Director – David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn Mcquaid, Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella
Cast – Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Drew Moerlein, Jason Yachanin, Helen Rogers, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek, Nicole Erb, John Walcutt, Eric Curtis, Nicole Boccumini
Release Year – 2012
Reviewed by John of the Dead
As a follower (and former reviewer) of Bloody-Disgusting I was constantly bombarded by their advertising for their newest produced feature, this time delving into the POV market with V/H/S. Coming with a slew of 10 directors (yes, TEN of them) and told in an anthology format, this flawed effort (TEN directors…) wound up being a pretty positive one thanks to the most important element in horror…the horror. I have always loved anthology films, and while it has become overdone these days I can definitely still appreciate a POV horror film so long as it is done right, and I must say that V/H/S got enough things right to warrant a positive review and give me an enjoyable experience.
The film begins with a group of shabby criminals hired by an unknown party to break into a rundown home in the middle of nowhere and steal a rare VHS tape. Upon entering the home they soon learn the job won’t be as easy as expected when they find a lifeless body sitting before a hub of television sets, surrounded by mounds of VHS tapes. As they play each tape in their search for the tape requested they are treated to a seemingly infinite array of horrifying videos with a climax they never see coming.
So, who is taking part in this 5 story anthology (6 if you include the wraparound)? Well, there are some notable names associated with recent horror in Adam Wingard (You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die, Pop Skull), Simon Barrett (You’re Next, Dead Birds, Red Sands), Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Roost), David Bruckner (The Signal), Joe Swanberg (Silver Bullets), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), and finally…YouTube quartet sensation Radio Silence. I really cannot believe that this effort comes to us written and directed by 10 different people and still manages to be an engaging watch despite all of the different minds floating about, but it seems these filmmakers took their time with this one and made good use of their low budget, forcing them to get creative in the process.
The story begins with the Adam Wingard written/directed “Tape 56”, which also happens to be the wraparound story. I enjoyed the idea of petty criminals being tasked with a mysterious request and finding horror they never saw coming when they entered the home. Watching them squirm as each subsequent video is played while the “dead” person behind them moves locations without them ever noticing (I was CREEPED) was an incredible idea that I have yet to see in the POV / “found footage” sub-genre. We are constantly returned to this wraparound story after each video tape is played, which then increases the horror of this story.
Next up is “Amateur Night”, which I felt was the scariest of the segments. Written/directed by David Bruckner, this story follows Shane, Patrick, and Clint, three friends who rent a hotel room in hopes of hitting the bars and bringing back women to have sex with. Clint is provided a pair of glasses that contain a hidden web came so that he can record their sexual encounters, and the three then head out for a night of fun and debauchery. Eventually the guys “luck out” and bring two girls they met, Lisa and Lily. From the get-go it becomes apparent that there is something very wrong with Lily, who despite coming off as a nice girl harbors a very horrifying persona that I would never trust, and soon enough the guys learn why. This segment was the perfect way to star the carnage, giving us some very intense scenes of the guys stuck in their hotel room while Lily goes apeshit and proves she may not be as human as they expected, and the following scenes of one of the guys escaping the room and running for his life proved a horrifying cat and mouse game that had em on edge.
The second tape is the Ti West written/directed Second Honeymoon, the most realistic and less supernatural of the segments. Sam and Stephanie, a married couple, head out West for their second honeymoon. Strange things begin to occur after Stephanie pays for a prediction from a mechanic fortune teller at a nearby theme park, a prediction that will soon become very real in the most drastic of ways. I did enjoy this piece despite it lacking in the supernatural element provided by every other segment. Even though the story seems to hint at the fortune coming true via unearthly powers, you soon learn that this is a well-crafted story that plays on that idea but gives us a very realistic conclusion, and a horrific one at that. The scares were decent despite nothing too scary showing up on screen, but nonetheless a worthwhile entry.
The third tape is Tuesday the 17th, which happened to be the absolute worst segment in the film. Wendy and three of her friends, Joey, Spider, and Samantha, go out to the wooded town where Wendy grew up. As Wendy leads them deeper into the woods she begins to babble about horrible things that occurred there when she was young, which her friends take as her just joking around and trying to spook them, however they learn that Wendy isn’t only telling the truth but has dire plans for her friends in an attempt to avenge her past. This one was just bad because of poor direction, which came as a surprise given this was written/directed by Glenn Mcquaid, who gave us the enjoyable I Sell The Dead. The special FX used were pathetic and the look of the killer was tarnished as a result. The conclusion was a satisfying one, but only because I could not wait for this tape to end.
The fourth tape, Joe Swanberg’s The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, thankfully picked things up again after the abysmal Tuesday the 17th. This entry was interesting and relevant to modern day technology in that most of it is shown via a Skype phone call between a James and his girlfriend Emily. How a Skype call winds up on a VHS tape is beyond me, so don’t ask. Emily has been experiencing strange phenomena in her apartment, and she Skype calls her boyfriend in Michigan to show him just what she is talking about. He is skeptical at first, but soon he gets to see via webcam just exactly what she is talking about. This was a pretty creepy entry and actually had one scene where I was left with goosebumps all over my body. The story definitely gets more interesting as it goes on, eventually giving us a twist that we never see coming, and one that leaves more questions than answers.
Finally, the last tape is 10/31/98, written/directed by Radio Silence. Chad, Matt, Tyler, and Paul are looking for Halloween fun and head out to a Halloween party at a stranger’s home. When they arrive they notice the home has been deserted, which they stupidly take as an invite to a haunted house attraction and break into the home. Paul has a nanny cam equipped to his bear costume, and as they venture about the home they come across some creepy distortions of ghosts, which of course they think is part of the “show”. Eventually they hear loud chanting erupting from the attic above them, and as they make their way into the attic they learn they made a very grave mistake entering the home. This was probably my second favorite entry in the series, and that is solely because it is one of the most horrific. Things are decently creepy before the attic scene, but once they enter the attic and interrupt what was going on the horror lets loose in extreme fashion and closes out the experience on a high and horrific note.
While I enjoyed this piece overall I did find some heavy faults in this experience. For starters, there are many questions left unanswered by this story. While this of course makes for good conversation and getting you to “think” about the film, it would have been nice if at least a few of the more important questions were answered. And by “more important” questions I mean the questions that would have provided even more horror if they were answered. In addition to this there are some pretty bad acting performances in some of the entries, although as a whole the film did not suffer that fate. Of course, there is also Saturday the 17th, which was a complete waste of time and could have been left out of the 115 minute film and made for a better experience overall.
Thankfully these faults did not succeed in ruining this experience for me, however I am sure the more anal viewers out there may disagree. The majority of the stories were interesting and were unlike any of the previous “found footage” films I have seen as these stories involve aliens, vampires, slashers, ghosts, and even a succubus, and these engaging elements helped overcome any story-related fauls surrounding them. I enjoyed the directing efforts of everyone involved aside from those involved with Tuesday the 17th, and these guys did a great job at using the POV filmmaking style to their advantage and delivering some great scares in the process. The atmosphere in every segment is amazing and they take full advantage of that as well, leaving many scary surprises in the numerous dark corners in the locations used. The look of the antagonists in Amateur Night, Second Honeymoon, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, 10/3198, and the wraparound story (Tape 56) was incredible and aided heavily in the spooks the film provides, which once again asserts that if you bring good horror you can accomplish anything.
Overall, V/H/S is another positive entry into the POV / Found Footage horror sub-genre thanks to its engaging stories that provide some creative relief not seen in other efforts. The anthology aspect is great and provides constantly changing stories to keep the viewer entertained and the wraparound stories seals the deal. There are some faults to this piece, which are mostly story-related and deal with unanswered questions, but the faults do nothing to affect the high level of horror provided in this piece, making for an experience I recommend to you.