(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on August 31, 2012.)
Anthology films can be a lot of fun. 1982’s Creepshow, directed by George A. Romero (of Night of the Living Dead fame) and written by Stephen King, took us through as many as five stories of the macabre and terrifying – depending on which country you were in when you saw the film. Single director-anthology movies are quite common, like Romero’s Creepshow, Michael Gornick’s sequel to Creepshow, and John Harrison’s Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Every now and again, however, multiple directors converge upon one movie to make a lasting, memorable, singular piece of storytelling, such as Joe Dante, George Miller, John Landis and Steven Spielberg all contributing to Twilight Zone: The Movie, or Dario Argento and George A. Romero doing Two Evil Eyes. Combining a specific genre technique with a multitude of up-and-coming directing talent has culminated in a fascinating six-story anthology movie called V/H/S.
The genre in question is the “found footage” style of filmmaking. Truth be told, it’s been around since 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, and it most famously reared its head with the 1999 blockbuster, The Blair Witch Project. People say that the genre is played out and done to death, but V/H/S proves it still has a lot of surprises and fun left to be had. Many of these directors contributing to V/H/S are folks who have done horror short films before; this film allows them to play to their strengths and tell as wicked a story as can be told in 20 minutes or less. Ranging from the supernatural to straightforward killer stories, V/H/S delves six times into our world in the most realistic and most popular medium of our generation: video tape. With the advent of YouTube and other sites like it, we are constantly living our lives in front of some kind of camera, which only serves to make these experiences more universal.
As with all of the films listed in the first paragraph, V/H/S starts with a construct which sets up everything to come; the wraparound tale starts by showing us a few men who earn their living through selling their random acts of depravity to some random second party. One of them suggests going for a bigger score: stealing a VHS tape from someone’s house for a pretty sizable chunk of money. Of course, earning a quick buck doesn’t require a lot of thought on their part, and we’re soon shown their videotaped account of breaking into a house and searching for this requested videotape. There’s two catches, though: 1) there are quite a lot of videotapes in the house, thereby warranting a viewing of some of them, and 2) the owner of the house is sitting dead in a lounge chair with a large pile of videotapes in front of a huge bank of televisions. And it is through the first of these catches that we are treated to some of the most terrifying stories ever put to film or videotape.
I’ve always been a fan of the found footage genre – with the advent of consumer video equipment, it was really only a matter of time before someone was able to make a simple movie about bad things happening to them while they rolled tape. With V/H/S, we see six stories full of bad things happening to people. We see an otherworldly killer doing his dastardly deeds; we see creatures of myth and their effect on alcohol-infused party boys; we see ghosts and a whole bevy of spooky things that just shouldn’t be happening. Each short story uses a different type of camera technique; all result in scares of the most primal type. There’s not much to be said about the acting or the photography in this movie, as they’re all meant to have an amateurish bent to them. What can be said is that these six stories show off the best of what can be done with the found footage genre, taking it to levels we haven’t seen before. Between Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, and Cloverfield, found footage has been pushed to its extremes, from simple gore effects to the most expensive computer-generated wizardry. V/H/S falls within those extremes and uses its space to make found footage believably scary once again.