Monday, March 26, 2007

MASTERS OF HORROR Season 2 Episodes 3 & 4

“The V Word”
Written by Mick Garris; directed by Ernest Dickerson

The title pretty much telegraphs what the episode is about. What it doesn’t tell you is that this is probably the worst that MoH’s second season has to offer.

We follow best friends Justin (Branden Nadon) and Kerry (Arjay Smith), as they enter a funeral home in the dead of night to see a corpse, up close and personal, only to discover some cadavers just don’t stay dead.

Now, I have very little patience for stories that begin with teen-agers getting into all sorts of trouble with the supernatural because they did something patently stupid on a dare, or for lack of anything better to do. I have even less patience for the characters themselves. It’s difficult to find any sympathy for people who basically asked to get screwed by acting like complete juveniles. (Yes, juveniles are exactly what teen-agers are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use their God-given brains, right?)
So, when Justin and Kerry meet the undead Mr. Chaney (genre icon Michael Ironside; you’ll undoubtedly recognize him from Scanners, TV’s V, and Total Recall; he also voices Darkseid on the Superman and Justice League animated series), all I can think to myself is, Well, you asked for it. (The fact that Justin is such an indecisive wuss for the majority of the story makes me care even less for his welfare.)
And when the episode devolves into I Was A Teen-Age Vampire, things get even worse.

This is such a difficult episode to get through, with long stretches of tedium desperately masquerading as suspense. Then, throw in Jodelle Ferland (Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, and the Pang Brothers’ The Messengers) as Justin’s sister, Lisa, and reaching the end credits on this one gets even dicier. I’m just thankful Ferland‘s screen time is at a minimum here; though she does have her share of admirers, I’m not one of them at the moment.

Ernest Dickerson was the frequent cinematographer for Spike Lee, before getting a director’s chair of his own, helming films like the Tales From The Crypt feature Demon Knight and the failed TV pilot Futuresport (with Dean Cain and Wesley Snipes). More recently, he directed the Heroes episode “Collision.” What he does on “The V Word” is anyone’s guess. This one is so boring, it’s almost as if Dickerson slept through the proceedings, as the audience is sorely tempted to throughout the one-hour-running-time-which-seems-like-an-eternity.

As much as I try to find even the smallest of redeeming qualities in even the sorriest pile of cinematic poop, scrambling to find something nice to say about “The V Word” is a tall order. The only bright light in this mess was the thought that the remaining 10 episodes of the season couldn’t get any lower than this.

“Sounds Like”
Teleplay by Brad Anderson; based on the short story by Mike O’Driscoll; directed by Brad Anderson

And sure enough, we go from season 2’s worst, to its most disturbing, an unnerving exploration of how the loss of a child can damage a parent’s psyche.

Larry Pearce (Chris Bauer, who’s in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers) is the supervisor at a software company’s tech support call center. Pearce is a husband and father quietly grieving for his dead son. He’s also apparently got hypersensitive hearing, hearing which at first seems to be beneficial to his job, until things begin to spiral out of control.

Having also directed Session 9 and El Maquinista (The Machinist; best known as the film Christian Bale lost 2/3 of his body weight for), it’s apparent that Anderson is fascinated by the psychological effects guilt can have on a person’s mental health. In Pearce’s case, his hearing intensifies to the point where the jerky movements of a fly become deafening noise to his ears.

Among other things, “Sounds Like” is an interesting variation of The Tell-Tale Heart. And though its gore quotient is pretty low compared to some other MoH episodes, Anderson still crafts an unsettling little tale where the scariest thing is how guilt and loss can transform any of us into monsters.

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