Directed by John Carpenter
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
There are only a few things that scare real men. Fat chicks in party hats could be one of those things. Discovering a sex tape made by your parents may be another. But only one thing cuts deep into the soul of every single male out there: unplanned pregnancy. Ho ho, kiss your freedom goodbye!
For women, most often, pregnancy is a wondrous thing. There’s a certain glow about the female form when it has a bun in the oven. That’s not so much the case for 15 year old Angelique (Wachs). Her little bundle of joy is scaring the crap out of her to the point that she is running through the woods to escape her religious father (Perlman). After a near fatal encounter with a car she is brought to the local woman’s health clinic and it is only a matter of time before daddy dearest or the fetus inside her paint the walls red with blood.
Here it was: Carpenter’s greatest chance to tackle a big issue. The big A isn’t something often found in horror. Abortion, a horror in its own right to some, is ripe with possibilities to both scare, inform and educate. Now if only someone had thought about that before perverting this into a three ring circus of stupidity, silliness and failure.
Starting with the script would be the easiest thing. Strangely enough, “Pro-Life” hardly touches upon any of the issues surrounding abortion. Young Angelique is not once conflicted about her decision to kill the child inside her, nor does she think twice about what her anti-choice father would think. This is compounded by her father’s totally insane way of dealing with the situation. Apparently for dear old dad, slaughtering everyone in the clinic seems like the wise choice, even those that have nothing to do with abortion. Makes sense, right? A man who so firmly believes in God would most certainly have his sons kill innocent people who just want to leave in peace! Smart writing.
Not only are our main characters brain dead and one dimensional, but the doctors too seem to have graduated from the Dr. Seuss school of magical malpractice. When a woman has been shot in the face with goo that burns her should you:
A) Take her to the closest eye wash station
B) Yell and scream like buffoons in mating season
If you answered “A” then you would be wrong. Never assume that your health care professional will know what to do in a time of crisis, that would be expecting too much.
What makes for an even sadder experience is that none of the cast ever seems to develop as the story unfolds. The there’s the needless throw away characters. In the midst of all this drivel, the audience is then introduced to several other people who either die, go missing, or just stand around bewildered. What could it have been that made a film about abortion so bland and tasteless? The Devil!
Yes, Satan himself is to blame for this. You see, Angelique was impregnated by the Hell lord, or his distant reptilian cousin, in her back yard. This idea isn’t too bad. Sure it is not up to par with Rosemary’s Baby but there could still be hope. Well, there could have been hope until you actually see the thing that gets spit out of her vagina. He is part crab, part unknown beast and part human baby (the head anyway). Ultimately what we have here is a refuge from Carpenter’s far superior, The Thing. This somehow doesn’t match up to the disgusting bastard that knocked her up in the first place. The Devil we are introduced to at the film’s climax is a large, horned man-lizard that resembles nothing of his offspring. Did daddy’s seed turn sour? In the end it feels that the entire project was built around the slaughter and the devil; the characters were totally secondary.
If a filmmaker is going to have such an out-there premise and boring leads why not deliver on the gore? This reviewer asked that same question after the anti-climatic ending. There is one decent head shot early on, but the opportunity for some real meat and potatoes happens off camera when Perlman gets to torture the clinics head doctor … instead of saving his daughter. Logic is this episode’s worst enemy. After the excellent FX in “Pelts” (DVD review), there should be a mandatory rule set where off camera kills cannot be allowed. Dad had all these great abortion tools to use and the audience gets to see none of it being implemented against the doctor of death.
There is one bright star in this black pit of suck: baby head shot. Oh fuck yeah! Angelique picks up a gun that weighs more than her, holds it like a noob and manages to blow the devil kid’s head apart with 1 shot in a badly lit room. Give this girl a pass to the Halo 3 beta! I want her on my team! Sickening, that one of the episode’s flaws was its best feature.
Screw it. At least they didn’t scrimp on the extras for this DVD. The boring features like the storyboard gallery, still gallery and biography of Carpenter can be easily skipped over unless you really, REALLY want to torture yourself by looking at Satan’s STD child. Let’s just move right along to the two featurettes: Demon Baby: Birthing The FX Sequence and Final Delivery: The Making of Pro-Life. The demon baby has only one really interesting FX feature from what can be gathered in the first featurette, and that is his head. A real infant was filmed on a green screen and then matted onto the puppet to give it a much more realistic appearance that no animatronic could have matched. The rest of the behind-the-scenes footage for the last featurette doesn’t do much aside from re-explaining many of the things any horror fan should know about basic special effects, but this episode didn’t offer too much to begin with so that is no surprise.
Before I wrap this up I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the commentary track. Would you want to sit through this whole film again just to listen to Carpenter and writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan? Yes and no. It is interesting to listen all the party members discussing the political/religious views of the characters as if there was actually a meaty storyline to back them up. Sorry, but what film did you guys think you made? Because “Pro-Life” misses so many key points that you’ve just made an action packed, dumbed down version of a previous Devil rape film. Better luck next time.
“Pro-Life” is a hit and run film. Issues of responsibility, morality, faith and mortality are briefly touched upon, but they’re left suddenly on the side of the road in favor of a sillier concept. A film like this could have opened up dialogue and minds about the issue of abortion, but crab-baby and lizard-devil daddy helped to turn this whole episode into a joke. There is never once a moment of revelation or even the simplest development of a character. “Pro-Life” is a total failure on every level imaginable.
1 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
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