Mania Review: V/H/S (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, September 13, 2012
There's something so very primally nostalgia based about VHS tapes. They're the cassettes of the film pantheon, of a lesser quality than the home release formats which followed, but there's something endearingly simple about the VHS format which has allowed it to support cult events, celebrating its legacy. The rare treat of a dual DVD/Tape release comes with much fanfare in the horror community, which fondly (and vividly) recalls boxes full of the plastic rectangles, containing collections of late night monster fare. But there's a danger hidden in the simple nature of VHS tapes; along with their easy to use nature came also easy anonymity, which in the wrong hands meant snuff tape city.
This premise is spliced throughout V/H/S. This found footage anthology piece tells the tale of group of hooligan perverts, who use there video cameras to ambush and capture the naughty bits of random girls. They do this not just for kicks, but also to make money when they sell the tapes. Along comes their mustachioed buddy, with far leas scruples and a plan to make far more money in a lot less time. All the group needs to do is break into an old man's house and pilfer one specific VHS tape. While this sounds simple, things cascade out of hand when they find the owner of the house dead in a recliner, facing half a dozen TV's playing static. The leader assigns one lackey to begin watching the tapes to figure out if any of them are their prize, while the rest of the crew disperse to search the house.
This is the divergent point where the individual tales begin. Each tape watched is a different horror story by a separate director. I was continually surprised by the inventiveness on display here; they aren't all reliant on one character holding a digital camera or cell phone. This is important, as the variety never allows the viewer to grow complacent, or for the scares to become worn out and dull. The POV is reinvented for each successive tale.
Amateur Night follows three college bros out to bring drunk women back to their hotel room, and secretly tape their resultant sexual encounters. The meakest of the trio is equipped with spy cam glasses to record the session. Second Honeymoon is the story of a couple traveling cross country, visiting attractions and trying to rekindle the spark of their marriage. When they're given an ominous reading by a fortune telling machine, and are visited by a strange person, things begin to derail in creepy fashion. Tuesday the 17th is a fascinating glimpse into the slasher genre. It's slick, it's self aware, and yet it still delivers. As does The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger. This one was the best tale in the bunch. Fascinating, creepy, and shockingly original, this tale might have held up as a full length feature. It's told entirely through a Skype-esk interface, expertly utilizing the light thrown by the screen to frighten us with hints of what lies unseen. Lastly, 10/31/98 is the story of four friends headed to a Halloween costume party who end up in the very wrong house. This is a superb haunted house tale shown through the eyes of a character's costume (he's a teddy bear nanny cam). It's well shot and thoroughly unsettling.
The overall package here offers some great scares, interesting ideas, and unique camera applications. This could easily become a Halloween classic, shown every year. It could just as easily fulfill the destiny that Warner Brothers denied Trick 'R Treat, becoming a yearly anthology series release (though it isn't as fun as Michael Dougherty's film, it is much more frightening). If there are any problems to be cited with V/H/S, it would be centered around the framing story's cinematography; it's jarringly difficult to follow. It's thankfully brief, but needs to be powered through to getting to the good stuff. It also felt a bit bloated with a nearly two hour run time. Cut down by one tale, it'd become a much better overall experience. The weakest short was easily Second Honeymoon, which didn't jive as well with the entire experience as well as the others (sorry Ti West fans).
V/H/S is already available via video on demand and will hit theaters in limited release on October 5th. This is the sort of film that's much better appreciated with a group of like minded fans, so if you can hold off until the witching season, I recommend you do so. Or, you could do what I plan to and see it in the theater even after having caught it on demand. Either way, you're in for a good ride.
V/H/S, arrived on VOD a week ago and is out in limited theatrical release October 5th.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.
Mania Grade: B+
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Joe Sykes
Directed By: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Written By: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Nicholas Tecosky, Simon Barrett, Tyler Gillett
Distributor: Bloody Disgusting (2012)