VHS 2 (stylized V/H/S/2 - important when searching on Shudder apparently…) is the 2013 follow-up to V/H/S and produced by Bloody Disgusting. It’s also a review coming via Patreon member recommendation! Thanks, Jennifer!
Like its predecessor, this is an anthology showcasing a smattering of genre directors/writers doing their thing by creating spooky shorts that are brought into a frame narrative where some unlucky folks stumble into the supernatural VHS tapes and uncover their horror. Does it work as well as the first time around? Keep reading to find out. Don’t want to read? Cool, you can listen too by checking out our podcast. Weekly reminder that there are spoilers in both, though. Have fun.
Reviewed by: Jake
Note - I’m doing things a little differently this week because the way V/H/S works lends itself better to discussing each short within the film rather than the movie as a whole due to the fact that there is really no connective tissue between the shorts aside from through the frame narrative.
Directed by: Simon Barrett
It makes sense to discuss this one first because it is the frame narrative and as such, it queues up and delivers all the shorts to us throughout the film. It’s a little awkward to discuss in a vacuum because the escalation takes places in chunks between each short and over the run time of the movie as a whole, but here we are. Like in the first V/H/S, the frame narrative brings some people into an abandoned residence with a lot of tv’s sputtering static and a shitload of VHS tapes strewn about. Naturally, the people watch the tapes.
In this film, its because the characters are private investigators hired by a woman to track down her son. When they arrive at the house, they notice that not only are there a lot of tapes, but a laptop recording the room where all the tv’s are. They watch the tapes in an attempt to find the son. This one is kind of a mess. It’s inherently immersion-breaking because you only get small bits between each of the main shorts, but the whole revelation here is that the woman who called in the private investigators set them up in an elaborate plan with her son to create a sort of snuff film I think? One of the characters watches the tapes and progressively becomes entranced and eventually shoots herself in the head. She’s the vehicle for the viewing of all the shorts. The other spends his time searching the house and serves as the exposition and plot progression for the frame narrative itself. Eventually he watches a tape that shows the son attempt suicide but failing, blowing his jaw to kingdom come in the process. He staggers off moments before they entered the house, revealing why the laptop was recording. He then appears and strangles the remaining private investigator. This happens after the one who shot herself rises as a zombie for some reason.
Phase 1 Clinical Trials
Directed by: Adam Wingard
A dude wakes up and has a discussion with a doctor after he receives an eye implant after an accident. It allows him to see again but is in trial phase so there is a camera inside that will record everything he sees and provide the info back to the doctors/scientists/engineers/probably interns who are paid dick to watch shit and also listen to your Alexa recordings. He’s not thrilled to hear about this, and is also a little concerned to learn there could be some visual “glitches” that occur.
When he gets home he starts seeing ghosts and a weird sequence ensues where a woman who had received an ear implant with similar side-effects shows up and explains that if he pays attention to the ghosts they will get stronger - thus initiating distraction sex. Eventually he gets tired of it and tears the eye out with a razor, only to run headlong into the ghosts who shove the implant down his throat and probably kill him.
This short felt a lot like it would have a home on Black Mirror because of the technology aspect. It was totally serviceable and the atmosphere building was commendable given the run time constraints. It definitely relied on jump scares almost exclusively, but again, it’s a short.
A Ride in the Park
Directed by: Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale
Simplicity is the name of the game with this short. A dude goes on a dub-step thumpin’ (weird how the audience could hear the music in his headphones…) mountain bike ride only to run into a bloody woman asking for help. She starts vomiting blood and dies in front of him, only to quickly reincarnate as a flesh eating zombie and bite him as well. From there, we get a GoPro delivered, first person zombie outbreak, where the main character kills and zombifies some other mountain bikers and then proceeds to wander into a kid’s birthday party in the park. Chaos ensues until his head gets popped off by one of the party-goers with a gun.
I really like the first person take on zombies from the perspective of someone who becomes a zombie and then does zombie things. It’s a decent way to get a little extra mileage out of the well-trodden sub-genre. Other than that this is probably the most forgettable short, largely for the same reason… It’s a low budget zombie short. The effects are also questionable. But hey, always good to see stuff from one of The Blair Witch Project dudes.
Directed by: Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto
Hooooooo Billy… This is the short that V/H/S/2 is known for, and it is a wild ride. This one follows a group of filmmakers who travel to Indonesia to try to make a documentary about a local cult. Things go poorly. Horror ensues. As they interview the leader at the compound a bell begins to chime and he goes full “time of reckoning” mode, killing one of the crew and encouraging his followers to do their cult-ly duty of committing suicide. Kids in classrooms drink poison, various members of the cult shoot themselves along with anyone trying to get out. It’s mayhem. And it only gets crazier. One of the crew finds an eviscerated woman on an operating table in the basement who starts convulsing, the cult members who committed suicide come back as zombies, the leader explodes into a mist of blood, and a pregnant crew member births a full-on Baphomet demon who chases and eventually kills the remaining crew member. WTF mate.
It’s pretty easy to see why this is a favorite. It is well shot, frenetic and absolutely bananas. Yet at the same time, it manages to build a unique sense of realism (somehow) to the cult through some grisly realistic violence. Evans’ work on The Raid and The Raid 2 translate well here, too. With the benefit of hindsight watching this short gives a sneak peek into his 2018 cult-centered movie, Apostle, which in a lot of ways is the feature version of this and is every bit as bonkers. Like in Apostle, Evans strikes a weird chord with me and it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction
Directed by: Jason Eisener
This one is a fairly straightforward alien abduction short based around a group of kids having a summertime slumber party at their house that sits on a lake. They get chased around by greys until they are all gone. The noteworthy thing here is that this one is filmed primarily from the perspective of their little dog which they had strapped a camera to during their shenanigans during the day.
The dog’s vantage point lends a unique quality to a concept that’s otherwise pretty straightforward and in a format like this, it’s actually a great fit. After Safe Haven, I really wanted and needed something more simple. This delivers on that nicely. The aliens look serviceable at best, but there is a deafening audio element that pops up every time they appear that I really liked. The dog also falls to its death at the end of the short in what was probably the most disturbing part of the whole movie for me. It’s pretty rare that you actually watch the dog die in a horror flick but in this one you watch first-person as it falls from the abduction beam to the ground below, where the camera pops off and focuses on its bloody body until it stops moving. Yikes.
Story: 4 - This is an anthology flick so it is inherently less important to have a well fleshed out thread throughout. That being said, if you are someone who can’t get into anthologies due to that lack of a central narrative, the frame narrative is not doing many favors for you. The general idea of a place with a bunch of spooky VHS tapes is as good as anyone should need, but what happens in that segment in this one is kind of a mess.
World-Building / Immersion: 4 - Much like story, the immersion factor in an anthology is kind of middling at best due to the necessary jumps from short to short matched with the fact that there are almost always bits that will work well and others that will work poorly for each individual viewer.
Scare-Factor: 6 - Much like immersion (can you see what’s going on here?) the scare factor in an anthology is kind of middling at best due to the necessary jumps from short to short matched with the fact that there are almost always bits that will work well and others that will work poorly for each individual viewer. The V/H/S franchise has a better-than-most general conceit which pushes it over the top a bit for me, at least in the case of the first and second entries in the franchise.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - I’ll pot this just below average because V/H/S is a low-budget franchise that tasks the filmmakers with doing something cool within the framework at a low cost. There are plenty of instances where that low budget is very noticeable, but nothing is actively terrible to the point that it will take you out for the sole reason that something looks or sounds bad.
Overall: 5.5 - I recommend this one wholeheartedly if you like anthologies and not really at all if you don’t like anthologies. If you’re on the fence, I would suggest the original V/H/S over this one, but both are solid examples of horror anthology before Viral did a full swan dive into oblivion.