layer. The disc comes in a slipcase with the same cover art as the box and there is a chapter stops insert inside. The main feature is anamorphically presented at 1.78:1 and the visual quality easily surpasses the MOH R2 releases with no standards conversion issues here. The image is sharp, well contrasted and with excellent colour balance. Sound comes in stereo and 5.1 mixes with the surround mix being used well to capture the gunfights and the atmospheric effects around the monster scenes. Voices are distributed across the speakers and action does seem to follow the images with the audio rather than over reliance on the front of the mix. Both tracks are clear and crisp with dialogue and music mixed sympathetically.
This is no return to former glories and can only really be enjoyed as the cable TV schlock it is. The presentation here is lighter on extras than the series one discs but the A/V quality is rather good.