Movie Review: V/H/S
Starring: Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Helen Rogers, and Radio Silence
Plot: A group of troublemakers are hired by an anonymous party to steal a special video tape from a house full of video tapes. When they start watching them to find the right one, they witness some pretty disturbing stuff.
The movie opens up with a group of kids who probably saw Jackass one to many times. They are following a young couple around. They each take a strategic position standing around her and then molest her. As she screams and shouts, they try to rip her top off. It is not very gruesome, but it still made me sick to my stomach. Afterward, these boys are standing around talking about what they should do next. The consensus sounds like up-skirts, but that isn’t really important. What is important is they were offered a job to break into a house and retrieve a special video tape. What they find is a house full of video tapes and a dead man in front of a bank of staticy televisions. They have to watch each tape in order to find the right one. This house, in a reality where the worst and weirdest things that ever happen are recorded, seems to be the end of the line. As if every found footage movie that Hollywood has ever been put out has actually been playing here like a more warped version of Robot Chicken. It is a pretty great framing device. I think I would rather see the framing device not also be a found footage style shoot though. I think that story arc has a lot of potential to be its own feature length movie: that is the house full of video tapes that proves literally every urban legend and myth.
The first story “Amateur Night” depicted a trio of guys going out to pick up some women. They outfit one of them with a spy camera in a pair of glasses. It was a mostly infuriating build up to a pretty awesome finale when one of the girls they brought home turns out to be something else. It is followed up by “Second Honeymoon” which is directed by the great up and comer, Ti West. His House of the Devil and The Innkeepers are a great return to form to slow burn thrillers. This one is no different. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles and maybe runs a little long, but it again it has a great finale. The next is “Tuesday the 17th” is a pretty great attempt at the slasher genre. It tries to connect the camcorder to the slasher instead of just using it as a cinematography gimmick. The short story form actually really hurts it because there is zero time given to developing the characters beyond their air-head stereotypes or exploring the possibly mythology that comes with the slasher. This is followed by “That Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She was Younger.” The camera here is a webcam specifically during a videochat between the titular girl and her long-distance boyfriend. While it has some jump scares and gratuitous gruesomeness, it does repurpose a horror cliché for maximum entertainment value. The final and best short is “10/31/98.” Made by the internet director group Radio Silence, a group of guys get ready for a Halloween costume party. When they get to the party , it looks like they are the only ones there until some weird chanting leads them to the attic. What they see is a cult in the middle of a ritual. The group of guys than find themselves trying to escape the now possessed house before they are killed off. It has some pretty awesome special effects and kind of reminds me of the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer episode “Fear, Itself” but with a much better payoff.
For some reason, people are always trying to use the anthology story structure on the horror genre. I honestly don’t know why. I guess because it kind of harks back to the age old tradition of sitting around a campfire where each person tells a scary story trying to out scare each other. It’s a great piece of nostalgia, but I think it fails more times than it succeeds. Sure, Creepshow has a lot of nostalgic value. It’s a B-movie cult classic, but in reality, it isn’t flawless at all. These anthology story structures always end up never being the sum of their parts. Instead, people look at them as individual pieces which people rank and pick and choose. The only horror anthology (which I am hesitant to call an anthology) that was really able to overcome that problem was Trick R Treat, which has more in common with Pulp Fiction than Creepshow.
V/H/S is another one that does not overcome this issue. Every time I saw one of the shorts I kept thinking that I wanted to see it made feature length. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining, it is just that each short seemed to follow the same basic structure: a really long exposition leading up to the crap hitting the fan that only lasts a few minutes in comparison