A young teenager is found along the side of the road by two doctors who work at a remote abortion clinic. Taking her there for an examination, they discover that she is pregnant. It isn’t long before her deeply religious father and his fanatical sons turn up to save the baby and get her out of there. But as the armed mob lay siege to the facility, the doctors inside come to the realisation that the unborn baby is abnormal and that the girl’s claims of being raped by a demon may not seem as far-fetched as they originally sounded.
John Carpenter returns to the Masters of Horror TV series for Pro-Life, his contribution to the second series of the horror show in which ‘masters of horror’ direct what are essentially hour-long short films. I wasn’t overly impressed by Cigarette Burns, his contribution to the first series, and was keen to see what he could come up with this time around in more familiar territory. The end result is a sort of cross between The Thing, Prince of Darkness and Assault on Precinct 13.
Pro-Life is hardly classic Carpenter although there are glimpses of what made him a ‘master of horror’ in the first place. It’s just that the script is so pedestrian and slap-dash that it makes everything else in the film seem second-rate. After a promising opening few minutes which sets the scene nicely and gives everything an ominous, religiously-fanatical mood, the script then literally jumps the gun too quickly, blowing away its potential with an ill-advised headshot and then proceeds to run through the motions too fast. Instead of a slower build-up, Pro-Life gets down to the dirty too soon and then has to find ways for its characters to kill time in this small location before the big finale.
Case in point is when the fanatical father, Dwayne Burcell, and one of his sons corner the doctor inside his office after a shoot-out and proceed to inflict the same abortion techniques upon him as he does his patients. It’s a drawn-out scene, rather bitter and gratuitous and which does nothing to further the story only adding in a moment of petty revenge – and it’s there to pad out the running time too. You almost wonder whether Dwayne forgets about saving his daughter with the amount of time he spends with the doc. Carpenter and the script also toe the line here, never once taking sides in the whole abortion debate. It’s probably a wise choice to avoid offending anyone but it means we’re never really able to sympathise with or hate either side as they’re both guilty of some pretty nasty things.
Carpenter isn’t afraid of getting nasty when it matters as we know from experience and Pro-Life does feature some gore. But sadly the majority of it is of the CGI variety and the aforementioned head-shot early on in the film looks terrible. There is a bit of blood elsewhere but the bulk of the grisly scenes shy away from showing anything outright and leaving the rest to the imagination. The baby’s father does eventually show up at the end and the practical make-up effects make it look like something from the video vaults of the 80s (but in a good ‘man-in-a-suit’ way, I think it looks pretty bad ass). The same can’t be said about the baby itself, who looks like one of those ‘altered’ toys with the spindly legs from Pixar’s Toy Story.
Ron Perlman stars as Dwayne, the man who will do anything to protect the baby as he believes “God told him too.” Perlman’s probably the best thing about the episode but mainly because you think he’ll whip out some Hellboy-like ass kicking on anyone who gets in his way. He plays upon his typecast nature, using his brute physicality and gruff delivery to good measure but is always being held back by the thinly-sketched character he’s given. The rest of the cast make no impression whatsoever and there are way too many superficial characters who don’t contribute to the story or even provide fodder for Dwayne and his sons or the monster.
Pro-Life seems to be one of the favourite whipping boys from the second Masters of Horror series and this is unwarranted as it’s a decent enough timewaster if taken in context with the rest of the series. The only problem is trying to acknowledge that John Carpenter, formerly of Halloween and The Thing, managed to direct something so forgettable.