Even though Iím slowly coming to terms with the lackluster quality of Masters of Horrorís second season, itís still not quite daunting enough to deflect the intrigue of revisiting a John Carpenter effort. Even though the previous seasonís Cigarette Burns is hardly among the most impressive entry on the directorís resume, itís hard to fault a series that finds a way to get him behind a camera, where one hopes that he could recapture some of the magic that made him one of cinemaís most exciting storytellers. Actually, I should probably be heaping that praise upon Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, the two Cigarette Burns scribes who also managed to coax Carpenter back for Pro-Life, a provocative attempt that ends up playing things too safely and pulpy to really make a statement but remains entertaining enough in its irony and squirm-inducing sequences.
Kim and Alex (Emmanuelle Vaugier and Mark Feuerstein) are on their morning commute when they almost plow right into Angelique (Caitlin Wachs), a pregnant girl whoís fleeing from the nearby woods. Luckily for everyone involved, Kim and Alex happen to work at an abortion clinic thatís just down the road. More unfortunate is the fact that Angelique is the daughter of Dwayne Burcell (Ron Perlman), a local right wing extremist whoís been issued a restraining order by the clinic. That doesnít prevent him and his three sons from attempting to ďrescueĒ Angelique through violent force, though they all soon realize they might not be doing Godís work after all.
Obviously, something is up with Angeliqueís baby. When sheís reticent about the details surrounding her pregnancy, Alex suspects that Dwayne himself has raped her, but this conclusion arrives so quickly and that itís too apparent, so the true nature of whatís gestating inside her is the driving force that moves Pro-Life forward. Angelique slowly reveals the story behind her impregnation while the rest of her family blasts their way through the clinic; the latter part of the equation is the less interesting of the two, as itís a one-note shoot-out and torture show that suffers from the supreme logic gap that no one here has a cell phone (Dwayne and his brood do cut the landlines). The other side of the coin is a more intriguing pure horror movie, complete with wince-worthy body horror and demonic intrusion. When taken as a whole itís difficult not to see Pro-Life as mash-up of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing (and maybe with a dash of God Told Me To tossed in), and thereís never any doubt as to how the twain shall meet since the screenplay precisely ticks off all the correct, dripping-with-irony beats.
Thatís indicative of the film as a whole--save for an extraneous sub-plot involving one of Dwayneís sons (per usual, one of them conveniently grows a conscience) and another family at the abortion clinic, thereís nary a hair out of place, and Carpenter glides through it agreeably enough. His measured, meticulous approach isnít on display very much--the setup is a little moody, but the script dives right into things rather quickly. A gunshot (complete with a silly display of CGI gore) sends this thing off to the races, and it kind of wheezes its way to the finish line. Whereas Cigarette Burns was a slow burn whose fuse exploded and sent it off the rails, Pro-Life flatlines without a sense of real urgency, its intensity undercut by Cody Carpenterís score. The apple hasnít really fallen far from the tree--Cody can work up some atmospheric bars like his old man, but the latter is content to let the score hum in the background for almost the entire film, so the whole thing feels like itís playing at one speed.
That there arenít many (okay, any) surprises in the script doesnít help matters, nor does the surface level provocation of setting a horror movie in an abortion clinic. Like Red State, it never says anything profound (the message here is ďpro-life extremists are bad, mmmkay?Ē) and sketches everything in cartoonish dimensions. These arenít characters but mere types there to shuttle the story along to its outrageous, pulpy moments that include disgusting births (complete with acidic embryonic fluid) and a giant man-in-suit demon (Derek Mears is beneath all the rubber) that at least gets points for practicality (as usual, the gore effects--save for the heinous aforementioned instance of CGI--are top notch). Perlman is the filmís strongest and most memorable presence, but even his distinctive block-headed thuggishness is at the service of a thinly-drawn brute.
Ultimately, Pro-Life is less ambitious but arguably more accomplished than Cigarette Burns, but both are about as equally unmemorable, something Iím remiss to say about any Carpenter movie. Like anything heís churned out post-Vampires, Pro-Life isnít staggeringly bad--itís simply an exercise of wading through the motions and delivering something serviceable. In the immediate context of this season of Masters of Horror, itís arguably good enough to stand above most of the previous episodes (save for Family), but thatís sort of faint praise. This oneís definitely worth checking out via a streaming platform, though Carpenter completists who canít resist a disc will be treated to another fine release from Anchor Bay. Full of the usual Masters of Horror behind-the-scenes features, it also includes a commentary with McWeeny, Swan, and Carpenter (who, true to form, ducks out to smoke at one point). Unfortunately, thatís sort of symbolic of how predictable Carpenterís been for a while now; Pro-Life is a perfectly serviceable episode, but Carpenter should be delivering stuff beyond that. Rent it!