I found this disc at a charity shop. The information on the back confused me. The running time was stated as 56 minutes. So it is not really a feature film, but there was no other reference that would have told me what this is. A long short film? Or an episode from an anthology show or a segment from an anthological film? But why on earth would you put something like this in a special tin box?
Still, it was cheap; and it had vampires, so of course I bought it.
The film opens with two friends sitting in a room. One is having an argument over the phone with his dad, the other is playing a first-person-shooter game (with an unhealthy level of obsession). Frustration and boredom lead to the decision to sneak into a funeral home at night and see a “real-life dead guy”. As it turns out, this was not such a good idea….
Rummaging imdb, I discovered that “The V Word” was part of an anthropological series (Masters of Horror) that was not intended for television, but planned and financed as a straight-to-video affair with each episode getting its own, single DVD release. For the US, at least, this plan was changed as soon as Showtime came on board wanting to show this series on its channel. It stayed with Showtime for two seasons, while the third season was picked up by Lionsgate/NBC and renamed Fear Itself.
The original idea to release each episode as a stand-alone DVD was based on the concept that the writers and directors of these episodes were “famous names” in the genre. And so you will come across many names you know when scrolling down a list of the episodes. The pedigree of “The V Word” is slightly less illustrious. It was written by Mick Garris who was also the driving force behind the entire series and who, incidentally, was also one of the creators of She-Wolf of London. While Mick Garris has made his career in horror, his writing and directing credits are – for the most part – limited to work on TV anthology shows. “The V-Word” was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. Before moving into the director’s chair, Dickerson had for many years been Spike Lee’s go-to cinematographer. Like Garris, Dickerson has mainly directed TV episodes, but he also directed the Tales from the Crypt film Demon Knight.
The appeal of the episode was also heavily focused on the participation of Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers; Bloodsuckers). And there is also an appearance of Jodelle Ferland, a few years before she would be seen in Eclipse.
The two main characters are played by Arjay Smith and Branden Nadon; and they are doing a fine job with what they are given (which is not much).
The plot is paper-thin. The first half of the episode relies on atmosphere, and Dickerson and his team are very good at creating said atmosphere, making perfect use of the sets and the lighting. Smith and Nadon offer some halfway decent reactions, but in general out two protagonists are merely stumbling through this atmospheric set like two idiots, and there is very little the actors can do about that.
The vampire’s shadow is a very small element in this first half, but is has a lot of impact regarding the atmosphere, even though I feel it is underused. Like the Subspecies franchise, “The V Word” pays homage to the shadow work in Nosferatu. And as in the Subspecies franchise, the borders between a vampire and his shadow are fluid and the shadow’s movements can have a physical impact on its environment.
The second half of the episode deals with the fall-out from the events of the first half. In this, it is trying to build upon the friendship between the two protagonists and the family life of one of them. So the writer, Mick Garris, is trying to build on something that he attempted to establish at the beginning of the episode. But there is just not enough groundwork in the beginning and so we are not invested in these characters and their lives to the point where the events of the second half would have any meaning or have any impact on the viewer. That changes a bit in the finale, where the theme of resistance and “making-one’s-own-decisions” is nicely illustrated, even though it still has no real connection to the beginning of the episode.
As we are not invested in these characters, we merely witness the events of this episode as bystanders. And what we witness is not really clever enough, entertaining enough, or frightening enough to be memorable.
I think it all boils down to the fact that the writing did not match the 50-minute format. You need simple characters people can immediately identify with. But trying to set-up a friendship, or a strained father-son relationship, etc., while also trying to create a miniature character-arc – these are just things that they did not manage to fit into this limited time-frame (although I am more than sure that it is possible).
I have difficulties rating “The V-Word”, as I don’t know what gauge to use. Should I regard this as a film, a short film, or part of an anthology? The series made the claim of these episodes being miniature movies – and the fact that each of them got their own DVD-release probably means I should rate it as such.
As an anthology episode – something to pass the time in the evening – I would describe it as “on par for the genre” and probably give it a 5.5 to 6.0 rating (out of 10) – mostly because of the locations, props, and atmosphere.
But if I have to look at this as a stand-alone offering, the rating is probably drop towards 4.0 or 4.5 out of 10. In other words, if I had paid more than 1 Euro for this DVD, I would be somewhat miffed.