Horror has long been a genre which has existed in popularity on the cult movie circuit, largely due to the fact that widespread cinematic releases are a rarity for the genre. However, the audience for anthology horror has existed as far back as The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). And V/H/S's gimmick of gathering six different filmmakers all working on a low budget to create horror shorts sounded like a good way to present that to contemporary audiences. Too many horror films rely on simplistic gimmicks that end up stretched to feature length, and this tends to go beyond a sensible running time. So in the setting of horror shorts, V/H/S sounded like a fully functioning film. However, the entire film plays out as a series of stories within a story which are contextualized within a found footage format.
A found footage gimmick can only last so long in a film, and in V/H/S viewers get to experience six stories which all occur in this format where we can expect every time that all the characters will end up dead. Though not every story comes to this exact conclusion, the path that the stories take to get there are essentially the same every time: the characters simply deny the presence of any threat until everything falls apart around them in a bloody climax just before the story cuts to a close. The many directors display a clear sense of how to build atmosphere along the way, but the affair feels tiring when it has such a repetitive feeling to it. I'm not a person who has experienced many anthology films before. To my recollection the last one I can remember is Damian Szifron's Wild Tales (2014). Yet while every story in Wild Tales had the recurring theme of black comedy, the narratives were all inherently different. V/H/S is so dedicated to being a genre picture that every story has to subscribe to similar genre criteria. It is frequently too similar for its own good, and ultimately this has a negative effect on the film as a whole.
However, finding the real value of V/H/S comes from the judgement of each individual story. The fact that someone attempted to give it a singular narrative to tie it all together makes little sense and adds no inherent narrative value to the film, and it's made all the more frustrating by the excess of shakycam and blurry edits that already comes with the rough resolution of the film. Still, the short films themselves offer some effective value.
V/H/S begins with a semi-decent start. It takes a while to adjust to the found footage format and occasionally rough cinematography of Amateur Night as well as the fact that the characters do little more than act like stereotypical frat boys for most of the story. But the way that the found-footage camera gimmick is written into the story proves intelligent, and by the end of it we are treated to a more appropriate horror experience. With a powerful use of blood, gore and even nudity tied into the mystery of a supernatural being, V/H/S delivers a thrilling conclusion which sets the standard for the rest of the film. The imagery from this scene is unforgettable, as is the performance of Hannah Fierman whose demonic nature is as unpredictably frightening as her nudity is enticing.
Unfortunately, the second story sucked. Second Honeymoon was about a couple who went out on a second honeymoon only for the husband to be murdered before audiences discover that the killer was the wife's lover. The story makes subtle hints that there is a greater mystery along the way, but ultimately the story ends at his murder and nothing more happens. I don't care if this spoils it for you, that story was pathetic and far below the standard of all the others in the film. Second Honeymoon is the low point of V/H/S.
The third story presents a step up for the film which is of far greater significance for the film. At first Tuesday the 17th seems like a knockoff of The Blair Witch Project (1999), but given that this is the formula for most found footage horror films it is forgivable. What's most notable about Tuesday the 17th is the way that it uses its found footage gimmick by implementing its technical features into the story. The villain is only seen through tracking errors captured by the lens of the camera, and the inability to completely see the villain removes any predictability from him and thus elicits a frightening mystery for the story. Style is played with very well in Tuesday the 17th, putting it at a higher technical standard than the other stories.
The fourth story elicits a somewhat mixed response. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger has the most mystery of any story and spends a lot of time asking questions. It also finds a way to occur entirely over video chat in a sophisticated manner while using sporadic nudity for with appeal. The engaging performance of Helen Rogers also helps to keep things intense because she contributes a very vulnerable effort which grows more intensive as the film goes on. But with its specific camera format there is only so much imagery that viewers get to witness, and the film comes up short on the blood and gore in the process. Story number 4 in V/H/S is more narrative-driven than its counterparts, and this will be a refreshing change of pace for some just as it is too much of a detraction for others.
The final story is ultimately a letdown. Relying too heavily on the pre-established formula of every other story, 10/31/98 recycles gimmicks from every preceding story for the last time in the film. And by this point in V/H/S, the entire affair just feels all too tired. Even the use of paranormal elements doesn't innovate anything this time, it's just a clear sign that the film needs to come to an end.
V/H/S suffers from the predictable inconsistency of an anthology film, but while its certainly productive to see a variety of stories working around the found footage format in their own ways and doing it on such a low budget, a repetitive predictability sinks in all too fast which casts over all the stories and leaves only a modicum of thrills to exist in the final product.
"V/H/S" is an anthology film, which means it is a series of short films put together while a bigger story occurs in the background. A group of lowlife criminals who often take derogatory jobs accept a mission to infiltrate a seemingly lifeless home in order to steal a specific VHS tape. What's on this VHS tape is unknown, and they come across a wealth of films. In order to find the right one, they begin to watch each tape, slowly unraveling a gruesome discovery each time.
Now to start out, I truly hated this film the first time I watched it. It infuriated me in many different ways, and I was truly upset at my experience with this film. However, being the horror fanatic that I am, I decided to give this film another chance. Upon watching it a second time, I was still sorely disappointed. I still found many things to be wrong with this film, and although it earned a little more credit the second time around, I was still unable to get myself to enjoy this movie.
There are 5 little short films throughout the movie, along with one other story-line playing throughout. Now, the films are mostly a hit and miss. A couple of them were actually very effective in what they set out to do, while others missed the mark completely. Now, considering this was a combination of six different directors, you're going to get different styles within the film, but that doesn't excuse the lack of consistency within this film. In order to really do this review justice, I'm going to briefly talk abut each short film with spoilers.
"Tape 56" - Now this is the primary story that takes place throughout the film, otherwise known as the narrative. This follows the group of criminals who break into the house in order to steal a certain tape. Now, I understand the narrative aspect in an anthology, but this felt like a complete waste. One of the first things the do in this film is they strip a girl of her clothes and forcefully show her breasts in order to make an easy $50, and not only does that establish them as assholes, but creates a desire to see them killed off. They aren't people you care about, and I understand that that's not the point, but it's still not excuse for crappy characters. Every time they watch a film, something changes between takes or they start seeing things, but to be honest, I wasn't all that interested. It was a simple way to advance the plot, and a useless one at that. This short film receives a 1.5/5 stars.
"Amateur Night" - The first of the five films follows a group of friends who's goal is to record them having sex with random women. After bringing back a couple women from a bar, they begin to have sexual activity with one of the girls. However, this girl is creepy and odd in every way possible. Not only is she abnormal, but she manages to give off an uncomfortable vibe every time she stares at you. I actually found this film to be quite effective, as this was a truly terrifying monster. Turns out, she's a Succubus (I looked it up) which is essentially a winged demon who seduces guys in order to fulfill her needs. Before a threesome breaks out in the room, she goes on a rampage, killing nearly everybody in the process. Her face was one of the most disturbing things I have ever witnessed, and nearly made me look away from the screen. 4/5 stars.
"Second Honeymoon" - The second of the five short films follows a young couple on their vacation. In one of their first nights at the sleazy motel, in the middle of the night, someone records them as they sleep. The intruder plays around with the girl's lingerie as she sleeps, and even decides to screw with the man's toothbrush. Seemingly just a creepy experience, the couple goes on the next day without a clue. The next night however, the man is stabbed and killed, revealing that the wife was in on it the whole time. Now, I appreciate the effort at putting a twist into this film, but it ultimately fell flat. There was nothing really that creepy or mind blowing like what the first short did, and I actually found this one to be quite boring. No flavor was in this one, and was the second worst short on here (Not counting the narrative). 1.5/5 stars.
"Tuesday the 17th" - This one, in my opinion, is by the far the weakest of the shorts. It follows a group of friends who go out camping in the woods. However, as they hike through the woods, the leader of the group, Wendy, slowly revels to them the horrors of what happened here. She later reveals that she brought them all here as bait so she could exact revenge on the entity that killed her friends the previous year. After her three friends get slaughtered, she activates multiple booby traps in an attempt to kill this thing. None of them provide success, and the beast proceeds to murder her, ripping out her intestines and inhabiting her body. Now, this was the film that angered me. I was constantly frustrated with the morals and intelligence of the characters, again proving that unlikable characters can ruin a movie. The inability to film said being was interesting enough, but the cheap scares and cheesy shoe ins of past deaths really felt pale, and nothing here made the hair on my arms raise. 1/5 stars.
"The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" - The fourth film takes place entirely over a webcam. A seemingly normal couple talk over a webcam, while the girl becomes worried that her apartment may be haunted. After several revelations, she is soon attacked and passes out. Surprisingly, her boyfriend, who was thought to have lived miles and miles away, was right next door the whole time. He was working with aliens in order to incubate eggs within her body. Now, this is one of the more interesting shorts, providing some uncomfortable imagery (All the films actually contain this) along with a twist. Although I wasn't affected by the paranormal/invasion aspect of this film, the twist enough made my eyebrows raised and my jaw on the ground. Things also added up together in the end, making it worth the run time. 3/5 stars.
"10/31/98" - Last but certainly not least, we follow the story of a group of friends who head out to a Halloween party. They unknowingly arrive at the wrong house, but assume it's the correct one. They mistake mysterious sounds as effects and ghostly figures as a haunting gimmick, but soon come across a group of men in the attic performing a ritual. They are sacrificing a girl, and the boys even go along with it, but they quickly realize that what they're experiencing is real. As they escape through the house, objects are flying everywhere and hands are coming through the walls. This was definitely the most flashy and thrilling one of them all, as four guys try to escape a house that's closing on itself while hands reach through the wall. This was the most intense one of them all, and was probably my favorite short here. 4.5/5 stars.
After talking about all the films, you can just see the lack of consistency in quality this movie offers. The acting often varies from film to film, some containing decent actors while others lack in that area.
There is really no story or substance going on in this movie, so don't expect some meaningful, smart horror film, but rather, 5 gory shorts that don't necessarily add up together. Speaking of which, this film is extremely gory. Don't watch this for the faint of heart, especially if you're a casual viewer. There are plenty of disgusting moments that nearly made me turn my head away from the screen, and there was plenty of creepy imagery to keep you up at night. Personally, it didn't really get to me, but it will definitely make others squirm.
The movie also has that mentality that every short has to have nudity or sexual activity of some kind. Many women are often objectified or treated as sex objects, and it felt very unnecessary.
In all, this is a different kind of film. I completely understand that some viewers will love this movie, while others will hate it. I can recognize that there's quality to be had in this movie, but I personally just cannot see it. In the end, I tried giving this movie another chance, and although I didn't hate it as much as I did the first time, it still left much to be desired.