Seemingly unrated, but this is an R-rating. It only doesn't have a rating because it is a Shudder original. If you had to guess, it's R for just absurd amounts of gore and violence. I suppose that there's technically nudity, but it took me a while to figure out that I was looking at nudity. (Oh, I forgot there's also blatant nudity later.) There's also the f-word galore, which was annoying because we were trying not to disturb others. (Yeah, I know. I'm the worst.) This is the home video version of going to a haunted house around Halloween. Still, probably unrated.
DIRECTORS: Flying Lotus, Maggie Levin, Tyler MacIntyre, Johannes Roberts, Joseph Winter, and Vanessa Winter
Well, now I know that I'm not going to get a Shudder account. I kind of figured that I'm starting to grow out of watching everything horror. A couple of years ago, I really tried selling Bob on the V/H/S franchise. It had to be over six years ago because I never wrote about the other V/H/S movies. (Note: This franchise is annoying to write out with the slashes. Nothing slows you down more than having to incorporate "/" into your writing regularly.) He was very skeptical on the entire notion, but I swore that these were good movies. These movies were on Netflix and I think that I binged them in a weekend. Since then, V/H/S/94 came out and I never caught that one. At least, I don't think I did. It lines up with the notion that I didn't write about it, but the linking narrative sounds remarkably similar. Regardless, I don't know what happened to these movies.
I hear that 94 was pretty campy. From what I remember about the original entries is that they tended to be pretty terrifying. There's something really scary that can be done in the anthology format. I brought these movies to Bob because we both agreed that horror and anthology films go together like absolute gangbusters. I think it comes from the idea that there doesn't really need to be a lot of padding to get to the suspense part. It's concentrated storytelling. As much as I like certain horror movies, I don't really think that there's something all that plausible about stretching out what is ultimately a moment of terror. Sure, there are some real exceptions. I just wrote about the first Scream movie, which absolutely tickled my interest the entire time. Heck, I would love to sit down and rewatch the John Carpenter remake of The Thing. These are conceits that work. But horror somehow thrives in the notion of being isolated. I'm going to write about Halloween Ends tomorrow, if I have the time. One thing that always kind of detracted (and I'm writing in broad strokes here because I actually really love the exception to that rule sometimes) is when the evil is confronted by the community. Part of the scare comes from the notion of being alone. These stories in anthology format remove all of the explanations of hope. It's man v. beast without a chance of rescue. You can't get in your car and run away. These are brief interactions where regardless of fight or flight, things are going to go poorly.
A lot of what we see in V/H/S is similar to Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow. They are odd little morality plays that are meant to surprise us. Because there is so little time to tell a story, it almost comes down to appreciation of craft. We know there's going to be a scare and there's going to be a scare soon. What we wonder is the form it is going to take. That's where 99 really fails. Nostalgia is a really dangerous thing to hinge a movie on. Everyone's going to keep referring to Stranger Things as nostalgia done right. While this doesn't necessarily apply to every story in this film, many of the stories are so obsessed with the title that they forget that the focus of the craft is the actual horror story itself. I mean, the reason why I thought V/H/S was cool to begin with is the fact that the low-res use of VHS cameras allows for things to be amorphous. We have to fill in the gaps of the monster. It's why we jumped so high when the alien made itself briefly seen in Signs. But it's not about blatant nostalgia. There's something upsetting about an unclean image on an analog cassette. I don't care about 1999. The stories in here aren't dependent on the year, with the exception of the last which is almost a garnish to the idea of witchcraft. But that first bit was so overtly 1999 that it almost hurt to watch. More time was spent on getting the idea of 1999 across that the actual time on frights was sacrificed. Now, you could chalk this up to the campiness of the entire bit. Undead alternative rockers is the beginning and end of the story. The bad kids were punished. For some reason, the good kid was punished too. All of the segment consisted was to create an underbaked love-letter to alt rock.
It's not that there weren't parts that I enjoyed. If I remember correctly, the V/H/S films often saved their best bits for last. Usually that tied into the arcing narrative that excused why we were watching these disturbing tapes. I think that the editors of this one knew that the arcing narrative, despite having the coolest setup, was the most disappointing segments of the entire film. Instead, they put an unrelated story last and that one was pretty cool. I won't deny that it wasn't fun watching a movie with Bob, especially a horror movie, because there was a fun commentary running throughout. But we both kind of came to the agreement that this was the only real segment that balanced camp with legitimate scares. It had a real Evil Dead 2 vibe and that's pretty cool. But it is really hard to achieve that. If anything, the comic sensibilities of the movie rode the line pretty hard that the late '90s were absurd and that we should kind of laugh at them. That's a bummer, because some of these segments had real promise.
I'm still trying to decide how I feel about one of the segments. One of these segments was almost pitch perfect, if it wasn't for editing and one wild miscasting. I hate doing this. I hate excluding people for bringing a room down. But I suppose this is one of those examples of "Kill your darlings," a phrase that probably shouldn't be thrown around when writing about horror. There's a segment called "Ozzy's Dungeon" that is so rad that it hurts. It's a send up of Nickelodeon game shows of the '90s. Primarily a parody of Legends of the Hidden Temple, "Ozzy's Dungeon" borrows heavily from Double Dare as well. The camera work, organization, looks, and feel of "Ozzy's Dungeon" is so perfect that it blows my mind that they made the host an archetype. We've seen this game show host archetype before and it sucks. It's a corny suit. It's The Price is Right microphone. It's cheeseball smile. What happened to these guys in their mid-30s to early-40s who dressed in jeans and really tried to be hip? How hard is it to get a Marc Summers type? No Nick TV show had that kind of host.
Then there's the turn in that bit. Oh geez. For a second, I thought that turn was going to be the end. In the "Ozzy's Dungeon" segment, Donna has her leg destroyed by Timmy. (I don't know why Timmy isn't the focus of Donna and her mother's rage. It's really weird how everyone is callous about a child getting maimed on a children's program, but again...Kill your darlings. When we discover that the game show host is the focus of revenge, okay, put him through the evil version of the traps. Cool. But it goes on for far too long. When the game show is so well put together and the rest is just a shot of a basement for a long time, what is going on? I actually weirdly like the end of the whole bit when they meet a god / demon behind the scenes that grants messed up wishes. I know it came out of nowhere, but the basement was such an anticlimax to what was set up to that point, that I was just grateful for this bananas answer when really, tighter filmmaking would have solved a lot.
Are all of the V/H/S segments supernatural? I know that this isn't really a dialogue, but I kind of had that epiphany this time and I kind of want to know.
It's really hard to write about anthology stuff without being list-y. I know, I had a choice to do a blog with mini-subentries writing about each bit. But I also didn't like the movie that much. I can tell you that the last segment is the best and the webcam one is borderline community theatre. I do question whether a lot of that comes out of the fact that maybe I'm just burned out on horror movies. Very few horror movies come out that I feel like I have to see. Instead, they often are fillers. I know that there are absolutely brilliant horror movies, but the hit / miss ratio in the genre is disappointing. V/H/S/99 is not good. I'm glad I saw it because it was fun watching a horror movie with a friend, but that doesn't excuse for a lack of quality.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.