Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Studio: The Collective/Magnet Releasing
Box Office: $1.9m
IMDb Rating: 5.8/10
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Various – Too many to mention!
Plot According to Google: Hired to steal a rare VHS tape from a remote house, a ragtag band of crooks finds a dead body, old TVs and a lot of cryptic footage.
Inertia’s Insight: Anthology horror is no new feat, as we have already covered with The ABC’s of Death and as can be seen on any Gold TV rerun of Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt or more recently the superb Masters of Horror. With V/H/S, rising horror directors had the opportunity to craft short stories of death and the unknown as if viewed on the scratchy, worn and damaged format of VHS. Enveloping these individual stories is a separate tale surrounding the tapes themselves, their mysterious owner and a disappearing dead body…
So with five shorts of differing sub-genres of horror eclipsed by the central narrative that at times leaves you with the WTF feeling, it’s difficult to review the film as a whole. So like The ABC’s of Death, we’ll break down each of the segments.
Tape 56 (dir. Adam Wingard): This is the pivotal narrative that the rest of the short films revolve around. A group of thugs are seen terrorising a couple in a parking garage then destroying an old office block, before recording themselves entering the house of an old man who apparently possesses an extremely rare video tape that they have been commissioned to retrieve. Upon entering the house they discover the body of the homeowner as well as hundreds of VHS tapes with unusual labels. As the group explore the house, one of them sits and watches some of the tapes. These are the films that we see going forward.
Each time one of the films ends it cuts back to the group, but each time something changes in the house, the most notable being the disappearance of the old man’s body from the chair. As the films get darker and the search for the tape goes on, something slowly starts to pick them off until the end, when a showdown with what was the old man sees no-one get out alive.
It’s main purpose is to give reason for the rest of the stories’ existence, but Tape 56 manages its own scares and an interesting take on the idea of a zombie. It establishes the house as if it exists in a an alternate universe, the tapes not the only items that establish this world as something other than the one we reside in, and is further explored in V/H/S 2.
Amateur Night (dir. David Bruckner): The first tape to be played, Amateur Night sees three college teens – Shane, Patrick and Clint – who have purchased and are testing out their lens cam, a pair of glasses with a small recording camera in them. Deciding to hit the bars and then hopefully invite women back to their seedy motel to record an amateur sex tape, they encounter more than they could possibly have bargained for.
The short embraces its found footage mechanisms, cleverly using the glasses as a means of maintaining perspective and a reason to keep filming. The way in which Bruckner positions Lily in the foreground at first, her big curious eyes boring in to Clint is a stoke of genius. Her creepy and curious behaviour only leads the inebriated three to bring her back to their room along with another girl. From there shit gets crazy, but not how they intended.
The beauty of short horror is that an explanation isn’t always relevant, it’s the WTF of it all that matters, and Amateur Night delivers this. Lily is an incredible creature, a terrifying vision of a siren. The ending is superb and leaves you wanting more which now thankfully we can have, as the short has been adapted in to a full feature film, SiREN.
Second Honeymoon (dir. Ti West): The most human of all the shorts, Second Honeymoon follows Sam and Stephanie, a young married couple traversing the back roads of America on their second honeymoon. At first things seem alright, but as we continue to follow them there are obvious cracks in their relationship. Stephanie doesn’t appear to be comfortable getting physical with Sam, even sleeping in separate beds, and Sam is unwilling to trust Stephanie when it comes to money.
Interspersed with this very human story are two terrifying visitations from some unknown traveler. Breaking into their room one night, the unwanted guest goes through their belongings, steals money, caresses Stephanie’s buttocks with a switchblade knife and ducks a toothbrush in the toilet. The brief glimpse of the intruders face leads you to question whether it’s human or not, but this is soon revealed in a startling and quick finale that shows that the true monster embodies the human form.
Tuesday the 17th (dir. Glenn McQuaid): Probably the weakest of the shorts (but that is said with still a high regard for this piece), Tuesday the 17th sees a misfit group of four friends head in to the woods for a camping trip. As Wendy leads her new friends through the woods with mysterious yet throwaway comments like, “You’re all going to die up here”, we soon begin to understand the mystery that surrounds both Wendy and the woods.
This short brings V/H/S back to the edge of reality and in to the fantastic, as the most unusual killer I’ve ever seen begins attacking Wendy’s new friends. It appears that her new friends are a ruse for her to try and trap the killer, a mysterious ‘glitch’ that can apparently appear in two places at once and is impossible to fully comprehend. As with all horror films it doesn’t end well, with The Glitch managing to continue on. This another short that is rife to be explored in a full feature film.
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (dir. Joe Swanberg): With a fantastic title that doesn’t give much away whilst pulling you in, The Sick Thing features a clever twist on the found footage conventions. Recorded entirely as a series of web chat conversations between Emily and her boyfriend James who have a long distance relationship, we slowly see Emily’s mental state deteriorate as she complains of sleepless nights, pains in her arms and a haunting in her apartment.
It’s well executed by Joe Swanberg, previously of the mumblecore movement, who uses the format to his advantage. The stutter of the image due to the internet connection plus the grainy webcam footage enables him to work the scares to maximum effect. There are some genuinely hands-over-eyes moments as Emily shows James the haunting occurring in her apartment. The scene in which Emily closes her eyes as she carries her laptop and uses James as her eyes is particularly effective, and the reveal at the end is a real mouth agape moment.
10/31/98 (dir. Radio Silence): Easily the best of all the short entries, this terrifying finale piece from creative quartet Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella) sees four friends dressed up for Halloween, headed to a haunted house party. Strapping a Nanny Cam into his teddy bear outfit, Tyler records the whole ordeal they are about to endure.
Arriving at what appears to be the haunted house, there are suggestions that something is not quite right. The grainy footage of the cam is a beautiful addition to this short as it really adds to the atmosphere of this impeccable short. Believe it or not, even a chair is scary in this film. As they make their way through the house, the genuine horrors are passed off as part of the fun, and it’s not until they make it to the attic that they realise that this isn’t the haunted house party but instead a house full of real horror.
What ensues for the last three minutes are pieces of every nightmare or horror story you’ve ever seen. It’s like navigating an old game like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. It’s superb filmmaking that, after all of it, literally leaves you thinking, ‘What the fuck?!’
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *
- The brick house broken into where the VHS tapes are found is the same house as Marble Hornets, a found footage web series that popularised Slender Man
- The film is set in 1998
- The film marks the 5th collaboration between mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg and rising horror director Adam Wingard
LILY: I like you.
WENDY: You’re all gonna die up here.
CHAD, MATT, TYLER & PAUL: Cast him down!
All images courtesy of Google
Tomorrow: Night #24 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)