V/H/S is a pleasant surprise. In this futuristic world we live in, it makes sense that more and more of us are capturing even the most pointless stories of our lives on video. Of course, unlike this futuristic world we live in, I’m not sure which poor soul still records with VHS, or has the patience to convert a bunch of this violent footage to VHS for home viewing. Well, a gang of violent profiteers (who are about to step up to ‘upskirts’ on the enterprising scale) know who: the old dead guy in the house they’re trying to steal a specific tape from. It’s in this frame story that we’re presented an anthology of assorted, scary found-footage tales, which both serves and penalizes the film.
Like many other horror films, all of the players here are sex-crazed, frat-ish twenty-somethings that end up on the wrong end of a bad story. Because of the YouTube-style filmmaking, you’re also treated to an intimate first-person view of the horror, which ratchets the intensity in more than a few instances; the best stories in V/H/S are the ones play closest to reality. Tape 56, the frame story, probably could’ve held on its own, and several others could as well. The first tape, Amateurs Night, is probably the most intense of the whole batch. A group of, well, sex-crazed, frat-ish twenty-somethings drop on a bar to pick up chicks, because y’know. Upon being kicked out for rowdiness, they pick up the beautiful Lisa and, for whatever reason, the dart-y and weird Lily who lunges at the cameraman like a bird sniping for worms. Things escalate in all the wrong ways and soon a bloodied cameraman is running for his life.
Second Honeymoon, the story of a couple on their road trip across the desert southwest, was probably my favorite. While probably having the least actual horror of the collection, the build-up and twist are fantastic. V/H/S’s middle segments, Tuesday the 17th, and to a greater extent, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, are a bit more far-fetched. The former records four friends headed up to a lake in the woods, but is far too gussied up with too many beautiful people and a story that breaks down at its climax. The latter is told from the perspective of a series of recorded video chats between a long-distance couple, but to say too much about it is to spoil it, and the distance we drive toward X-Files land nullifies its effect on the film. The last segment, 10/31/98, wraps up the series pretty well, but despite its presentation, it actually coughed up the fewest scares.
Since all of these segments were independently produced around the country and then tied into the movie, it makes sense that the frame story would work well to bind them. Well, it could’ve done well. Despite opening with footage of the gang generally being hooligans, destroying property, and violently grabbing women for an impromptu titty show captured by conveniently-placed cameras, the movie could’ve dropped one or two of the segments entirely and been a leaner, more efficient film. When V/H/S works, it really works. It’s fresh and idealistic despite its video cassette logic hole and while the constant analog distortion didn’t irritate me (once an artifact of my childhood memories and now an easy inclusion for any snuff film), its individual weaknesses keep it from a recommend. Still, if you need an easy reason to cuddle up with loved ones this evening and you’re as sick to death of Paranormal Activity as I am, this is probably your ticket.