Written by: Mick Garris
Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Starring: Arjay Smith, Branden Nadon, and Michael Ironsides
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Back in 2006, ďthe v wordĒ wasnít as groan-inducing as it is now, when it seems like we canít avoid vampires. Hell, weíve retroactively shoved them into 19th century history and had them do battle with Abraham Lincoln here lately. But back when Ernest Dickerson was tapped to deliver the The V Word, it was a time before Twilight and its ensuing deluge of bloodsuckers, and it took sixteen episodes for Masters of Horror to tackle them in this initially excursion that eventually wanders into a cripplingly familiar territory.
Kerry (Arjay Smith) and Justin (Branden Nadon) are good buddies who room together at school. One night, theyíre bored of playing Doom 3 so Justin gets the bright idea that they should go skulk around a nearby mortuary where his cousin works as a caretaker. Heís supposed to let them in, but when he doesnít open the door upon their arrival, they assume something is amiss, so they decide to see whatís up. They find dead bodies, which isnít totally unexpected; however, one of them is the cousin and the rest of the funeral home staff. Even more unexpected is the undead corpse (Michael Ironside) roaming about the place.
Thatís the setup, and the rest of The V Word is kind of threadbare in terms of plot--one of the guys gets bitten and wants the other to join him, which leads to the typical agonizing over such a transformation. Itís made even more complicated when family gets involved; I mean, Justin might really dislike his deadbeat dad, but does he dislike him enough to rip his throat out? That The V Word descends into such rote stuff (which admittedly might only feel more rote after six additional years of this sort of thing) is a little disappointing because the early morgue sequence is a pretty cool haunted house throwback. Dickersonís touch here is vintage, as he allows the moody environment to take hold before he drops in his jolts, and thereís a real sense that the story can go just about anywhere. Plus, even though Mick Garris has a bit of a tin ear for dialogue, the two protagonists are an agreeable pair of buddies that are fun to watch as Dickerson almost playfully sends them through the morgue.
The film stumbles when it doesnít realize this--it feels like the type of film that should be an off-kilter buddy flick, but Kerry just kind of disappears while Justin battles with his impending vampirism. Suddenly, The V Word is an airless, dull retread that doesnít get its pulse back until Kerry and the mysterious morgue vampire reenter the picture. Ironside is quite good in the limited role that lets him play along with Dickersonís wry sense of humor that occasionally crops up in the film. Ditto for Smith, whose last scene is similarly clever and hints at a more interesting film that got wasted in favor of a story weíve seen done before. Simply put, The V Word follows the wrong character for the bulk of its runtime--Kerryís the guy that seems more interesting and cool, whereas Justin is just a typically angst-ridden white-bread young adult.
The V Word isnít necessarily bad because of this--Dickerson (who earned his Masters of Horror stripes with the compulsively watchable Demon Knight) does bring a knowingly droll touch at times. The title might play coy with the creature at hand, but the film itself has a few overt references, including a couple to Universalís Dracula. Despite the presence of a lot of elements that date it, this episode sometimes has a cool sense of timelessness, particularly the early mortuary scene. Something about the simplicity of the setup feels like a campfire story brought to life, and I love the moody eeriness surrounding it. Like most of his fellow masters, Dickerson helms a solid production all the way around and gets a nice assist from the effects crew that conjures up some grisly and chunky gore effects.
Ultimately, The V Word just isnít fresh enough, and it might actually over-exert itself by dwelling on vampirism; Dickerson sequences the mortuary stuff so well that you almost wish heíd had just stuck with this primal stalk and slash premise until the end. But alas, The V Word is just another middling entry in this anthology series; if nothing else, itís a reminder of Dickersonís unsung talents that go a bit untapped here--not only is Demon Knight one of the better popcorn horror films of the last 20 years, but Bones is worth noting as well. At this point, this season feels like clockwork and so too are the DVD releases from Anchor Bay, which isn't a particularly bad thing since the presentation's solid and the extras--headlined by the usually behind-the-scenes fluff and a commentary with Garris and Dickerson--are plentiful, even if the film itself is a little wanting. Rent it!
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