Directed by Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin,Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella) David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard
In 2011 I hypothesized that we would have a return to the horror anthology. Sadly, I haven't seen most of the horror anthology films I listed but when V/H/S was announced, it clearly was proof of what I knew was happening within the genre.
We all probably rolled our eyes when we heard a found footage anthology was coming via Bloody Disgusting's The Collective. Had we forest fired our way through this genre? Shaky cam was making us have nauseous feelings. But with even non horror sites jazzed by VHS's Red Band trailer, it seemed we all gasped at the images we were seeing. So would we get another Trick R Treat, the gold star of the recent crop? The answer is a close yes. In a nutshell, VHS evolves the found footage genre by being an amalgamation of FF hardcore horror.
VHS somehow pulls off what amounts to a mega punch in the stomach. 5 segments, each directed by a film veteran are wrapped around a plot of a group of kids looking for a mysterious VHS tape in a seemingly creepy house. Though not all the shorts are great, each one is solid and creative enough to put you on the edge of your seat. The shaky cam will get you reaching for the Dramamine and the acting is highly questionable. Think Troma stiffboardines.
But aside from it's drawbacks (another being which short would anchor the ending) it delivers on a promise of being a "back to the roots" kind of underground horror. Splashes of monsters, home invasion, Paranormal Activity phenomenon are just a few of the things you'll see. But the overall theme seemed to be douchebags getting their comeuppance. We all like seeing drunk, horny, misogynistic miscreant fuck ups getting slaughtered by the obvious vixen in the bottle and VHS delivers just that.
VHS is a feel good throwback to an 80s style grindhouse. Gore and nudity, the staples of any horror breakfast are plentiful and wrapped around in stories that will make every horror fan smirk and applause with delight.
When a group of petty criminals is hired by a mysterious party to retrieve a rare piece of found footage from a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, they soon realize that the job isn’t going to be as easy as they thought. In the living room, a lifeless body holds court before a hub of old television sets, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of VHS tapes. As they search for the right one, they are treated to a seemingly endless number of horrifying videos, each stranger than the last.
Well here be some mini reviews of each segment and a letter grade for each. Shorts are listed in the order as they appear in the film (though I think I'm forgetting the order now)
"VHS Wraparound" Segment (Adam Wingard)
Wingard directs the Jackass destructo kids segments between each short. As they investigate the house searching for the mysterious VHS tape, it seems they are not alone. Each of our Steve-Os' puts in a VHS tape which then initiates the shorts below. It's an adequate tie in, nothing more nothing less. Clearly there was a buildup here throughout the film but somehow it ends on a whimper. Wingard has little to work with but his past shorts and films plus the upcoming You're Next show this true genius at work.
"Amateur Night" (David Brucker)
If you have never watched The Signal, then you're missing out. Brucker's debut film was outright inspired madness. With Amateur Night, we see the first of douchebag frat jerkoffs getting their comeuppance. After equipping the lesser of the douchebags with glasses with a cam, they venture off in search of the elusive pussy. We experience this through the POV of glasses cam. It's done well, though not without the shakiness. From a bar to a club, we see these Dane Cook fuckers roofie...err I mean seduce the hotties. As our trio get 2 hotties (a blond and brunette) into their hotel room, the silent but deadly brunette starts to reverse seduce our crew but with deadly consequences.
Story wise, it's kinda predictable of where this is gonna go. Clearly the girl is not what she seems but the twist here is what kind of monster she really is. The nudity is plentiful and the gore and splatter are top notch. Brucker's use of a glasses cam is clever and is used in a more point of view as you are exactly seeing what one of our alpha bro's see. It's a bit odd to start off VHS with a short that doesn't pack more of a punch. But you get the feel of watching something that is not willing to hold back from any horror film this year.
Ti West (The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) adds his entry into VHS and it is one of the best of the bunch. A couple go vacationing in Arizona, have an odd encounter and their camera seems hijacked by a home invasion-er. Clearly Mr. West goes for the slow burn here as he is damn good at that. The more time we spend learning about our characters, the more we care. Add in a few ha ha's and a few moments of chilled goosebumpiness, and its a wicked short with a most fucked up ending. Oh did I mention the twist I did not see coming? Creative, paced perfectly and filled with nightmares, this is tapping universal fear at its finest.
Tuesday the 17th (Glenn McQuaid)
McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) gives us a Cabin in the Woods like, cliched filled slasher camp horror entry into VHS. The sense of levity is lifted after seeing serious disturbia in West's entry. Blonde bimbo, alpha dog douchebag, nerdy straight edge kid and final girl all make appearances. In any other year, this would have been a spoof on all the cliches we love to love but Whedon has amplified the self aware horror film. Tuesday is blah and oddly misplaced. It just felt off and waaay overshadowed by Cabin's mere presence this year. The acting was completely off, edging on Troma-ness (nerdy kid was a Troma alum).
Our slasher, a mysterious unseen video blip via our camera POV kills and kills and our final girl seems to know all the tricks. Sure there was a twist, but the golden rule of meta horror is that WE as horror fans care more about the slasher than we care about the kids. And Tuesday the 17th somehow wasn't aware of this.
The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Joe Swanberg)
Swanberg has acted in a few Wingard's films but his directoragraphy is one where I've seen none of his previous efforts. But with this entry, I'm a follower. Emily, skypes with her boyfriend (we see this via her computer screen in the forefront and her BF in a small box on the bottom right) as she describes her life and mysterious shit happening at her apartment. Later her arm is in distress and middle of the night video sessions have us and her BF seeing some Paranormal Activity in the form of children.
This is a unique way of delivering the paranormal goodiness and I found it worked well. Performances here had to be top notch (as all we see are faces on the screen) and they are. The cuteness of our Emily is appealing and even some backstory gets thrown in adds to the level of WTF. Of all the shorts, this one seemed to have full feature written all over it.
Of course not all is what it seems and the ending is a POW! of the unexpected and Say what? Who knew you could tell an effective story via webcam?
10/31/98 (Radio Silence)
The group of 4 known as Radio Silence directs the last of the shorts called 10/31/98. Yes it's Halloween and our second group of alpha dogs dressed in their goofiest costumes are off to a party. They wind up at a house with no party but that doesn't stop them from their search. Not noticing the weird floating and moving objects, they wind up in the attic and see a ritual being performed with a girl in distress.
Think House of the Devil, PA trilogy and a whole lot of shaky cam shenanigans. The short has some moments of pure genious towards the end as the guys go on a rescue mission. The visuals, CGI and house come to life escape even seemed to echo some Fulci.
Kind of predictable but the best in terms of using effects to get it's horror across.
VHS shows off the talent of the new generation of a Splat Pack. Though without the splat. What these guys have done is take the found footage genre and evolved it into something new and exciting. Sure it makes no sense as to why a Skype footage would be on a VHS, but it is clever to to make an anthology that taps the genius of these filmmakers into one film. Two A shorts, two B shorts and a D equals 3 spinkicks. Some negatives are the same old rehashed alpha dogs getting killed is a bit contrives and the nauseous headaches from the spinning cams from all the shorts is a bit much. One can only take so much in a 90 minute run time.
Whereas the last generation of horror filmmakers has gone to the past and reinvigorated our beloved slasher and ghost genres, this generation homages the VHS video nasty by putting their own twist. Original stories, hardcore blood, boobs and splatter and a wink to the glory of the Video Home System.
You will not get a better film that does all that.
Yes and it's awesomely gratuitous
Lots of it. You're momma would be proud.
West's ending was purest WTF I've seen in quite a while.
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
VHS is your gateway to seeing the best the new generation has to offer. Once you've seen it, check out each director's filmography and witness the millennial horror generation takeover.
VHS arrives on VOD on 8/31 and in theaters on 10/5. Head over to the official site via Magnet Releasing.
Check out the trailer.