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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Masters of Horror - Pro-Life
Masters of Horror - Pro-Life
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // March 20, 2007
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted March 13, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns was one of the better episodes from the first season of Showtime's Masters Of Horror series, so fans were understandably excited to see the director teaming up with the writing team of Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan for one more shot. Unfortunately, the trio's second attempt, Pro-Life, gets lost in and amongst the politics that its story swats around.

When the movie begins, we meet Alex (Mark Feuerstein) and Kim (Emmanuelle Vaugier), are discussing their recent bedroom shenanigans on the way to the woman's health clinic where they both work. After some playful back and forth, Alex swerves and just narrowly misses a woman (Caitlin Wachs) who has been running through the woods that surround the road they've been traveling on. The pair gets out of the car and asks the girl her name – 'Angelique,' she replies. Seeing as they're on their way to the clinic, the toss her into the back seat and drive off to their destination. As the gate closes behind them, a red van drives up to it and stops rather ominously and neither the man in charge of the clinic, Dr. Kiefer (Bill Dow), nor Angelique is particularly happy about this. The man inside the van is Dwayne Burcell (Ron Perlman), a very militant anti-abortionist and Angelique's father.

They get Angelique inside where Alex decides to examine her to make sure she's okay and he's surprised to learn that she's pregnant. He questions her as to the specifics but she doesn't want to talk about them. When she finally relents she tells him that it happened just last Saturday, which Alex knows cannot be possible as she's already showing. He assumes that Dwayne is the father and Angelique tells him that God wants him to give her an abortion. Meanwhile, Dwayne is not taking no for an answer and he's bound and determined to get into the clinic and get his little girl back before the doctors can do their thing. He rounds up his three gun-savvy sons and soon enough they break into the clinic and give Dr. Kiefer a taste of his own medicine. While all of this is going on, Angelique is swelling up fast and when her water breaks (all over Kim's face, no less), Alex knows that it's too late and that this baby is going to born whether they like it or not. And then the real father of Angelique's 'child' shows up...

Taking elements from some of Carpenter's earlier films like Assault On Precinct 13 and more notably The Thing and throwing in bits and pieces from Rosemary's Baby, this movie seems like a sure thing but sadly falls short of where it should have hit which is a genuine shame considering that it sounds like a perfect fit for Carpenter's talents. By using the real life controversy surrounding the abortion debate in the United States right now as a starting point the film soon becomes bogged down by the politics inherent in the premise and this comes at the sacrifice of character development and tension. With the character of Dwayne standing as the central representation of the hard right's stance on the issue, his character soon becomes a contradiction. If his priority, as he states, is to get in and get his girl out before it's too late, why then does he stop to deal with Dr. Kiefer? He knows she's about to go under the knife and his mission to save her soon becomes a mission of revenge, contradicting his motives and his stance on the issue. Perlman's good in the role but his performance can't help the cracks in the script's armor.

The movie also features from a few other, smaller problems starting with Kim and Alex's interaction. They don't ever really gel as a couple and the mention of their relationship at the beginning of the episode bears no fruit whatsoever, they could have just as easily been two co-workers car pooling. They also don't make for very believable clinic workers, acting very unimpressed by Angelique's almost instant pregnancy and some of the actions that the fetus takes while inside her womb. If that weren't enough, the conclusion comes across as hokey. When the real father of Angelique's baby is revealed, in turn justifying Dwayne's actions to an extent, the results are not scary so much as they are just really goofy. The effects aren't bad and the camera work looks good, but the premise, by this point in the movie, is just silly.

With the griping out of the way, let it be said that Pro-Life is not a total waste of time. There are some nifty effects in the film and a couple of genuinely shocking and surprising moments of violence that will keep viewers on their toes. Perlman is decent in an unexpectedly restrained performance, proving that sometimes cooler heads do prevail and Caitlin Wachs is quite good as the confused and distraught Angelique, torn between her religious beliefs and the dire reality of her situation. The script does succeed in making us think, even if it's only briefly, and while the message gets muddled the premise is at least an interesting one. Carpenter's direction is assured and the cinematography is slick and expertly executed. It's a shame then, that the writers weren't able to put the story before the politics and give us a truly intelligent piece of work. The seeds were there, but they didn't fully sprout.

The DVD

Video:

Like every entry in the series so far, Pro-Life is presented in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer. For the most part, things look pretty good on this disc. There are some mild compression artifacts present here and there, possibly due to the fact that this release is a DVD-5 and not a DVD-9, but aside from that the image is decent if just a little bit soft. Color reproduction looks accurate and flesh tones look lifelike, and there's a pretty solid level of both foreground and background detail present through the majority of the movie. Not a flawless transfer, but certainly a very good one.

Sound:

Audio options are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, both in the movie's native English language. The 5.1 track trumps the 2.0 by using some fun directional effects in the rear channels during a few key scenes which add to the atmosphere and which bring some added depth to the more effects intensive set pieces. Either way, even if you opt for the scaled down 2.0 mix, you'll likely be quite pleased. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Cody Carpenter's synth-heavy score is properly balanced and it doesn't ever overpower the performers. Levels all appear to be in check and there's really very little to complain about here.

Extras:

The most interesting of the extra features on this release is an audio commentary track with director John Carpenter and writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. It's a pretty interesting listen in that it focuses as much, if not more, on the intent behind the production as it does on the actual details of the shoot. The writers talk a fair bit about how they wanted to make a piece about the abortion debate without taking any one obvious side in the matter. Whether or not they succeeded in this is completely debatable, but it does seem that their hearts were in the right place. They don't seem to think they've missed the mark this time around, though viewers will obviously have to make up their own minds. In addition to this, they also cover casting, effects work, and location shooting as well as the standard 'what it was like on set' type stories and anecdotes. Carpenter almost always gives good commentary on his work, and this track continues that tradition.

Up next is a making of documentary entitled Final Deliver that, at roughly seventeen minutes in length, features interviews with Carpenter, Swan and McWeeny as well as the principal cast members, Perlman included. They talk about how great it was to work with one another and generally praise each other's contributions to the production by way of some interview clips that are spliced in alongside some behind the scenes footage. It's not as in-depth as it probably should have been and oddly enough it talks about how the production team intentionally tried to tone things down (they exploding heads, the male abortion and the crawling monster baby in the movie would seem to contradict that...) but it's worth a watch if you dug the feature. A second documentary entitled Baby Steps, which clocks in at just over five-minutes in length, details how the birth scene was shot and how the effects were created for that memorable set piece.

Rounding out the extra features is a text bio of director John Carpenter, a still gallery, and the screenplay in DVD-ROM format. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.

Final Thoughts:

Not a particularly strong effort when you consider what Carpenter has been capable of in the past, Masters Of Horror: Pro-Life is still worth seeing for a few inspired moments and a couple of nasty set pieces. The extras aren't as plentiful as previous releases in the series but they're still interesting and they certainly add some value to the package. Die hard Carpenter fans or series completists can consider this one recommended, while those who fall outside of those groups would be best served by a rental first.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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