Aren’t we all pretty fucking sick of found footage horror movies? Yes, yes we are. It seems as though any time that people are in a movie theater and we see something that’s clearly found footage, the entire audience groans. It’s not just audiences that are sick of found footage movies, as filmmakers are also growing pretty weary of them. Well, some filmmakers are doing it just to cash in on the concept, so it’s not making EVERYONE mad, but you get what I’m saying. It’s because of the saturation of found footage horror movies and their lack of creativity that a group of horror movie writers and directors got together and decided to make the anthology film V/H/S, which is one of the movies I’ve most been looking forward to this year. What can these people do with the found footage format that hadn’t been done before? Well keep on reading to find out, obviously. Also, contrary to my typical approach to reviewing movies, I’m going to refrain from spoiling the details. A little bit of set up as to why this movie is called V/H/S and to give context to how these movies are being shown is that the main story arc, titled “Tape 56“, is that a group of assholes are breaking things and sexually assaulting women for a camera they have, and one guy mentions how much money they could make off of one job he was offered that involved breaking into someone’s house and retrieving a specific VHS tape. When the assholes get to the house, the homeowner has died in the middle of watching these tapes, but since they don’t know which one they are supposed to retrieve, they start watching some. Each of the stories in the anthology is what’s found on each of the tapes.
Written and directed by David Bruckner, this story follows a group of bro-dudes who are stoked on life because they’ve purchased some glasses with a camera built into them. We’re to assume that the goal of this whole operation is to get chicks to do them and hopefully videotape them and put on the internet without them knowing. We get to see these dudes going to a bar, hanging out with chicks, causing a ruckus, pretty much everything you’d expect bro-dudes to get up to. They get two women to come back to their hotel room with them, but when one of the women passes out drunk, all three turn their advances to the other woman who, despite seeming pretty weird before now, seems totally down to get busy with them. When the glasses-wearing bro goes to the bathroom, he hears some terrifying noises coming from the bedroom and we learn that maybe they’re in over their heads. I wasn’t really feeling this segment all that much, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that it was the first story and spent a lot of time just showing these dudes drinking. I guess it made you dislike them more, but I didn’t feel like I needed to dislike them any more than knowing they’re trying to videotape themselves doing girls. Also, I think that if chicks were willing to let other dudes watch, they wouldn’t be all that turned off if one of those people also had a camera, so it seemed kind of pointless to use the camera in the glasses trick to justify why this segment was “found footage”. This might give away a little bit more of the plot if you’ve seen these movies, but this segment also reminded me of a segment from Little Deaths a little too much for my liking, but it also seemed to be paying homage to one of the segments from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, which made me dig it a little more. Had this segment been a little bit shorter and had I not already seen such a similar story in a different movie, I think I would have been a little bit more into it. I’m not trying to say they ripped off Little Deaths or anything, and I’m sure both movies were shot around the same time, but Little Deaths got a larger release more quickly so I think they got dibs on that story.
A couple, played by Sophia Takal and Joe Swanberg, are on vacation, so the reason they are filming themselves makes sense. We mostly just see them enjoying each other’s company, and these two had the chemistry to pull it off and make enjoyable. When they’re in their hotel, there’s a knock on the door late at night, and the footage cuts to Swanberg’s character recalling him answering the door to a young woman who was asking for a ride. His character is a little unnerved by this interaction, so the couple goes to sleep without discussing it further. The footage then shows the camera’s light coming on and when the camera starts moving around the room, the viewer learns that the couple is being filmed by someone who has gotten into their hotel room. The person pulls out a switchblade and touches it to Takal’s hip, and then the camera shows the mystery person stealing money from a wallet. The light then goes out and we see the couple trying to figure out where the money from the wallet has gone, but this won’t be the only night they’re visited by this mystery assailant. Big surprise, the segment that focuses on relationship between the two lead characters enough to make you forget you’re watching a horror movie, only to have horrific things happen to them, was written and directed by Ti West. West continues to prove why he’s currently one of the best horror filmmakers out there, as the more time he focuses on connecting his viewers to his characters, the more the viewer is impacted by the terrible things happening to them. I’d say this was probably my favorite segment of the film, and its success lies in its simplicity of the idea and the acting talents of Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal.
Tuesday the 17th
I’m going to assume these events take place on a Tuesday and that Tuesday happens to be the 17th of that month. If not, then writer/director Glenn McQuaid has some explaining to do. On this day that’s probably a Tuesday the 17th, four coeds are heading out into the woods for some camping. Only one of these coeds has been to the place they’re camping before, and as the friends are videotaping their hike to the location, the camera is picking up distortion and some strange glimpses of foreshadowing images. The character who had been to this location before seemed to jokingly say everyone was going to die out there, but the rest of the friends pay her no mind. When characters start getting killed, we learn that maybe the character wasn’t joking about everyone dying out there. Even though the plot of campers getting killed in the woods has been done over and over again, the way that the camera and footage were affected by the killer or presence or whatever the fuck it was, made it more engaging for me. When I say killer or presence, that’s because the viewer never really learns who is responsible for the deaths or why this killer is doing these things, despite the camera catching him on film. The right amount of a straightforward slasher with just enough supernatural elements to leave the viewer questioning what they saw, but also ambiguous to the point that we don’t know why we really care what just happened. Some reviews might have been annoyed by them, but I definitely enjoyed the special effects of the killer and one death in particular might have been my favorite death of the whole movie, so I won’t give it away.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
Changing up the format from the previous segments, this one was a recording of a series of conversations going on between a boyfriend and a girlfriend over webcam sessions. During these conversations, the girl (named “Emily”, if you can believe it) is talking about how she feels like her apartment is haunted, but she is just never able to catch physical proof of it. She asks for her boyfriend’s help by calling him through the computer when weird things are happening in hopes that she’ll be less scared. Let’s just say that yes, he does start seeing things in her apartment, but the story goes in a COMPLETELY different direction by the end, so I’m going to leave it at that. Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Joe Swanberg (jeez, this guy’s EVERYWHERE!), this segment definitely helped breathe some fresh air into the movie with its change to the standard filming format. I thought I’d get sick of seeing the webcam thing early, but I think the pace and timing of the whole segment, as well as the actors, made the whole thing pretty engaging. Sorry that I can’t say more about this one, because I liked it, I just really don’t want to give anything away, but similar to Tuesday the 17th, this segment successfully combined supernatural elements with the real world, and even some science fiction thrown in there for good measure.
Wait! That’s Halloween! A group of friends are on their way to a party and one of them is dressed as a “Nanny Cam”, which is the justification for why everything is being recorded. He’s got a camera in the head of the stuffed bear he’s dressed as! Despite this being a little bit of a stretch for why everything’s being filmed, it made more sense than the camera in the glasses thing from the first segment. We see these friends trying to find a Halloween party and when they get to the address, the entire house is empty. No people, no decorations, barely any furniture. As they explore the house, looking for the party, the friends (as well as the audience) sees some glimpses of spooky figures creeping around. It’s after the friends get up to the attic that they see people, as they interrupt a group of men shouting things while there’s a woman tied up in the middle of them. This is when “shit gets cray” (that means “shit gets crazy”) and we learn that there’s way more than just a Halloween party awaiting these friends. Remember how awesome Drag Me To Hell was? I felt similarly about this segment and the way it used its special effects. Because most of the segment is just four dudes wandering around, when the effects DO happen, they are really extreme and over-the-top and really adds to the intensity of what the characters are going through. I’m sure that had this movie been made 30 years ago, the same effects would have been attempted for the sake of the story, but would have looked much shittier and not gotten the point across. Another highly entertaining segment that incorporates the supernatural in a really fun way. This segment was brought to us by Radio Silence, also known as Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella, who I knew nothing about. Luckily, I now DO know about them and congratulate them on being able to close out the entire film with their entertaining segment about ghosts.
One of the biggest mysteries is still whether or not this mustache was real.
In between all of these segments, we see what’s happening with the characters from the Tape 56 segment, and as they are viewing all these different videotapes, we see the homeowner’s dead body disappear. Not that it vanishes in front of us, but when one of the segment’s is over, we see that the body’s no longer there. In addition to that, the assholes who were watching the videos disappear one by one, and we realize maybe the homeowner wasn’t all that dead after all. You kind of hate these characters right from the beginning from the sexual assault they videotape, so don’t worry, they get what’s coming to them. Even though that story wasn’t really all that exciting, at least it gave context as to why these films were all connected to one another and why the viewer just watched them. Granted, that still doesn’t explain which video these people were trying to find, or why they were trying to find it, or why this guy was able to have a videotape of a webcam conversation…OKAY, THERE ARE A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS, but for the sake of the movie as a whole, I’m willing to overlook those questions as Tape 56 successfully tied all the smaller segments together.
Great, another movie that furthers the idea that only weirdo creeps wear masks! THEY’RE SO FUN TO WEAR!
You guys know that I fucking LOVE Creepshow, and more recently, I really loved Trick ‘R Treat, and I feel like there’s a certain spot in horror for anthology films. Each of the stories in those films might not necessarily be scary, but are all a lot of fun. They remind you of a book of short, cheesy ghost stories to tell around a campfire, and it’s that fun yet spooky tone that makes anthologies so enjoyable. V/H/S succeeds in its goal of creating one or two very solid scares with each segment, and as soon as that scare is over, so is that portion and you move one. If you tried continuing each story after those really good scares, either the future scares wouldn’t live up to the previous ones or they would overshadow the previous ones, and each segment in V/H/S really seemed to fly by. Even though I was watching this alone on my computer, I made noises that were probably the equivalent of someone shouting, “OH DAMN!” when you see a scary movie in theaters. Even though V/H/S doesn’t have the same timeless or classic feeling as those other anthology movies I mentioned, it really was able to breathe some life into the found footage genre. I’m glad that this movie was able to live up to the hype surrounding it, and I hope to see all the filmmakers involved in making it collaborating with each other on future project as they all have some really good ideas. Although I won’t blame you for watching this movie on VOD, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not going to see this in a theater when it gets a theatrical release in October, or at the very least, invite a group of your friends over when it comes out on VOD so you can all kick back and have a good fucking time.
Wolfman Moon Scale