Shudder’s slimy and gooey anthology is horror at its best
VHS is dead. Long life V / H / S.
While the analog videotape is considered a relic at this point, the horror anthology franchise that bears its name is still going strong – just under a decade since Brad Miska and Bloody Disgusting first entered. debuted at Sundance (then meandering to VOD and a limited theatrical arc).
And with his fourth opus, V / H / S / 94 (now streaming on Shudder), the franchise returned in surprisingly fine and bizarre form, dispelling the sense of diminishing returns that had crept into its second and third entries with captivating bursts and gore of midnight movie goodness.
A Halloween miracle? It could be, but credit goes to the producers of this new film (and, of course, its top-tier film crew) anyway for overseeing what most looks like a confident course correction for a. franchise that many believed to have passed its peak.
When V / H / S hit screens in 2012, it overloaded the unsavory format of found footage with a single wickedly simple pitch. Talented genre directors could strut their stuff through horror shorts, woven together by a narrative framework and more linked by the titular format (all of the shorts claimed to be amateur footage, recorded on VHS tapes and salvaged from a home. abandoned).
For burgeoning horror filmmakers, participating was a given. The first one V / H / S has attracted figures like Adam Wingard, David Bruckner and Radio Silence, who have since progressed with projects like Godzilla vs. Kong, The night house, and Ready or Not. (Then for the three: reboots, of course, with the management of Wingard Face / Off, Bruckner supervising Hellraiser, and Radio Silence on a fifth Scream movie.)
The next two V / H / S the films followed suit, bringing in Welsh melee maestro Gareth Evans (The raid: redemption) and the carnage of the king of Indonesia Timo Tjahjanto (The night is coming for us, the next Train to Busan redo) in the fold. The films cemented the V / H / S franchise as an R-rated playground for genre filmmakers scrambling to showcase their villainous sequences.
But just like the first V / H / S and V / H / S / 2 were enhanced by their most substantial shorts (respectively “Amateur Night” by Bruckner and “Safe Haven” by Tjahjanto), the third release V / H / S viral marked a creative and technical nadir. Its segments ranged from solid (“Bonestorm” by Infinity duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) to a shocking inconsistency (Gregg Bishop’s mock black magician documentary “Dante the Great” and Marcel Sarmiento’s abysmal “Vicious Circles”).
And so fans could be forgiven for setting their expectations down for V / H / S / 94. Although the reveal of its title, moving the action of its shorts to the 1990s, was an early indication that the franchise was planning to press the reset button. The same was true for the revelation of a more diverse lineup than the previous entries.
In the rotation are two familiars from the franchise – Tjahjanto and You are next writer Simon Barrett (who wrote short films in both V / H / S and V / H / S / 2) – and a trio of exciting new voices: Jennifer Reeder (Knives and skin), Chloé Okuno (Slut) and Ryan Prows (Lowlife).
Made on micro-budgets by directors pushing their limits, the best V / H / S segments have always possessed a certain punk-rock mentality. Maybe last year’s stressful filming added another kind of restriction that allows V / H / S / 94 to bear particularly and productively sour fruit. It’s the most consistent entry in the franchise, without any hiccups to speak of and several of the most impressive short films this series has hosted to date.
It’s a struggle not to start with Tjahjanto, especially given the squeaky gonzo shine of his previous one. V / H / S / 2 contribution “Safe Haven”, in which filmmakers infiltrate a sect and then flee an apocalyptic ritual. Back for the blood with V / H / S / 94 “The Subject” segment, about a mad scientist and his transmogrified human experiences, Tjahjanto’s visceral approach to horror has perhaps never been so pleasantly reminiscent of a run-and-gun shooter. A gore-drenched exercise in every sense of the word, “The Subject” plays with perspective in a devilishly intelligent way. His madness, however, stems more from a feeling of constant and rapid escalation, as the precocious body horror leads to a slalom so ambitious and executed so well that he can’t help but blast the other shorts. water.
But if Tjahjanto is the greatest showman of the project, in a solo race to the glory of the Grand-Guignol, the other filmmakers bring different strengths. Okuno’s leisurely “Storm Drain” follows a broadcast anchor (a flawless Anna Hopkins) and her cameraman down the sewers, where they are determined to get closer to the urban legend known as Ratman (or Raatma, as the other drains-inhabitants they meet call it). Descending through a maze of underground tunnels, “Storm Drain” arms its shadows with formidable effect – even though the short shows its seams with a possible monster reveal. It feels like a conscious return to the characteristics of creatures from a bygone era when viscous practicality reigned supreme.
Barrett, who recently went from writer to director with his feature film Session, succeeds a story of ghosts which succeeds thanks to an admirable, even classic restraint. In “The Empty Wake”, on a dark and stormy night, a young funeral attendant (Kyal Legend) is increasingly annoyed by the sounds emanating from the management of a recently closed casket. Its appeal lies in this creepy and simple premise, and Barrett is a tech-savvy enough not to get in his way.
Ryan Prows is perhaps the most important discovery of V / H / S / 94 (at least for those who do not know Lowlife), given the technically impressive looks, barbed-wire humor, and cathartic payoff of “Terror.” Prows’ short film follows a white supremacist militia planning to deploy a supernatural weapon in their arsenal during their assault on a federal building. Sadly, this group’s dimming bulbs were wasted the night before, and this weapon turns them on in a dark and fun way. More directly set in 1994 than the other shorts, “Terror” has a modern resonance and demonstrates a keen sense of humor.
Of all the filmmakers involved in V / H / S / 94, this reviewer was most drawn to the inclusion of Reeder, a brilliant deconstructionist of the genre whose shorts and legitimately Lynchian debut feature, Knives and skin, have questioned the feminine mystique in a subversive and bewitching way.
Having her in charge of the ever-ungrateful “Holy Hell” enveloping segment is frustrating as it lessens the potential impact of a filmmaker so skilled at creating atmosphere. The short is about members of the SWAT team entering a compound filled with upside down crucifixes, dismembered mannequins and glowing televisions. However, Reeder makes good use of his intermittent screen time, satirizing the brutal masculinity of military grunts and zooming in on their helplessness – and the conditional, difficult experience of the viewer himself – in time for a fitting meta-confrontation finale. .
A succinct hook that its filmmakers can hook their segmented horrors to, the VHS tape itself has never been used so intelligently as in V / H / S / 94, which goes all-in-one on a specific grain at the time. For some, the new film will be above all a pleasure of texture. The jumps, scratches, static, pops, and blips on the audio all add a tattered sense of authenticity to shorts, many of which used analog gear. Picture quality degrades noticeably as it approaches spooky bits, reminiscent of how videotapes wear out by being rewound and replayed several too many times at sleepovers.
In addition, each of V / H / S / 94The s segments were informed by actual historical events, from the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan assault and the pursuit of OJ Simpson’s Bronco to the Siege of Waco and the mass suicide of Heaven’s Gate. Finding out how these filmmakers play with this real-life context – and, more specifically, how pop culture has commemorated such events – is a surprisingly high delight amid the bloodshed.
Despite some positives in the first two films, previous entries to this franchise have not fully realized the potential of the concept, neither engaging the aesthetic sensations of VHS nor leaning hard enough on the nocturnal madness that these anthologies breathe at their best. In this direction, V / H / S / 94 is a slimy, gooey triumph.
V / H / S / 94 is now streaming on Shudder.