Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (TV)
Directed by John Carpenter
Original Airdate: November 24th, 2006
***WARNING: This review contains spoilers***
This is a very difficult episode for me to review. Normally when I do these, I watch it and bang out a review right away while my feelings are still fresh (and so we can get a review up quickety-split), but this time I had to watch the episode twice ... and then sleep on it ... and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe it’s not...
"Pro-Life" is set up to be a controversial episode in the annals of Masters of Horror history given its subject matter (and if you can’t tell from its title, I’m not giving anything away telling you most of the drama takes place in an abortion clinic). It begins with a couple Mark Feuerstein (Dr. O’Shea) and Emmanuelle Vaugier driving in to work as they playfully argue with each other ... Vaugier is attempting to remind Feuerstein that they’re trying to conceal their relationship from the rest of the staff, most especially their boss, Dr. Kiefer. Despite some adorably clever banter (the script was written by Drew McWeeny aka Moriarty of AICN and Scott Swan, the same duo who did "Cigarette Burns") in which she tells him he might as well purchase a t-shirt emblazoned with "I GOT LAID LAST NIGHT" for mornings such as these and he quips back with a charming smile (and Feuerstein does have a charming smile), "They have those?", I just didn’t buy the chemistry between the two. At no point throughout the episode did they actually feel like a couple.
Amid their sweet nothings, we get interspersed shots of a young woman, Angelique (Caitlin Wachs), running through the forest, obviously being pursued by something or someone. And of course, within mere minutes, these two scenes collide – or nearly collide - as the two lovebirds narrowly avoid hitting the girl as she runs into the road. They leap from the car to ascertain her wellbeing and assure her they are, at this very minute, on their way to a clinic, where they will take her and examine her thoroughly to ensure she’s all right ... and with the barest nod of her head, they pile her into the car and are back on the road! This all happens fairly quickly and seems a little strange to me - it struck me as a little unbelievable that a doctor would just scoop her up into the car and drive off with her – but I guess it’s a small nitpick.
The trio reach the clinic, which is gated and guarded, shortly ahead of an ominous red van that neither Angelique nor the staff are happy to see – and as they whisk her inside, this is where the fun begins. Inside the van is Angelique’s father, Dwayne Burcell (Perlman, who is fantastic as always). Dwayne is no stranger to the guys at the clinic; in fact they have a restraining order barring him from coming closer than 500 yards, hinting that he’s gotten up to some trouble in the past, most likely having to do with his militant anti-abortion beliefs. But this is a little different as this time they have his daughter and he’s determined to get her back. The staff inside quickly learns that not only is Angelique several months pregnant, but they suspect that the baby is the product of rape and incest and that is the reason she was running from her father and insisting she only got pregnant last Saturday... and that God wants them to kill her baby.
Of course, while all this is going on inside, Dwayne is outside, plotting how to get his daughter back. He and his passel of commando sons contrive a plan to cut the clinic's phone lines and then go in and take Angelique by force, during which time Dwayne prays ... and receives a message from God: Protect the baby. Once the group enter the clinic compound, gorehounds are going to get satisfied with some really great FX shots; this episode doesn’t run with rivers of blood, but what’s it got is pretty gruesome. However, it’s once they’re inside that things started to feel a little off kilter for me. Feuerstein and Vaugier now become sort of background characters, there merely to react to Angelique’s strange pregnancy. And Dwayne...
It’s Dwayne’s self-professed goal just to get Angelique and get out without hurting anyone (or at least that’s what he tells his sons), and yet he spends most of the episode confronting Dr. Kiefer in a rather gruesome scene (Note to potential viewers: Don’t watch this while eating tacos, I made that mistake) while down the hall his daughter quickly comes to term and goes into labor with the demon seed inside her and shrieks in pain. I considered that he just really doesn’t care about her, but once Dwayne finds Angelique, he tenderly takes her hand and prays to God that she won’t die, even thinking that she’s had an abortion, which doesn’t gel with a man who doesn’t care about his daughter.
But I’m a nitpicker, so maybe they just have soundproof walls ... at an abortion clinic for some reason. Anyway, moving on; it’s at this point that Daddy shows up! That’s right, Daddy is the big bad demon monster most people have seen the stills of and he is pretty badass looking. I really felt for poor little Angelique getting raped by that monster. I hate to be a spoiler for those of you who haven’t seen it yet but don’t get all excited. Daddy doesn’t really do ... well, much of anything. He kills a couple of people, I think, We don’t actually see any of it. And that’s about it. This battle is really between Angelique and her father. He believes God wants her child to live and she believes God wants her child to die. And in the end, it turns out she was right and Daddy picks up his dead demon spawn and walks away.
At the end of the day, I can tell you what I liked about this episode; it looked good (almost all of the Masters of Horror episodes do), and the acting was fairly decent (although some of the random commando sons were a little melodramatic), and I like that it had something to say. I think horror as a vehicle for social and political commentary is a powerful tool. The sound design was nice too (I blame Uncle Creepy and The Woman In Black for my recent focus of attention on this particular arena); at one point there’s this great, subtle constantly fast ticking that was putting me on edge and took me several minutes before I realized was coming from my TV and not a stopwatch somewhere in my house. The music was nicely done, and even the secondary characters were interesting (although I could have done without the asshole father in the waiting room).
I’m not so sure I can easily list what I didn’t like. The ending was a letdown for sure, but that wasn’t all. Perhaps it was that, while it was obvious the filmmakers meant to take a stand on the issue, that’s really all there was to it. In the end, it felt as if the story needed less politics and more meat.
3 out of 5
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