Reactions were understandably mixed to last year’s horror anthology film V/H/S, but there was enough of a positive response to encourage the team to move forward on a new incarnation. No, it’s not time for Laserdisc yet (maybe next year), but in its place we have the forgotten future of video tape… S-VHS.
In addition to changing out most of the writers/directors from the first film (only Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard remain) they’ve also, wisely, shortened the experience by sticking to four shorts (plus wraparound) instead of five. This time the “story” that brings the shorts together involves a pair of inept private eyes investigating the disappearance of a college student. They break into his ratty house and decide their investigation would be best served watching the unlabeled videotapes strewn about the living room.
The four stories that follow are a mixed bag quality-wise, but thankfully there are none as bad as the “dumbasses in the woods” segment from the first movie. The concept remains that everything we see was filmed entirely on personal cams to give a POV sensation. If they do share a theme with each other it’s more laughs/fewer scares — which I gotta say is kind of odd for a so-called horror movie.
Segment one (Wingard, Barrett) involves a wealthy man who’s just been implanted with a high-tech eyeball that records everything he sees (aside from his blinking apparently). There’s an unforeseen side-effect, though, in that the device also puts him on the frequency of the undead. Soon he’s seeing ghostly images throughout his Los Angeles home and fighting for his life.
This is essentially a hi-tech and more comedic version of the Pang Brothers’ The Eye, and while there are some fun bits, it feels like it’s a second or third draft away from having some kind of a point. It’s loaded with jump scares, many of them ineffective and expected, and accompanied by ridiculously loud audio cues so you know when you’re supposed to be scared. But while it lacks anything successfully horrific, it remains a fun start.
Story two (Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale) is the most purely comedic and follows a man taking a peaceful bike ride through the woods until his day is ruined by marauding zombies. He’s bitten almost immediately, but that’s only the start of his troubles.
The short almost works as a pre-cursor to the upcoming Warm Bodies as it puts us inside a zombie’s brain to explore his fading humanity in a way that may remind viewers of Fido or Day of the Dead’s Bub. Most memorable, though, are the technical achievements the short manages in the POV department. It features some very cool shots as our protagonist/antagonist experiences several chaotic, rough-and-tumble minutes in the life of a zombie. Again, like the first piece, this one is fun without being the least bit frightening.
Next up (Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto) is the film’s crowning achievement and one that even manages to wildly surpass the haunted house segment from V/H/S. An Indonesian news crew gains access to a controversial compound populated by a revered father figure and the women and children he’s reportedly abusing. The crew finds the truth, but it’s nothing like what they expected. In fact, it’s blood-splattered, balls-out insanity.
Who knew the director of The Raid had such an affection for crazy-as-hell horror-action too? The segment starts simple enough, and genre fans will think they know where it’s going, but there’s a shit-ton that you won’t see coming but will be extremely thankful for. There are laughs here as well, but the overall piece is a pumped-up ball of blood-covered energy that just keeps rolling. Once the action starts you’ll find yourself smiling and saying “WTF” every few seconds. Make sure to pay audible attention to the final few seconds too.
The fourth and final segment comes from Hobo With a Shotgun director Jason Eisener, which should tell you immediately whether or not it’s going to be for you. When parents leave for the weekend, their teen daughter and preteen sons settle in for a rambunctious sleepover with friends, but while much of the time is spent battling between the younger and the older, the real threat is closing in from outside.
This is essentially a two-part short with the first half devoted to some very funny shenanigans worthy of an old school Amblin flick (with allowances for language of course) before the things from outside find their way in and all hell breaks loose. This second half is a race for survival and features a handful of impressive shots including an underwater glimpse of something terrifying, a long shot down a dock and a claustrophobic scene inside a quickly sinking sleeping bag. It does begin to feel a bit repetitive though before ending with a wholly unnecessary shot seemingly included solely for street cred.
As with the first film, the connective tissue is the weakest link here, but the general quality of the segments and the specific quality of Evans’s section make it worth slogging through the adventures of the world’s dumbest investigators. Two big issues remain, though, in the film’s lack of real horror and the episodes’ common lack of real story. Laughs are fine, and the film lands many of them, but horror, whether physical or emotional, is almost completely lacking. The majority of attempted scares fall in place exactly where expected and therefore lack punch.
Inconsistency aside, this franchise remains a shot in the arm for horror fans, and it would be great to see them continue to make it an annual tradition with new writers/directors sharing billing each time. They’re quick and inexpensive to produce, and the results are rarely less than fun. What else could you want from a horror film…?
The Upside: Gareth Evans’s segment is ridiculously great; plenty of laughs; some fun gore
The Downside: Real lack of horror and scares (aside from often ineffective jump scares); only one of the segments feels like a real story; bridge section is kind of lame
On the Side: S-VHS recordings actually shared the same resolution as laserdiscs at 560×480