John Carpenter hasn’t made a movie since 2011, and it’s obvious he’s done. He had quite the run from 1978 to 1988, though. Despite my somewhat less enthusiastic reactions to some of the work here, there’s no denying the cultural impact he had with films like Halloween, The Thing, and They Live.
His reputation is greatly outsized compared to the box office receipts, though, which I find interesting. His most financially successful film, both in terms of profit and raw dollars, was Halloween. Nothing else he made, even into the 90s with inflation, came close to matching that. Hollywood never knew what to do with this irascible chain smoker with a vision who never really turned into a hit of a director.
He kept having to go back to do studio work like Starman and Memoirs of an Invisible Man in order to keep finding work. When he would earn the smallest bit of freedom, he’d go off and make something like In the Mouth of Madness or Escape from L.A., stuff so outright crazy from a Hollywood perspective that it’s amazing that they got made at all.
He lost it, though. Not every director can keep the fire of creativity active within them as they age and encounter more and more bullshit, and Carpenter is but a man. He tried, and he tried, and he never got the kind of acceptance he probably deserved.
Anyway, here begins the definitive ranking of his body of work, including all of his television work. Do check out my other lists. They’re definitive.
#23 in my ranking of John Carpenter’s films.
Do you love irony? Do you love irony above character, plot, or basic narrative structure? If you do, then do I have the episode of television for you. John Carpenter came back for the second season of Masters of Horror with another script co-written by Drew McWeeny, this time co-writing with Scott Swan, to deliver one of the least compelling pieces of filmmaking in Carpenter’s career. Always feeling like it’s on the edge of being edgy but settling for nothing but lukewarm irony from beginning to end, “Pro-Life” is a dull piece of horror storytelling that has no center on which to actually offer an audience. Except for the irony, of course.
A girl runs through the woods and into the road where she’s almost hit by a car. The girl is Angelique (Cailtin Wachs), and the car is driven by an abortion doctor Alex O’Shea (Mark Feuerstein) and nurse Kim (Emmanuelle Vaugier). Angelique is pregnant and desperate for an abortion, so Alex takes her to the abortion facility behind a guarded gate. As they arrive her father, Dwayne (Ron Perlman) arrives right behind, but he’s forbidden by a court order from being within five hundred yards of the place because of…stuff. It’s never explained, but I guess it was some sort of harassment? Anyway, he knows that his daughter is in there, but they’re surprised that she is the daughter of this local monster (who’s apparently done nothing violent before).
Doctors give Angelique a check up to ensure that she’s okay, and she insists that she became pregnant the previous Saturday despite obviously being at least four months pregnant. They think she’s crazy, especially after she describes how it was a demon who reached up to her from beneath the earth to impregnate her, and they think that she probably got raped by her daddy. Meanwhile, Dwayne calls upon his three sons to go in guns blazing to rescue his daughter. One climbs a back part of the fence (right next to a sign saying that the place is under 24-hour surveillance, mind you) and cuts the phone line, and then the four grab their guns and head towards the front gate.
Inside, the doctors discover that Angelique has gone from four months pregnant to nine months in about twenty minutes (making the timing of the whole thing squiffy, at best), and she’s soon in labor. The last twenty minutes or so of the short film are the dual actions of Angelique giving birth to a demon baby and Dwayne and boys shooting their way in and, um, giving an abortion to the male head doctor (Bill Dow). When I say this movie is built on nothing but irony, this section is the centerpiece of that as a problem. Dwayne went into the clinic with the expressed purpose of saving his daughter and her daughter’s child (again, if it’s been days since she was impregnated and she went from halfway to in labor in about twenty minutes, none of this makes sense), and instead of, having taken out the one man with a gun in the place, going to rescue his daughter, he takes the time to torture the guy. You see the point of it, the irony of the anti-abortion and religious father performing an abortion and the abortion doctor having it performed on him, but it doesn’t make sense from an actual character perspective.
Everything resolves in an ironic manner, nothing matters because there are far too many characters that the show doesn’t care about to actually try and flesh out into full characters, and then it’s over.
It’s obvious to me that Carpenter took the job of directing these two episodes of the anthology horror series as a way to simply work, not express himself creatively. There’s too little of him in the two episodes with him working as little more than a directorial passthrough for the script, acting as a director for hire. That worked on “Cigarette Burns” because the script was actually pretty good, but the script for “Pro-Life” is a dumpster fire of a first draft that desperately needed a couple more passes to find something about this story that an audience could latch onto.
Performances are largely fine, and the monster effects at the tail end of the film are fine if not exactly mind blowing. I wish I could say that Carpenter had made worse, but it’s a surprisingly tight run for the bottom of his body of work.
Originally published here.