Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Ron Perlman, Mark Feuerstein, Caitlin Wachs
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Still Gallery, Bio, Screenplay (DVD-ROM)
Showtime's hit anthology series "Masters of Horror" has gathered some of the most celebrated writers and directors of contemporary horror to bring short features to television. With its second season wrapped up, the episodes are already hitting DVD shelves courtesy of Anchor Bay, and John Carpenter's "Pro-Life" is just one of the new shockers available. After teaming up with writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan on season one's "Cigarette Burns, " Carpenter has directed yet another of their scripts for this episode, hoping to repeat the success. Set in an abortion clinic where the supernatural is set loose, this is indeed a provocative feature, and like the issue it covers, it certainly will not leave you indifferent.
After breathlessly running through a forest, apparently to escape from someone, 15-year-old Angelique Burcell (Caitlin Wachs) makes her way to a road where she is nearly hit by an oncoming car. Fortunately, the driver and passenger of the car are, respectively, Dr. Alex O'Shea (Mark Feuerstein) and Nurse Kim (Emmanuelle Vaugier). They take Angelique to the abortion clinic where they work in order to check her thoroughly, but trouble quickly starts brewing. Before they even get her inside, a red van pulls up to the gates of the clinic, to which Angelique pleads with them not to let it in. Inside the van is Dwayne Burcell (Ron Perlman), an anti-abortion activist who has been court ordered not to come within 50 yards of the premises. Unbeknownst to the doctors, Dwayne is Angelique's father, and he is not happy about his daughter being treated in this place.
Inside, Angelique is revealed to be pregnant. She immediately demands an abortion, but since she is a minor, this of course is impossible without parental consent. Although physically appearing to be several months into her pregnancy, Angelique claims that she was only impregnated a week earlier. She believes that something evil is responsible for it, but the doctors naturally think she is only trying to delude herself.
Meanwhile, Dwayne and his three teenage sons prepare to rescue Angelique from the clinic, no matter what it takes. While praying, Dwayne hears the voice of God tell him to "protect the baby." This is all the justification they need to pull out their rifles and siege the abortion clinic. Their violent entry sends the clinic into a panic, as doctors and patients scramble for safety. As it turns out, the Burcells are not the only threat. The father of Angelique's baby decides to pay a visit as well, and all hell quite literally breaks loose.
With touches of "Rosemary's Baby," "It's Alive," and "The Wild Bunch," this entry in the series conjures up some truly nasty images. John Carpenter takes us on a wild monster ride that becomes increasingly disturbing as we learn what really happened to Angelique. Makeup effects pro Howard Berger and K.N.B. EFX crew developed some truly frightening creatures that are shocking and convincing. I was extremely surprised at the high quality work that went into the makeup effects, especially for a TV show. While not nearly as explicit as the events of the story would suggest, the film nevertheless has some effectively jolting moments that linger after the final credits.
Although the episode moves at a brisk pace, the story doesn't have as much punch as I would have liked, especially given the high-adrenalin climax. Some of the characters are sadly underdeveloped, namely Dr. O'Shea and Kim, who are positioned as the "heroes" of the story. We learn very little about them through the course of the feature, and they never really do anything to actively move the story along. They are more like witnesses to the action, narrative figures for the audience to identify with. The film's biggest problem is the script itself that is illogical and self-serving at times, leaving the story riddled with loose ends and plot holes. These distractions are what ultimately keep this film from soaring, but not by much.
I would be remiss to continue without bringing up the very touchy subject of abortion that is so key in this film. According to the commentary and making-of featurette on this disc, neither Carpenter nor the writers ever wanted to make a political statement with "Pro-Life." It is neither for nor against either side of the debate, using it simply as a backdrop for an all-out monster movie. After watching the film, I definitely have to agree with them. There is no overarching message or sermon made about the pros or cons of abortion, and it is very likely that everyone will sort of read into it what they want. I will say that there are interesting arguments made for both sides in the story, but in the end, this is just a gore fest. Nothing more, nothing less.
Anchor Bay's presentation of "Pro-Life" looks quite good in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is clean and clear, with strong black levels (which are crucial in the dimly lit finale) and natural flesh tones. The picture is a little soft, but this is not a major issue. Daylight scenes are bright, with faithfully rendered colors. There may be a little grain in some of the darker scenes, but again, it is negligible. Overall, this is a pleasing transfer.
The audio comes by way of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround. For the 5.1 mix, most of the sound is pushed toward the front. The rear channels are mainly utilized during some of the big shock moments, whenever there are loud or squishy sounds to be heard. This is very effective, catching you off-guard and building atmosphere. Dialogue is a little flat, but in general this sounds very good.
The first special feature on this disc is an audio commentary with John Carpenter and writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. They give us lots of information about the production and the actors. Carpenter inexplicably disappears for a short time to have a cigarette break (the feature's less than an hour long!), but he seems to have a good rapport with the writers, making this an enjoyable and informative commentary.
Up next is the 15-minute featurette, "Final Delivery: The Making of Pro-Life." Carpenter, the writers, the makeup artists, and the cast are all interviewed in this entertaining spot. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes footage throughout, and we learn quite a bit about the origin of the script and some of the changes made in preparation for its TV production.
This is followed by "Baby Steps: Birthing the FX Sequence." At six minutes, this shows us the workings behind the memorable birth scene in the film, in which Angelique meets her demonic offspring.
This release is rounded out by a text bio for John Carpenter, a production photo gallery (the package listed a storyboard gallery, but I found nothing of the kind), and the complete screenplay as a DVD-ROM feature.
While perhaps not up to the standards of the films John Carpenter is known for, "Pro-Life" shows that he has definitely not lost his ability to give us some frightful imagery, and it is pleasing to see that he is willing to try his hand at controversial subject matter. This is a solid entry in the "Masters of Horror" series that, flaws notwithstanding, is a thrilling ride. Regardless of your political views, this feature will unite everyone who loves monsters and blood, and with Carpenter at the helm, you know there will be plenty.