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What do you get in a Master's of Horror TV movie when John Carpenter is at the helm and he chooses to fall back on styles he learned in making ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and THE THING? You get PRO-LIFE.
This is not a bad thing because, while PRO-LIFE isn't all that original for John, he still carries it off at his best. And when John is at his best, there is no one better.
The script by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan (John Carpenter's CIGARETTE BURNS) was tweaked by John according to both writers in the DVD extras. Since I'm reviewing the DVD and not the episode, I'll make full use of the DVD in this review. I'm glad that the writers were so receptive to John's ideas because, to hear them tell it, they crapped out their original script into a hack piece of shit. It's pretty cool that John was able to influence them to be better writers and I hope they carry his ideas with them into future projects. Who wouldn't love to be mentored by John Carpenter? Damn!
In PRO-LIFE, Doctors Alex O' Shea (Mark Feuerstein: ABANDON) and his partner Kim (Emmanuelle Vaugier: SAW II) are in love, travelling down a winding wooded road, and talking. So of course, the well established Masters of Horror trope comes into play the same way as we've seen in MoH movies like INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD, PICK ME UP, HOMECOMING, and RIGHT TO DIE: The driver is suddenly surprised by something in the road at the very second that he/she got distracted.*
That something is Angelique Burcell (Caitlin Wachs), who is on the run from something when, in her fear, she runs across a backwoods road and almost gets pasted by a car.
Alex and Kim take Angelique to the nearest Women's Health clinic to make sure that she is all right. Once inside, they are confronted by someone and something that puts the entire clinic on high alert. Pro-Lifer, Dwayne Burcell (Ron Perlman: ALIEN: RESURRECTION, THE SHAFT, BLADE II, STAR TREK: NEMESIS, HELLBOY) has a court order to stay at least 500 feet away from the Women's Clinic, which is, of course, an abortion clinic. Whatever it was that Dwayne did the last time, the folks who work at the clinic are deathly afraid of him returning. And that's the big problem you see because as it turns out, Angelique Burcell is Dwayne's daughter - and he wants her back.
Alex and Kim believe that Angelique may have been raped, likely by her father, Dwayne. And they believe this for no other reason but that Pop wants his daughter out of the clinic and because of what she says: God wants her to have an abortion. Her baby is evil.
Alex is thinking trauma.
Things don't get any better when, instead of calling the cops to enforce the law, Alex goes outside and, standing with a closed chain link gate between them, he taunts Dwayne by accusing the man of raping his own child. Not the smartest thing to do at an abortion clinic out in the middle of nowhere. Dwayne, who is just ca-razy about God and already proven unstable and dangerous, goes right over the edge after Alex spouts this bit of stupidity.
It's only a matter of time before the killing starts.
Too bad Alex wasn't the first to go.
John Carpenter wanted Dwayne to be heroic. The majority of people who are against abortion aren't egotistical self-praising heroes like that Beltway sniper nutjob whom I refuse to mention. Dwane is a brave man who is willing to both kill and die to save his daughter. He won't kill anyone if he doesn't have to, but he will not allow his daughter to be used by people he sees as evil. Heroes aren't always necessarily good, as anyone who has ever read Greek mythology can attest^, but they are committed and, in their own way noble even if wrong.
Dr. Keifer (Bill Dow: THE FLY II) has tussled with Dwayne before (hence the court order) and whatever happened, Keifer is ready for Dwayne this second time. He has guns and even a bullet proof vest. He is ready to step into danger, even death - as much as the idea terrifies him - to protect the staff and the patients of his clinic.
So with a balanced view of two unbalanced men (Dr. Keifer could have easily called the cops when he had the chance, but he wanted to make a stand) a much stronger story emerges. This was not the story that McWeeny and Swan originally sold. Theirs was more along the line of a Sam Hamm,
Thankfully Carpenter and Ron Perlman made it more.
Then the whole thing went down the tubes with the appearance of the monster.
I won't spoil things by saying what the monster is or why its there, but for the budget, Greg Nicotero and company made one pretty cool looking monster. Granted it's a man in a rubber suit, but even the much lauded Alien by Giger was still a man in a rubber suit. The two things that utterly destroy the monster and take major points off of the story is -
1. The monster makes his appearance by bursting through the floor and rearing his head back while stretching his arms wide. Holy crap but it looks bad! Especially to a Horror Thriller fan! This is why -
When Ray Harryhausen had his Dynamation bipedal creatures appear, the very first thing they would do is rear their heads back and stretch their arms wide. This thing of the monster raising its arms in a "I'm gonna getcha!" fashion has been around since at least Max Shrek and the original NOSFERATU as well as movies from FRANKENSTEIN to Howard Hawk's THE THING and beyond.
I know that Carpenter is a big Howard Hawks fan, but if this was meant as a reference, it should have come at a moment of light comedy, not as a way to scare the audience.
The monster doing a Ray Harryhausen Dynamation bit is an in-joke to Horror Thriller fans of stop motion animation. Even to those fans who may have never seen a Ray Harryhausen movie (hard to believe, but if) the scene remains referential due to director John Landis and his directing the famous Michael Jackson music video, THRILLER.
At one stage, a zombie comes bursting through the floor in the same way and Michael is moving around rearing back and stretching out his arms as he plays two different monsters. But that was intended for fun.
Carpenter's scene was supposed to scare, not make you laugh. Also the appearance of the baby, which after its birth goes to hide, reminded me of both the spider head from John's THE THING as well as the facehugger from ALIENS.
2. The cinematography. Director of Photography, Atilla Szalay (Masters of Horror: HOMECOMING, SICK GIRL, THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION, RIGHT TO DIE) just lit the monster too well in too many shots, thus rendering the look of a man in a rubber suit and not a monster in shadows. In fact, considering that this episode has the "look" of High definition video, there were several areas where the scene was just too brightly lit.
This movie also gets an
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT!!!:
These two major problems forced what should have been a heavy duty climax to cave in on itself, leaving PRO-LIFE with Three Shriek Girls. It's good, but it was very nearly great.