It's actually surprising Ernest Dickerson only directed one episode of The Masters of Horror, given he's a huge genre fan and has great affinity for European horror directors, particularly Mario Bava. Like Bava, Dickerson began as a cinematographer, starting out with Spike Lee's early and early mid-career work, from the short Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads to Dickerson's theatrical swan-song Malcolm X, before switching gears and directing a handful of feature films before settling into TV-land.
His main horror and thriller genre entries include Surviving the Game (1994), a variation of the famous hunting man as sport tale; the TV spin-off Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995); and the ghost story Bones (2001).
Dickerson was attracted to Mick Garris' semi-autobiographical script because it turned a funeral home into a haunted house tale, with a menacing vampire/ex-pedophile (that aspect's deliberately kept an inch below radar, but it's definitely present) who feeds on strays with an unconventional directness (he chomps before slurping).
Garris basically expanded on a prank he and his girlfriend experienced as youths when they too were taken to a funeral home by another couple as a dumb Halloween thrill, and were confronted head-on by lots and lots of cadavers. As he points out in the DVD's steady commentary track, a number of chilling sequences in the home stemmed from fact, and the first third of the V Word is actually pretty compelling for the atmosphere Dickerson milks from the locale, as well as the convincing friendship between two guys who eventually are pitted against each other.
From a directorial standpoint, Dickerson is spot-on, but he can't boost the script's closing acts where things sort of hover back and forth between one kid's family (which includes a sister played by Silent Hill's Jodelle Ferland) and the lead vampire (giddily rendered by Michael Ironside) before a predictable conclusion. It's not a weak script, but in expanding the concept of an attack over one night as a one hour show, the episode lacks a needed urgency; part of it's due to more time devoted on the two youths as they struggle to keep as much of their friendship alive when one's already passed on to the dark side, and while that strengthens the characters, it also robs the narrative of some needed tempo shifts.
Dickerson's background in cinematography results in some very neat sequences, as well as some really clever shots that maximize information and arresting composition while the camera bounces from one angle to another. The editing by Marshall Harvey is equally sharp, but never goes trippy and attention-deficit.
The debut score by Lomax is okay; it hits the major marks, but it lacks a needed edge, if not an overall creepiness particularly as the guys infiltrate the old home prior to their encounter with the vampire.
In addition to the commentary track, the making-of featurette covers the cast and film's gore (including a very wet decapitation scene), the latter further detailed in a separate featurette on the gaping neck wounds left after a vampirical assault.
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