"V/H/S" Rewinds Back To The 80s Review

Between Slaughter Tales and V/H/S, it seems there’s something in the air around the horror anthology film. On paper, it’s not hard to see why. American horror cinema has suffered something of a creative drought in the last decade, as well as an overwhelming surge of nostalgia for the trends of the 70s and 80s, including that of the anthology (personified most memorably in George A. Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow and the Steven Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie), so it’s not surprising that people would try to resurrect it. Even when largely successful, though, the concept has always had its problems, which this film is never quite able to iron out, even when merging it with the more modern ‘found footage’ conceit. Though V/H/S certainly has its moments, it offers more than enough evidence that it’ll take more than gimmicks to bring the 80s back.

Built around a frame story involving a group of young thugs breaking into a house to steal tapes, V/H/S is composed of five different stories, each done by a different writer and director. “Amateur Night” (directed by David Bruckner), concerns three dumb buddies who have somehow outfitted a pair of glasses with a video camera (the whole segment is POV) with the intention of bringing women back to their hotel room, only to terribly misjudge their prey. “Second Honeymoon” (directed by Ti West), is about a couple on a road trip suspicious that they might be being followed. “Tuesday the 17th” (directed by Glen McQuaid) features a group of friends on a camping trip, each brought in under different assumptions by Wendy. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (directed by Joe Swanberg) is told entirely through Skype conversations, as James helplessly watches from a distance as Emily grows more and more suspicious of a bump in her arm. “10/31/98” (directed by Radio Silence) has four friends attending a Halloween party, which naturally turns out to be different than they expected.

The best thing about anthologies is their brevity; the abbreviated running time for each story reduces the need for characters to behave idiotically or for logic to be warped to meet minimum feature length. Of these, “Tuesday the 17th” and “10/31/98” are the strongest, finding the most organic balance between necessary exposition and the hand-held motif (even if it’s impossible to believe, as it usually is, that anyone would still be holding the camera once the monster shows up). All of the characters are fairly thin, but these two tease events out long enough that their prevalent emotion (fear, of course) comes through effectively. They are constricted, however, by a weak (and frequently confusing) framing device, and by being sandwiched in between weaker entries that strive for a similar effect, but fall short.

All of the directors come from the indie world, and though it’s not a matter of conventional wisdom, it stands to reason that when artists have the same sorts of background, working in the same segments of the industry, they’ll get the same kinds of ideas. Though cumulative effects distinguish the segments from one another, the vast majority of V/H/S relies on Pavlovian effects of barely seen threats, sudden violence, and fake-outs by characters seemingly aware that they are in horror films, which have grown familiar to the point of recalling Chinese water torture. It doesn’t help that so many familiar archetypes find their way into all of them (perhaps no film has ever held so many douchey guys), or that the works of certain directors are barely distinguishable from each other, which kind of defeats the point of bringing them all together. When it doesn’t work, V/H/S registers as a technical exercise, frequently competent but only intermittently nourishing in the way that its reference points were. But when it does, you just wish that the rest lived up to it.


There is an alternate ending for "10/31/98", some more footage for "Tuesday The 17th", the featurettes "Amateur Night-Balloon Night" and "AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S", some webcam interviews, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a conceptual gallery for the Lily character, a cast and crew commentary, and theatrical trailers.

"V/H/S" is on sale December 4, 2012 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Radio Silence. Written by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Nicholas Tecosky, Simon Barrett, Tyler Gillett. Starring Jason Yachanin, Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Kentucker Audley, Adam Wingard, Frank Stack, Sarah Byrne, Melissa Boatright, Simon Barrett, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Jas Sams, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Norma C Quinones, Drew Moerlin, Jeannine Yoder, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Liz Harvey, Chad Villela, Matt Bettinelli Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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