(This review was originally published on October 5, 2012 at Reel Film News)
Hmmmm…. an exclusively ‘found footage’ horror anthology. There’s an interesting concept. Like many compilations of its genre, “V/H/S” is hit or miss; sometimes it’s delightfully disturbing, and other times it feels recycled and uninspired. Consisting of five tales shot in the POV style (and an ultimately disappointing ‘wraparound’ story), it’s a mixed bag that feels a little past its time, though it also could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.
The common story arc, or binding element, is called ‘Tape 56’, which introduces us to a group of miscreants who commit crimes varying from vandalism to pulling up women’s shirts for their camcorder, which I assume they intend to sell on the internet – a noble enterprise that seems a common theme throughout this film. When these guys, who look oddly like a long retired boy band (I’m not sure why I think that), are hired by an unknown party to break into a house to obtain a VHS tape, they find a deceased old man, a bank of televisions, and a mess of old video tapes.
What ensues is sort of two-tiered voyeurism, as they must go through the tapes to figure out which one they’re supposed to be stealing, and mysterious things happen to them in between viewings. For various reasons, we know they’re doomed.
The first story reminds me a lot of the segment ‘House and Home’ from a far more deranged compilation called “Little Deaths” (seek that one out at your own risk – I’m serious). In ‘Amateur Night’, a group of young guys head out on the town with the sole objective of getting some candid ‘adult’ footage with women. The evening, which is being captured on one male character’s eyeglasses cam, ends up in a horrific situation in a motel room; director David Bruckner brings a slick style and creative use of lighting to the horrific (and bloody) proceedings. Ti West (“House of the Devil”, “The Innkeepers”) offers a more subtle, old-fashioned approach in ‘Second Honeymoon’, which follows a married couple on a road trip who encounter a drifter; this one has a heavy urban legend feel to it, and with the most realism, and most held to the imagination, it has an unexpected, very freaky outcome.
While ‘Tuesday the 17th’ had tons of potential (in my opinion), fusing “Friday the 13th” classic slasher-in-the-woods material with something supernatural like “Reeker”(2005) and a lesser known POV film called “Skew“, it bites off more than it can chew for a 20 minute short. This might be a good concept for a feature-length film. Perhaps it could have stolen some time from ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’, which for my taste was the thinnest of the stories, and would have been more effective at 10 minutes. By the time ’10-31-98′ rolls around, which is a haunted house story that is the most traditional and visually ambitious of the bunch, you might be a little tired of the chaotic first-person perspective. If you’re like me, “V/H/S” will make you miss old-fashioned horror like “Trilogy of Terror”, “Tales From the Crypt” and “Creepshow”, even when it’s at its scariest (and make no mistake, it has some very scary moments). After all, we’ve been saturated with this found-footage stuff for over a decade now. Perhaps it’s just my nostalgia talking.