Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on February 21, 2007, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Listening to an audio commentary can reveal all kinds of things about the movie or TV episode it accompanies. You can learn production details, find out about the problems of a shoot and how the cast and crew overcame them, hear dirt and anecdotes dished and/or glean insight into the personalities of those involved. But when it comes to the second-season Masters of Horror entry Pro-Life, there’s a single question that listeners may well hope to have answered by the commentary, which teams director John Carpenter and scripters Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan: What on Earth were they thinking?

The trio’s previous Masters entry, Cigarette Burns, was one of the more entertainingly gonzo episodes of the first season, but lightning hasn’t struck twice here—perhaps because a similarly over-the-top approach to horror and gore has been applied to a deadly serious real-world concern. Still, the setup has possibilities: Teenaged Angelique (Caitlin Wachs, very effective and sympathetic) flees to a remote abortion clinic, hoping they can terminate her pregnancy by a father who isn’t human. Right behind her is her own dad, Dwayne (Ron Perlman), accompanied by his three sons and armed with guns and religious conviction, aiming to wrest his daughter from the facility by any means necessary. The stage is set for a siege scenario with monster-movie overtones, which should have been a natural for the director of Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing et al.

But things go increasingly awry as Pro-Life continues, and eventually falls apart into a welter of exaggerated, blood-spewing setpieces that drown out any serious intentions the filmmakers might have had. The most egregious occurs after Dwayne and his boys have invaded the clinic, and abandon their quest to retrieve Angelique (who’s screaming her way through labor down the hall) in order to perform an “abortion” on the clinic’s head doctor. This key sequence may be symbolically appropriate, but dramatically it’s completely gratuitous and throws the entire episode out of whack. By the time a crablike creature with a human infant’s head has popped out of Angelique’s womb and goes scuttling across the floor, à la The Thing’s walking noggin, viewers could easily find themselves unironically echoing David Clennon’s famous reaction in that film: “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding!”

In what should have been a bit of perfect casting, Perlman eschews turning Dwayne into a crazed, speaking-in-tongues zealot—nothing wrong with that—but dials the performance down too far; his delivery feels too placid for a man who takes the extreme actions Dwayne does. Mark Feuerstein and ubiquitous genre actress Emmanuelle Vaugier try hard but don’t quite convince in their doctor roles, particularly when they don’t act terribly perturbed after Angelique’s unborn child tries to grab their sonogram from inside the womb.

So…what were they thinking? Carpenter and the writers’ talk track provides a detailed analysis of their creative approach to Pro-Life and reminiscences of its production, and addresses their dramatic intentions, which included making a horrific abortion drama that doesn’t come down decisively on one side of the debate or the other (mission accomplished there, at least). But for all their claims that they were aiming for a “tragedy” that would make an audience think in between gasping, it’s telling that the writers describe that unnecessary male-abortion bit as something they “had to put in this film,” and one of the very first concepts they imagined for it—while a later scene in which a desperate Angelique intends to cut her child out herself, an obvious and inevitable payoff to her situation, is recalled as being added at the last minute.

It would appear that shock value was more of a concern than the filmmakers would like to admit, despite all the assertions on the commentary and in the Final Delivery making-of featurette that Pro-Life “leaves a lot to the imagination” and that Carpenter adopted a “less is more” approach to it. That’s kinda hard to reconcile with all the explicitly bloody shotgunnings and other mayhem going on. That minidocumentary also gives the cast and behind-the-scenes craftspeople the opportunity to share enthusiastic memories of the shoot and heap praise on Carpenter, and includes a look at the creation of the demon that turns up at the episode’s finale. Baby Steps similarly sheds light on how the “birthing” sequence was pulled off, and—in keeping with Pro-Life’s in-your-face approach—showcases amusing multiple angles of Vaugier being hit in the kisser by a spray of “amniotic fluid.” There’s also a brief but hyperbolic Carpenter biography and a decent still gallery; the widescreen transfer and 5.1 audio are as slick and sharp as they have been on the Masters discs from the beginning.

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