John Carpenter reunited with co-writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan (MOH: Cigarette Burns) for the trio's second season episode, and it's a mish-mash of ideas that manage to hold together until the episode's second half becomes a pastiche of Carpenter's Most Grisly Hits, although some of that's unintentional.
Whether they were writing towards Carpenter's favourite themes and scenarios, the writers' original script dealt with a siege between a young girl intent on getting an abortion, and her religious father and brothers who attempt to infiltrate the locked clinic and save the unborn child from the surgeon's knife.
MOH producers wanted a supernatural angle, and it sort of works, but the demon that's responsible for impregnating the teen pushes the episode into B-movie silliness, and that sense of humour, sometimes subtle, but fairly obvious, really clashes with the very real hot button issue of abortion.
The writers, though, don't take sides, and Ron Perlman's portrayal of the angry father is much more believable than expected; he's human, he's not intent on being a killer, and our sympathies are divided between himself and the girl who wants the reptilian thing in her belly gone.
Where the episode falters is traceable to some easy markers: the father's familial rescue squad wastes time checking the clinic for an alternate entry when it's clear the front and secondary doors are made of thin wood and glass (allowing for some scene padding); and the father's revenge on the clinic's chief doctor plays out like a segment from Dr. Giggles (1992), adding some ugly torture imagery to the cartoon birthing sequence.
The birth is appropriately surreal, but the effects team opted for a nod to Carpenter's famous spider mutation in The Thing, and it's just dumb. Crab legs popping out and resting on the girl's raised thighs is bizarre, but it's an illogical design that's less functional and more of a geek nod for Carpenter fans, destroying the tense drama the director's been maintaining since the opening scene. The demon, when revealed, is a lizard-like monster with a large maw; its offspring has crab and spider legs, and no genetic resemblance to the demon, although it has a backwards, humanoid baby head (a contribution from mom's gene pool).
Cody Carpenter's second film score (after season one's Cigarette Burns ) has some excellent melodic pieces for the traumatized teen, but the action cues tend to be harmonic undulations placed over an endless and increasingly dull percussion loop.
The ultrasound of the demon child growing rapidly in the teen's belly is classic sci-fi (the practical makeup is beautifully old school), and Carpenter has fun setting up some shocks, including the birthing goo hosed onto Emmanuelle Vaugier (Painkiller Jane), as well as the teen on the swing set prior to the demon's assault, and the security guard's head coming off in one big chunk (shockingly rendered in CGI).
The DVD's effects and making-of featurettes cover the visual tricks, as well as the film cinematographer and the amazing clinic set designed for the tightly directed episode.
The commentary track is quite steady and lively, and the writers are left alone around the midpoint when Carpenter steps out for a long, deep smoke. The track covers deleted scenes and early concepts, characters, and the conflicting elements of real-world drama and supernatural weirdness that takes over the second half. Carpenter also mentions his first cut, which ran 52 mins., and some scene padding which extended the running time to the series' standard 57 length.
This title is available separately, and in a life-sized skull that houses the complete Second Season of Masters of Horror which includes "The Black Cat," "The Damned Thing," "Dream Cruise," "Family," 'Pelts," "Pro-Life," "Right to Die," "The Screwfly Solution," "Sounds Like," "Valerie on the Stairs," "The V Word," "The Washingtonians," and "We All Scream for Ice Cream."
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan