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Two high school aged videogame fanatics take a trip to the mortuary to catch a glance at a real dead body. When they arrive they find the caretaker dead, and are attacked by a ghoulish, blood smeared man. One friend has his throat ripped open and is left for dead as the other runs home to an empty house. Later that night the dead friend reappears, apparently alive, and then things really start to suck.

Masters of Horror: The V Word
Well, this is it folks, the last episode of Starz/Anchor Bay and Showtime’s Masters of Horror. Assuming the rumours are true, Lionsgate Entertainment may save the overall lacklustre series from an early grave, but it appears that Mick Garris’ dream is more or less dead. At any rate, The V Word is the last word for the series. Personally, I would’ve gone out with a bang, but that’s just me.

I’ll start things positive though, and admit that I’m a bit of an Earnest Dickerson fan. Though not what most would call a ‘master’ of the genre, Dickerson is the leader of the so-called ‘Urban Horror’ pack. If I were to name two films made for and by black Americans I’d pick Tales from the Hood and Bones, and I can’t seem to ever ignore Demon Night whenever I happen across it on television. All three films are uneven, weakly scripted, and Bones features some pretty dismal performances, but Dickerson’s Italian Gothic inspired visuals, and utter control of darkness (most likely due to his cinematographers background) is all obvious pluses. Unlike many Urban Horror filmmakers, Dickerson doesn’t base his work on ghetto-chic clichés but ‘old dark house’ clichés, and his films only partially placate the intended audience.

Masters of Horror: The V Word
The V Word is every bit as stylishly Neo-Gothic as the director’s other features, infused with skewed camera angles and really top notch light play. It’s pretty easily one of the better looking episodes of the second season, with just enough Mario Bava, German Expressionist, and Universal classic elements to make any discriminating horror fan happy. I’m not sure I’d call the episode frightening, but Dickerson times the jump scares well, and works the limited sets for all they’re worth. The gore quotient is reasonably high, and the execution (pun alert) is genuinely effectively brutal. The performances are also better than most this season, including genre favourite Michael Ironside at his scenery chewing best.

Direction, effects, and performances are about as good as we can expect from the series—so why isn’t The V Word a particularly good episode? That would be the scriptwriter’s fault—series producer, and the same fellah that brought us two of the series worst episodes, Mick Garris. Vampires need to be put on some kind of blacklist, because nobody’s done anything particularly original with the concept since Near Dark, and nobody’s done anything particularly interesting with it since From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, maybe the Blade movies (no, I haven’t seen 30 Days of Night). Yes, we all know it’s hard out there for a vamp, we all know the rules, the pain the ‘thirst’ induces, the fact that good people make for bad vampires. We’ve seen Interview with the Vampire and some of us have even found the courage to sit through the poor little bloodsucker flicks that followed in its wake.

Masters of Horror: The V Word
But even if we ignore the story’s been-there-done-that elements, we have to take the bad dialogue (which was apparently re-written from Garris’ original script) and plot conveniences into account. Then there’s the films breakneck, made for TV pace which allows no time for genuine character development or human interest. The story’s subtext—something about video game violence—is also almost entirely lost, and left as simple bookends. At best the story acts as a kind of pilot episode introduction to the film’s secondary character; otherwise it just sort of begins and ends.

Video


As I’ve said before, I might as well just copy and paste the video sections of my other Masters of Horror reviews. There’s noticeable compression noise in skin tones and solid, bright colours, but nothing abrasive. Details are relatively sharp with minimal edge enhancement. The occasional candy colour (mostly the ‘vampire-vision’ shots), though sometimes a bit noisy, pops nicely against the dark backgrounds. Most importantly the features blacks are rich and solid without a lot of low-level noise, and the contrast levels are just about perfect for Dickerson’s traditionally shadow driven sequences.

Masters of Horror: The V Word

Audio


This Dolby Digital 5.1 track has plenty of meat to it. Most of the film is pretty audibly minimalist, but subtle surround effects really work. The film’s opening act, easily its finest part, utilizes some back channel elements that genuinely shock, the kind you aren’t quite sure came from the speaker or something in the room. The post-vampire bite scenes are awash with creepy voices spurting from every channel, and the gory attacks are wonderfully over the top. The musical score is a mix of traditional organ music and ‘80s-ish synth, and it works, though I’d prefer a lot more bass behind it.

Extras


Director Earnest Dickerson and writer/producer Mick Garris provide a low key and relaxed, but effective commentary track. Garris defends his trope based and old fashion script based on the fact that season one was too modern and sexy, which actually makes sense. Dickerson brings up his inspiration, which is the exact same one he claimed on the Bones DVD (yes, I actually watched Bones with the commentary track when I rented it)—Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body. This is exactly why I like Dickerson’s work on a pure visual level, he knows his horror. The track runs a little low on steam towards the end, but it’s pretty good overall.

Masters of Horror: The V Word
‘Feeding Frenzy’ is the usual fluffy, fifteen-minute Masters of Horror making-of, that doesn’t really tell us anything, but sells the episode pretty well. It looks like the shoot was fun, but I’m not really learning anything here, especially not in the wake of the commentary track. ‘Bite Me’ is a five-minute look at the gore effects, specifically the chunky throat injuries. It’s nice to see traditional make-up and digital effects artists working so well hand in hand and overall I’d say that these were some of the best effects the whole season. These featurettes are followed by the DVD-Rom screenplay, a photo gallery, and a bunch of Masters of Horror trailers.

Overall


If I were Anchor Bay/Starz, I would’ve gone out with the beauty of Black Cat, the originality of Sounds Like, or the balls out chaos of Pelts rather than such an average entrée, but at least The V Word is half good. It could’ve been worse, we could’ve gone out with We All Scream for Ice Cream. Director Earnest Dickerson shows his stuff, as do the effects people and actors, but the plot is weak and dull.


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