Thursday, February 01, 2007

Masters of Horror “The V Word” – review (TV Episode)


Directed by: Ernest R Dickinson

First Aired: 2006

Contains spoilers

Masters of Horror is an interesting format, take great horror directors, give them the freedom to do what they want for an hour and see what comes out – this episode, from season 2, just aired in the UK on Bravo. In this case, Dickinson is more a TV series director rather than one of the great horror film directors but clearly “The V Word” is a standard horror subject, being a take on the vampire myth. Sometimes the episode was new and interesting but, too often, it proved to be pedestrian and clichéd.

The film begins with two best friends. Kerry (Arjay Smith) is playing “Doom 3” (and we get too many gaming shots for my taste) whilst Branden Nadon as JustinJustin (Branden Nadon) is on the phone to his father (Keith Humphrey). As the short film progresses we discover a little more about his family background. Justin lives with his mother (Lynda Boyd) and little sister (Jodelle Ferland) and his father, who has walked out on them, wishes Justin to meet his new girlfriend – much to the seventeen year old’s chagrin.

Justin suggests to Kerry that they visit his cousin who works in a funeral home so that they can see the body of a boy their age who has died. They get there, knock to no answer, Arjay Smith as Kerrybreak the bell and then let themselves in. There is a protracted sequence of them searching round the funeral home, fearful of the dark and spooky place and unable to find the cousin. The lengthy sequence is meant to build suspense but becomes boring. There are bits with coffins that were shut and are then open, but it fails to build suspense but a nice reference is made when the line “They’re coming to get you Barbara” is delivered, which is, of course, from “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). These referential moments occur a few times but I found many to be cheesy, to varying degrees, I did like this one though.

Eventually they check an upstairs room and find the corpse of an old woman, in a makeup chair, half made up. There is an mp3 player with blood on it. They see an exit down a dark corridor, Michael Ironside as Mr Chaneymake for it but, when the lights come on, they are surrounded by corpses on trolleys. There is fresh blood on the floor and one of the corpses has a sheet over it, which is soaked in blood around the throat area. Removing the sheet they find the cousin with his throat ripped out. A corpse sits up and the vampire is revealed, we later discover he is child abusing, disgraced school teacher Mr Chaney (Michael Ironside).

What they did with the vampire was, in the first instance, very interesting. He gets up and the lads run. interesting use of shadowsHis shadow stretches out, reminiscent of Nosferatu and then the shadow knocks Kerry down the stairs, causing a bad leg break. The interacting shadow was marvellous but never used again. Chaney comes for them and, when he gets Kerry, another interesting aspect is added in. This vampire has no fangs; he brutally rips the throat open with his fingers. Justin manages to smash and get through a window.

At home he calls 911, several times, but is treated as a prank caller. He phones his father who fobs him off. A phone message reveals that his mother’s cell phone battery is dead. It appears, then, that he goes to bed. We see scenes of Lugosi in Dracula , which is on TV and was just a little clichéd, but nice to see Bela, when Justin awakes hearing something. There is someone at the door. It is Kerry, he seems to have escaped but staggers into the house and collapses on the floor. On opening the bandage on the neck the wound appears severe.

kerry drinking water, with hole in neckJustin gets the phone, turns and Kerry is gone. He goes to the basement area and sees Kerry drinking water which floods through the hole in his neck. Kerry then vomits some water and falls down dead. Justin looks to make the call again but Kerry is up and behind him. He apologises, says he is hungry and attacks.

justin newly deadThe next day Justin awakes but things are clearly not right, can he escape the curse of the undead or will he succumb to the lure of the night?

I must mention the mother who was so thick she thought Kerry’s blood on the carpet was cola and totally missed the fact the Justin, as a newly reborn, unfed undead jerked like a zombie, had lost all fine motor skills and looked like hell. Even when she twigs that something is wrong and feels his brow, to discover that he is freezing cold, she decides that he has partied too hard.

There is some indication that garlic, in the form of pizza, is a deterrent – though never clearlyexample of demonic visions revealed as to whether this is the case. The family dog dislikes the undead. Other vampire lore we get is the vampires see in a vivid orange, there are flashes of orange in the night (the call of the night) and when they taste blood they see demonic flashes – cool effect but ultimately not explained in any way. It seems that not all rise as the undead, post chomp, Chaney has chosen the two boys for some reason unknown. They can be killed through decapitation (and it is not a clean way to kill) and exposure to sunlight.

Chaney was a fascinating characterI mentioned references and the line “I do not drink… wine.” was a reference too far, coming across as way too cheesy. Ironside is great, playing the role with some gusto and it is a shame he didn’t get as much in the way of a speaking role for his lines are excellent. There was a character there, as despicable as he was, that I wanted much more background on.

The other two main actors give solid performances that are hampered mainly by pedestrian cliché – the scene in the funeral home was way too long and whilst there was nothing wrong with the actor’s performance the script was too damned obvious. We have been there before, their reactions were standard and it bogged the start down somewhat.

Justin looks worse for wearThe film has interesting ideas and perhaps should have concentrated on them rather than the standard horror that it aimed for too often. I liked the idea of the vampire literally ripping the throat out and, to a degree, these vampires displayed a touch of zombieness but were, most definitely, vampires with sentience and a thirst for blood. There is a high gore content in places, which will keep the gore hounds happy. There was attempt to give character background but it failed to go far enough for me. The cliché aspects outweigh the interesting genre ideas and restrict my rating of this episode to 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mateo said...

Glad to see you review it. I saw it when it first aired here in the U.S., I think it was a couple of months ago. I'm with you mostly, but I think I turned out to like it a bit more than you did. The cliches were there, but they apparently didn't bother me as much.

I agree with you that the funeral home scene was too long. That's the main problem I have, is that you don't find out until half way through the movie that there really is something fresh to it. It appears like it's going to be standard fright flick. It ends up being more of the introspective vampire flick, which is nothing new either, but the setting is what I think makes the film worthwhile.

This is one of the only vampire films I can think of which takes place in, what I consider to be an authentic world. Usually it's either a gothic or cyberpunk world. But this really felt real to me. It made me think about what it would really be like to be a vampire. The ending scene with Kerry was especially brilliant to me. It's this image of a vampire teenager, playing video games, with no conscious about what he has become. There was something of a Louis/Lestat quality to the relationship of Justin and Kerry.

So I ended up really liking the film. It made me want to see more of this world. Sure, I could have lived without the cliched Justin suicide scene, but the setting is what ultimately won me over.

If you can think of any other vampire films that are set in a realistic modern world, I'd love to hear of those suggestions.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo, I see your point and, to a degree, that is why the cliches disapointed so much - they distracted from that aspect.

In the example of Kerry on the bus what could have been a great scene was spoilt with the 'drink wine' line. In fact I could have done without the referential bits, perhaps just keep in the 'coming to get you' line, which worked as it was a character making the reference on purpose.

I see your Louis/Lestat connection although it was curtailed - that said they only had an hour.

What they did with the genre, in places, was interesting but they didn't concentrate on it enough.

As for vampire films without a gothic/cyberpunk aspect to them - we'll I'll have to give it some thought, there is always a tendency to open into at least a little gothicness. Near Dark is fairly much not that way (until the melodrama of Caleb/Mae's recovery at the end).

I'm watching a Korean TV series called Freeze at the moment which could well be down those lines as the vampirism is very understated. I'll be reviewing after watching through so you can judge for yourself at that point. I'll think about it and see if I can identify some more but they are going to be few and far between.

All in all, for the genre, the 4.5 wasn't to bad a score for this, however. Just resting below average it was pushed there by the cliche elements including the 20 minutes of wandering round the funeral home.

Wish Ironside had been given a little more to do, as well.

JR said...

I only discovered this site last week and, as I collect vampire flicks as a hobby, it has quickly risen to the top of my Favorites listing . . . nice work!

Since this is the movie I acquired most recently, this will be my first post:
I disagree about the funeral home scene; I felt the suspense level made it the most effective of the movie as a whole, which took something of a downturn with the appearance of the "Mr. Chaney" character.
Here is the main problem as I see it: if Justin's cousin was attacked by Chaney, why was he lying dead on a gurney? The two main characters did not even seem to lose consciousness after being bitten . . .
Even more problematic is the manner in which they were attacked (i.e. the unnecessarily gorey ripping away of the throat); if Chaney knew that he was turning these boys into vampires (albeit this word is never uttered in the screenplay), why would he mutilate them in such a fashion? Unlike most vampire stories, their horrific wounds never healed. Surely he could have found a more(ahem) discreet manner in drinking their blood!
This last detail seems to tip the movie more into zombie-land, especially considering the way Justin acts immediately after being bitten.

So, although I enjoyed the direction and performances, this one might better have been called "the Z word".

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi JR, welcome to the site.

I guess with these things it is always a matter of taste (and, to a degree, mood when watched) as well as expectation.

However, you raise some interesting points. We could assume that the cousin was killed in such a way as he wouldn't come back - but then the question raises of why turn these two.

The ripping of the throats was really a gore move I think - a matter of style rather than practicality.

But the zombie connection is well made - night of the living dead is quoted - but the tell for me was both in the lore revealed - sunlight and garlic - and the cogniscent thought shown at the end.

There is some cross-over however.

Thanks again for the comment and feel free to offer comment on any of the posts - I love to debate these issues and it is always interesting as we all see things in our own way.

JR said...

I watched the BTS feature on this a couple days ago . . . the special effects make-up guy made a point of saying they wanted to avoid the traditional biting with fangs because it had been done so much before. However, the movie does utilize some classic vampire plot-devices, such as when Justin self-sacrifices by exposing himself to sunlight (how many times have we seen that before, Taliesin?).
Still, this is a worthwhile effort, even though--as I said above--the vampire elements are somewhat muddled by zombie ones.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

JR, I would say we've seen it too many times before, but that would mean there are too many vampire films and that can never be the case!

Re the zombie aspect, we must remember that the zombie (Romero archetype) was actually based on vampires - I am Legend - thus it kind of is a full circle.

JR said...

I was under the impression that Matheson disliked Romero's "interpretation" of his novel (Romero's movie, while one of the greatest horror films ever made, seems to be even further away from Matheson's original intention than Omega Man . . .)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

JR, I've no doubt he did dislike it.

However I am Legend did inspire NotLD and thus zombies owe a little to the vampire genre.

Thinking about it... if we are talking endings than both Omega Man and NotLD (both definitely not vampire films) get a lot closer to Matheson's ending than the recent I am Legend!

LOD said...

PLEASE tell me the ending!!
I DVR'd this episode over the weekend. The show started late and as a result, the recording cut it off at a great point.

It stopped at the scene where the boy had to decided to kill his sister or not.

Please can you tell me how it ends?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

LOD, I'm happy to dig the episode out, check the ending and give you a blow by blow account. But I m not happy to do it as a comment, as it is too spoiler heavy.

Mail me at the contact me address - in the right hand column - and I'll mail you back with the details.

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