V/H/S (2012)

Anthology films offer a special treat to genre fans because we get multiple stories to creep us out (Trick ‘r Treat being the best in recent memory) and they are usually fun to watch (for example the Romero-King love child Creepshow ).  These films allow you to keep wondering about what is coming up next, where you will be taken and what you will see. They conjure up memories or ideas of midnight showings of days gone by, sitting in a crowded theatre laughing as we jump from our seats. V/H/S had the great opportunity to bring together a group of talented directors, each taking turns to freak us out as best as they can and the only stipulation being that it had to be found footage style (something horror fans have been groaning in disappointment with for years).

As far as this writer is concerned the found footage sub genre of horror began with Cannibal Holocaust and ended with The Blair Witch Project. The first being probably the sickest thing to ever be put on screen and the second being the last scary thing that sub-genre ever had to offer. Who didn’t play Blair Witch style pranks on one anther at one time or an other? That movie became engrained in our consciousness, and camping trips have never been the same again! Found footage movies didn’t peak again until the sci-fi action monster movie Cloverfield picked it up and had us biting out nails on the edge of our seats (Paranormal Activity on the other hand had such potential but pandered to the general multiplex audience rather than genuine horror fans). The found footage genre has become the equivalent of the “Based on a true story” tagline, a marketing ploy and directing technique that allows for a cheap budget and encourages lazy film-making.

V/H/S begins with a group of criminals who videotape themselves vandalizing property and breaking into people’s mostly abandoned homes. Heavy stuff, right? They are given a job to break into a house and find a specific videotape to steal. Tape Fifty-Six (Adam Wingard) is the first and overarching segment of the movie. As the group of men stumble upon a massive collection of video tapes, they watch them and thus we are given the rest of the movie’s segments. Amateur Night (David Bruckner) is about three douche bag frat boys on a night out who get what they deserve. Second Honeymoon, directed by Ti West and is now his second disappointment in a row (Ti, listen, the “three strikes and you’re out” rule still applies, just ask M. Night),  follows a vacationing couple in the desert stalked by a mysterious girl who is dressed like one of the killers in The Strangers. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Joe Swanberg) is the creepy story of a haunted apartment told through webcam conversations. Tuesday the 17th (Glenn McQuaid) was the weakest segment, a documentation of the plotted revenge on a serial killer in the deep woods. And finally the haunted house thriller 10/31/98 (Radio Silence) is possibly the most frightening and well done of the six segments, and could have been a great stand-alone movie if given the chance.

The entire anthology comes off as disjointed as the only connection any of the segments have are that they are found in the house. There is no story continuity, recurring characters, or locations. The only common denominator in the videos themselves is the opportunity to see the characters murdered quite gruesomely. There is no lack of blood and gore in V/H/S, which may be a saving grace for gore-hounds, and the camera definitely doesn’t shy away from both female and male nudity. But as every horror fan knows, blood and cheap nudity doesn’t make a movie good. As we see the characters being killed off one by one, there is also a sense of relief since so many of the characters are unlikable to begin with (as in Amateur Night, Tape Fifty-Six). The connecting segment doesn’t provide nearly enough back story nor character development to even care about the fate of the lousy small-time criminals. The fact that they are looking for and watching these sick videos is probably the only frightening part of the story. People like this actually do exist as we have seen with rumors of a leaked Luka Magnotta video circulating the internet.

V/H/S had the opportunity to deliver on its scares. Actually it had six different chances to pick it self up and try it again, but it never did. When given the opportunity to bring so much to the table in so many different ways, it just simply didn’t live up to the hype. With only the last story being the only truly well done and frightening of the bunch, it makes watching the rest an exhausting exercise in patience. V/H/S has been called the movie that “shocked Sundance”, which may be true. I’ve just been wondering if the rest of that quote was “… with a let down”.

- Nick Watson

About the Author

Nick Watson

Horror movie enthusiast and self proclaimed Hitchcock geek. Nick prefers: the classics over modern. Rep cinemas over the multiplexes. And his whiskey over ice. His favourite movies include The Red Shoes, Funny Girl, Strangers on a Train and An American Werewolf in London.

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