“V/H/S” is one of those movies that simply shouldn’t work. For one, a Video Home System (VHS) is a quaintly outdated technology, along the lines of the Atari 2600. Kids today have no idea what it means to “tape” something since nothing is actually on tape. But that’s irrelevant, because “V/H/S” mines that nostalgia for its creep factor – that’s right, modern horror movies now treat VHS like 80s horror movies treated black-and-white films. Don’t you feel old?
“V/H/S” is essentially a short story collection of horror tales, similar to “Tales from the Crypt.” The difference is that the films are each “found footage” – the premise being that these are movies someone could make themselves “V/H/S” does acrobatics to make this premise work, but if you can look past that, it’s actually a creepy collection of horror stories.
The framing story, “Tape 56,” makes no bones about its protagonists – unlike typical Stephen King films where being slovenly or rude is grounds to be eaten by a monster, the reality film crew who decides to take on this job to find tape 56 are bottom-feeding scum who assault women by tearing off their tops and filming it. They are, in essence, the oozing reality of the nastiest part of the Internet. With no morals to speak of, they eagerly take on a high-paying job to break into a house to retrieve tape 56, only to discover an old man dead before a bank of televisions screens filled with white noise. Of course, the old man isn’t quite as dead as they believe, and in an effort to find the tape the various criminals (geniuses all) play the tapes, alone with the dead body, to see if they can find the right tape. SPOILER ALERT: This is a terrible idea.
A crook plunks in a video, a blue screen winds up, and we’re off to our first short story, “Amateur Night.” This little film, one of the better ones, features another icky plot: Clint (said amateur) is wearing spycam glasses that record his every move with the intent of creating amateur porn by getting women drunk and taking them back to a hotel. They get more than they bargained for with Lily, who really, really likes Clint. This is a standard femme fatale film that rises above its source material because it’s not afraid to delve into the squick of amateur porn.
“Second Honeymoon” features a couple on a road trip, Sam and Stephanie. After a mysterious female stranger asks Sam for a ride and he rebuffs her, we see the camcorder turned on the sleeping arguments and menaced with a knife (among other nasty things). The twist ending may catch some viewers by surprise.
“Tuesday the 17th” features three friends and archetypes – Joey, Spider, Samantha, and Wendy – on a camping trip that retraces the steps of a mass murder the previous year. It turns out one of the members is actually playing a cat-and-mouse game with the slasher, who still haunts the grounds, and what could easily be a rehash of “H20” turns into a thrilling battle of wits and grainy video effects.
“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily when She Was Younger” is an intriguing premise between Emily, who believes she is slowly losing her mind, and James, her boyfriend who also happens to be a doctor. Their video chats slowly get more and more strange, beginning with a haunting and becoming much worse than that. This segment is filled with so many plot twists it threatens to unravel, but the shocking conclusion (and the complicity of its antagonist) works well.
“10/31/98” features Chad, Matt, Tyler, and Paul dressed up in the late 90s for a Halloween party. They end up at the wrong place and stumble upon a human sacrifice. Thinking at first this is all part of a haunted house – milked for considerable laughs – the Scooby gang finally realizes it’s not a joke and start taking things seriously. They try to rescue the sacrifice in question, to their ultimate detriment.
“V/H/S’s” quality is determined by its short films, and although they are a little uneven, there’s not a stinker in the bunch. If there’s a weak point, it’s the overarching narrative, filled with nonsensical rationale and stupid victims. But since they had it coming, and the collected videos are so good, it’s easy to overlook.
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