V/H/S is a found footage anthology film that enigmatically came out on DVD back in 2012. If you’re on the up-and-up in the horror world you’ve probably heard of this through one of its creepy images or gifs floating around the internet. Who doesn’t love a good creepy gif? For that matter, who doesn’t love a creepy movie? If the answer is “not me” then you’re in luck… I think… that sentence was confusing. Watch the trailer after to see if this seems up your alley then read our review to make doubly sure.
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Mark: V/H/S. Video Home System? More like video horror system. Alternatively: very horrifying screenplay. I’m here all week folks,tip your waitress.
Jack: Man, you are just on fire huh? And you picked the movie this week my friend, and I swear to Jehovah, I was not confident in your choices based upon your previous selection, The Taking of Deborah Logan.
Mark: You are correct, this was my pick for us to watch. Why? Well it’s a found footage movie that has littered the internet with creepy gifs, so it’s squarely in my bailiwick. Little did I know that this is in fact a found footage horror movie about finding found footage horror movies. It’s two levels deep into my bailiwick. It’s bailiwickception. Outrageous.
Jack: Your fire continues. But to your credit, you picked a real movie this time around. I was pretty stoked to watch this thing again, because I haven’t seen it since it came out years ago, and frankly, I didn’t remember it all that well.
Mark: So let’s jump right in then. We have a lot to talk about. The “first” tape is really the framing narrative of the movie that sets up the discovery of the tapes. It follows 5 tomfools skylarking about until they are goosed into trying to find a videotape in some old dead guy’s house. Why in the hell does “here’s a handsome sum of money if you can steal an old ass videotape from an old guy in the year 2012” not even remotely arouse some suspicions?
Jack: Yeah, this interstitial etablishing thing is by far the movie’s weakest “segment,” if you could even call it that. These jabronis accept this “job” and break right the fuck in to the old guy’s house. What do they find? The old guy. Dead. In his easy chair and in front of a TV piled up with VHS tapes (I see what they did there).
Mark: You know, when I’m stuck in a dark room with a dead body I try and make it a point to watch the stack of VHS tapes that are sitting in front of the eerily glowing static of his myriad CRT television sets. This in no way could end poorly.
Jack: Watch one they do. Enter segment 1: “Amateur Night”
Mark: And just like that we transition from a pack of 5 skeezbags sexually assaulting women to a group of 3 skeezbags planning to sexually assault women. It’s a high bar that this film is setting so far. Anyway, the first half of this short is where it really shines. For a reason that I absolutely cannot put my finger on, everything that happens prior to getting the girls back to the hotel room is weirdly suspenseful. The first moment where you see Lily is an extremely creepy shot.
Jack: Maybe because that actress kind of looks like an alien. She’s frightening man, and it’s shot pretty damn well to build that tension. After a genuine twist when one of these bros is talked out of raping his unconscious companion, we get a much more expected twist when the creepy woman wants to have a devil’s threesome with ⅔ of our heroes (?), but whoops! She’s some sort of monster.
Mark: Some sort of monster or just the average level of chick you find on tinder? Woof. If I had a buck for every time I accidentally romanced a pterodactyl sex demon after a night on the town then I’d have, give or take, six bucks. After we return to the framing narrative it’s revealed that, surprise, there’s a shit load of VHS tapes in this house. That’s how you build a franchise, people. Take note. Homeboy pops in the second tape.
Jack: Well you did breeze right the fuck past some pretty gruesome compound fractures, but not much beyond that. Queue segment 2: “Second Honeymoon.” What we get here is a married couple (ostensibly) trying to save their failing marriage by taking a vacation together. What I meant by ostensibly is that this couple feels like they’ve never really met before. Certainly never hopped on the good beast and made the bad two backs. In any case, because this is found footage, the husband is filming everything because reasons.
Mark: Once the couple gets to sleep the camera pops back on. There’s a moment where you think it might be one of the two who we’ve been watching. He was just trying to convince her to bang on camera, she had stolen away earlier to privately tape how dirty their room was, but before long you get shots of both of them sleeping sooooo…. That sorta rules out that theory. The unseen Spielberg ambles about the room doing various eerie things and steals money from the guy's wallet. I’m diminishing it a bit now, but this scene scared the shit out of me. I do not like the thought of being watched while I sleep. I do not like it at all.
Jack: I’d say our mysterious filmmaker is more Kirasawa than Spielberg. Real Seven Samurai overtones to the stalking footage. Like Kirasawa she makes mad films, one might say. Spoilers, it is a she, and she is the wife’s lesbian lover who murders the everloving fuck out the husband in his sleep. Slits his throat from ear to shining ear. Whoops. This was my least favorite segment by a decent margin, but it did have terrific sound editing.
Mark: I gotta say (this is absolutely a subjective judgement) this was probably my favorite short of the movie. It's just that those sleeping scenes are so god damned creepy. Anyway, the new couple drive off into the sunset and we teleport back to the house, but this time the guy who put the tape in the VCR has disappeared! No matter, one of the other four dudes who looks exactly like him will replace him to pop in the next tape. He was probably just fooling around anyway and is in no way in peril.
Jack: That scamp, always disappearing mysteriously in dark houses on suspicious jobs. Enter segment 3: “Tuesday the 17th.” Notably that would be the Tuesday that follows Friday the 13th. Clever. Four new friends heading out camping, and our protagonist brings a camera. It’s unclear why at first, but then it becomes very clear very quickly. Turns out, she’s luring these other three yahoos there to get murdered by a digital monster only visible through the lens of the camera. Pretty straightforward slasher stuff here. You know, besides the digital monster thing.
Mark: The one thing that this short had going for it was how effectively it used tracking as a thing. Does anyone else remember tracking? The button on your camera and VCR that can magically fuck up the picture or somehow also make everything better? Basically there’s this demon thing (that honestly just looks like the killer from Cry Wolf) that hides in the tracking lines of the VHS tape. It’s not altogether clear, but it seems like the glitch can only be seen on the videotape?
Jack: No, I said it earlier, it’s altogether clear. It’s a digital monster so you can only see it on videotape. Next segment mofo!
Mark: Meanwhile, back at the hall of dead guy, another rube has disappeared, and another tape gets put in the VCR. This time around we’re treated to a series of skype conversations that were somehow and somewhy transcribed to VHS. This one more than any other confused me as to why this tape exists. At least the rest of them have rationales for being recorded on a VHS, this one justifies neither being recorded nor being on VHS. In any case, we meet Emily and James, a long distance couple currently struggling with the fact that Emily’s new apartment is haunted as fuck. Well, maybe it’s only “haunted.”
Jack: Way to intro the segment guy. This one, in a bout of naming worthy of our crackerjack operation, is called “The sick thing that happened to Emily when she was younger.” And reasons for recording aside, I found this one to be pretty effective. The “hauntings” are kind of creepy, and while the dude seems really stilted at first, you quickly see why. He’s been helping aliens harvest human/alien hybrid babies (I think?) out of Emily. Yikes.
Mark: So it was aliens the whole time then, eh? I mean I guess that’s a creative enough twist. I can’t think of that many stories where ghosts turns into aliens turns into impromptu surgery in an apartment living room. At its heart this short is more about their relationship, and how much of a shit-bag liar James is than about the aliens though so I guess there’s that aspect to boost the otherwise middling segment.
Jack: I actually kind of liked this one. It wasn’t my favorite, but it certainly wasn’t my least favorite either. Not to hard, not too soft.
Mark: It’s about time we weigh back in on our frame narrative. The penultimate member of the crew has now also disappeared and the mustachioed leader begins to search the house. What he finds is a decapitated body of one of his buddies that he thinks is a joke. And then he finds the dead guy, but just slightly less dead that before. If I had to observe one thing about this specific incarnation of the dead guy it would be that he is surprisingly ambulatory. He chases our lone survivor around the house for a while before he eventually takes a header down the stairs.
Jack: Indeed he does. Queue our fifth and final segment, “10/31/98.” This was far and away my favorite segment.
Mark: The last tape we see was notably directed by Radio Silence, the trio of dudes who brought us Southbound. It follows four friends as they head off to a Halloween party. They not only get lost in their own city, but then just sort of walk into an empty house assuming it is the one they were trying to find. I mean I guess if you’re going to get lost then don’t half ass it?
Jack: Never half ass to things man, whole ass one thing. Even if that thing is getting lost. So they’re fucking around in this house, scaring each other and talking about arms coming out of the walls, when they hear something from upstairs, so they go to investigate. What our Hardy boys . . . or is it Hardies Boy like attorneys general? Regardless, what they find is a cult sacrificing a young woman. They instantly cheez it, as this cult gets down.
Mark: But, being the kind gentlemen that they are, they all return to the attic to save the screaming woman. As they escape the house there’s an incredible amount of CG ghost stuff. Plates and vases flying around, windows shrinking to be non-existent, smoke billowing in from nowhere, that sorta stuff. They escape through the root cellar before the house all but implodes and book it in the car. Long story short, like my momma always said, “when you rescue some rando who is about to be executed by a cult you might just get hit by a train.” Shocking how prescient that saying is.
Jack: Your mother is a wise woman, Mark. And while all the ghost stuff was clearly CG, it wasn’t that jarring. Maybe it was the terrible quality of the 90’s camera, but it all really worked for me. I dug it. Those windows vanishing as the guys run past scared me. Long story short, the woman they saved is some kind of witch and she makes a train crash right into their car. All dead.
Mark: And on that note, it's ratings time!
For 1, think of how Indiana Jones would rate Nazis:
For 10, think of how Ed Sullivan would rate the size of his show:
Mark: 5 - I liked all of the stories in this movie, with the weakest one being the frame narrative. Therein lies the problem. The whole conceit of this movie is one that doesn’t stand up well enough to support the rest. There are some ticky tack problems I have with a few of the actual short films, but honestly the majority of my criticism here is the unbelievability of what’s going on in the outermost layer. Also, I’m still not sure I understand the girl’s motivations in the glitch short. That shit get’s more confusing the more I think about it.
Jack: 7 - While the main narrative doesn't work all that well for me, each individual short film was well-written and really innovative. Plus the whole concept of this thing is just supremely unique. Solid stuff.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Mark: 5 - There’s not a lot to say here that hasn’t already been said. It’s all found footage, which to me makes it more immersive, but it’s also an anthology, which means that you forcibly ripped from the narrative every 15 minutes or so to start a new one from scratch. I don’t think any of the individual shorts particularly struggle in this category, but there’s just a hard ceiling written in as part of the genre.
Jack: 4 - While a few of the shorts were quite immersive, not all were. And even were the individual films' immersion quite high, the movie would still have to overcome jumping in and out a whole bunch, and it just doesn't.
Mark: 6 - As with all anthology movies, if something doesn’t scare you, just wait about 10 minutes and you’ll get another crack at it. Luckily for me a lot of these hit pretty creepy tones. Even the obviously designed views of the frame narrative punks watching film with the dead guy behind them were creepy. In total, none of the segments (except for potentially the skype one) were particularly tame. Additionally, the second segment is subjectively terrifying to me and made me extremely uncomfortable. I can’t wait to travel this next weekend and worry about being filmed in my sleep…..
Jack: 7 - Parts of this thing really freaked me out, which is all the more impressive given how little time each segment had. This one is up there for scares.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Mark: 4 - With such a wide swath across all of the shorts this one is a bit hard to weigh in on. The editing and general film quality of the frame narrative can be pretty hard to watch at times (particularly in the beginning). The glitch character from the third segment is an interesting concept, but looks pretty bad. The CG ghost effects in the final segment are fun but look pretty cheesy. I can’t really complain much about the second and fourth segments because they looked fine, but also really weren’t trying to do anything spectacular. That leaves “Amateur Night” as a clear winner with its slew of pretty impressive practical effects. Unfortunately it gets weighed down pretty heavily by the rest of the entourage.
Jack: 7 - I think they did a great job of recognizing what their limitations were, but still fucking going for it. Sure some of the CGI doesn't look great, but it doesn't look all that jarring either given that it's filmed on a terrible handi-cam.
Mark: 6 - I have a feeling this might be one that I look back on and wish I rated it higher, but overall I just didn’t find the experience to be that immensely enjoyable. I think the fact that the frame narrative is pretty weak goes a long way toward that phenomenon since it basically sets the mood for each of the segments. When all is said and done, however, this is still a found footage movie about finding found footage and as a result there’s no way I can go below a 6.
Jack: 7 - I did not expect to dig on this movie all that much, but fuck me if it wasn't just an enjoyable damned movie. Definitely worth checking out.