From the start, V/H/S disturbs and disgusts. Director Adam Wingard’s main story, entitled ‘Tape 56’, keeps all the consecutive video stories in context and opens with a punch; a group of burglars sexually abusing a woman while holding back her boyfriend. It’s sick and uncomfortable to watch, but provides us with an enticing opener to the ensuing horror within the V/H/S collection.
If you’ve watched the trailer you're probably thinking that V/H/S looks like a pretty bog standard found footage horror; one that we've seen too many times. And you're right, to an extent. But V/H/S presents us with a unique anthology unlike the used and abused style of before, using Skype-style recordings and camera glasses. The primary story, ‘Tape 56’, is sadly the weakest of the lot. A group crooks who undertake a job from an unknown third party must steal a video tape from someone’s house, but when they enter the house they find a rather unhelpfully large collection of VHS tapes, which they must individually watch to find the one they’re after. Cue terror. As each of the tapes finishes, we await the sinister outcome for the viewer (not us, don’t worry).
‘Amateur Night’ (David Bruckner) is the first tape, interlacing vivid imagination, sound and a despairing comment on the sexual politics of a younger generation. 3 guys are all looking to get laid and film the act on one of the guys’ camera, handily installed in his glasses. These sexually deviant lads are soon taught a brutal lesson when one of them brings home an anti-social creepy cat girl with insanely large eyes (Fierman). ‘Second Honeymoon’ (Ti West) changes pace and scene; a couple on a road trip who end up being stalked in their motel room is a bit of a thrill-killer but nonetheless packs an interesting ending. ‘Tuesday the 17th’ is the flimsiest of the bunch. A group of teenagers travel to the woods to find a lake house, but SHOCK HORROR it turns out they’re not alone, in a Friday the 13th style slasher. It’s a worn-out plot that director Glenn McQuaid attempts to reinvigorate with a modern spin, but it just crashes and burns.
The fourth video tape, ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily That Night’ (Swanberg) is a supernatural tale conducted over webcam chat between Emily and her boyfriend. It packs a few jumps, but ultimately is let down by the appalling acting from the male lead (Daniel Kaufman). The scenes that were supposed to terrify just seemed clumsy because of a bored, droning delivery from Kaufman. But, excluding the acting, it’s a spooky, psychologically-wrought tale that, like every other tape in this collection, seems to indulge in mutilation. The last and probably the best tape is ’10/31/1998′ (Radio Silence). The story about four guys on their way to a Halloween house party ends quickly, but its brevity makes it a killer.
The shaky, unpredictable camera work remains dubious in places. In ‘Tuesday the 17th’, it’s ludicrous. There is no humanly possible way to tell what is going on towards the end, and frankly the stalker-in-the-woods plot doesn’t help matters. ‘Amateur Night’ uses the unstable footage to its advantage. The surprising moments of emotion and character point of view save the film from looking silly and unrealistic. It works, even though it technically shouldn’t. Overall, each of the short films contain enough disembowelment, molestation and stupid drunks to keep you on your toes and near a sick bucket. Having said that, and without sounding like an overbearing feminist, the zero amount of female directors and subsequent occurring themes of sex, sex and boobs, is depressing enough to write a few angry letters about.
Ultimately, V/H/S presents a creepy and gruesome nostalgic return to the almost unbearable days of analogue, when breaks in speech and dodgy tracking problems were swiftly shrugged away. The thought of watching any movie on VHS nowadays brings back chills, but works extremely well in a horror anthology.
What lets V/H/S down is a couple of random shots of a couple making out half naked on a bed every now and then. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ANYTHING in the anthology. It serves absolutely nothing except to show a generation full of a worrying amount of technology-obsessed, sex-driven young males. Another depressing reminder for right-on feminists and, frankly, women everywhere. But despite producing a compilation of ribaldry, mindless titillation and tortured colons, there are some genuine frights and creepy build-ups in home video style format – sure to hold your attention until the very end.