Welcome to Part 1 of my Horror Month! My goal is to see and review every horror movie released this month in theatres, though if there's something especially interesting on DVD and I'll check that out too. I am subject to UK release dates, but if you have any suggestions feel free to post below if there's any you think I need to see. Next review will be The House at the End of the Street.
As anyone who's ever watched Tales From the Crypt can tell you, bite-sized horror just kinda works. The key to a good scare isn't dissimilar to the key to a good joke - the dual-pronged attack of an effective build up and a satisfying payoff. A shorter running time means less languishing and more focus, a trimming of the flesh that allows a competent director to go straight for the jugular. V/H/S looks to capture that short but bloody formulae, spreading out six horror skits across the running time of a single movie with one connecting device - all the films are produced as found footage works and each are handled by a different director. It's a neat idea for an anthology, but does it work?
There are five individual shorts within V/H/S, with a framing story that runs throughout the entire film. This wrap around is ancillary at best, a supplementary piece that's biggest failing is that it doesn't connect the shorts together in a meaningful way. It documents a group of unspecified criminals - their actions ranging from voyeur pornography to aggressive vandalism - as they break into a house to steal a video tape. As each member of the group watches the tape , we're treated to the short films on offer, before being frustratingly kicked back to the wrap around story. It's unfortunate the wrap around story isn't used more effectively. There's an interesting concept in there somewhere, but it's buried under a slowly growing mound of non-answers and disbelief. It doesn't harm the shorts, but it does extend the film's running time to a patience testing 2 hours.
The first entry in the anthology is titled Amateur Night and is directed by David Bruckner. It's exciting and well-handled, despite being somewhat predictable. Three friends go out to pick up girls, planning to film their sexual exploits using a camera hidden within a pair of glasses. One of the girls, however, isn't as she seems. It's unfortunate the performances are so signposted, because aside from the obviousness of the affair it sets the tone of the film nicely, with a flurry of appropriately messy gore and nudity while using a single room to great effect. Overall a success, if not a particularly subtle one.
Ti West's entry, Second Honeymoon, is far more down to earth. Ti West's House of the Devil is one of the best horror movies of recent years, and Second Honeymoon retains his flair for nuance and gradual character development. Some may be put off by the slow pace, but the reward is in the build-up and out of all the shorts, Second Honeymoon is the one that benefits the most from a second watch. The intricate details that lead into the final twist are accomplished and it's the most satisfying piece in terms of its story. Unfortunately, it's more mundane nature doesn't fit in with the extravagances of the rest of V/H/S, making it something of an oddity despite its intelligence.
Tuesday the 17th is the third short, which is resolutely the weakest. Helmed by Glenn McQuaid, it documents four teenagers as they find themselves stalked by a being within the forest. Despite the grain of a good idea - the killer appears to live inside the camera - it's a routine and messy slasher flick, complete with awkward and banal dialogue. It has some lively and impressive gore that stops it from being completely edgeless, but it's lack of spark and scares produces a dud.
Tuesday the 17th is followed by Joe Edgerton's The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. Using found footage in a rather unique way, the entire short is told from the perspective of a two person Skype call. It's the scariest entry in the anthology, with a nice sense of tension and some grizzly shock moments. It's a shame that the short slides into the baffling and ludicrous however, with a twist that lacks crucial context. Up to that point, however, Emily succeeds as an effective and mysterious shocker.
The final segment, 10/31/98, is directed by Radio Silence and is possibly the best on show. A group of friends head to a house for a Halloween party, but find the entire place deserted, with the exception of something sinister in the attic. It's a proper, full-blooded haunted house affair, filled with visual trickery and invention. While never outright scary, 10/31/98 is hugely entertaining with a flair and ambition that makes most other entries in the omnibus look comparatively stunted. It almost justifies the creation of the entire project, and ensures V/H/S goes out with a bang.
As a package, V/H/S is bloated and overlong, but manages to satisfy with enough creativity to spin a unique horror anthology. The found-footage aesthetic is mostly a gimmick, only being used exceptionally by Emily which saves it from becoming too tiresome in the final stretches. It would certainly benefit from some trimming - revising or just plain cutting out the wrap around would help, and Tuesday can go too - but with a surprising amount of gruesome variety, most horror fans will find something within its bloodied tapes to enjoy.