The fetish so far: VCR’s and VHS cassette tapes. Priced to owned, home entertainment featuring gorgeous cover art containing many of the movies on which we cut our teeth and were educated in the school of horror. You have to pick your favorite distribution company. You have to pay reasonable prices for 99% of what’s out there in fair quality and quite a bit more for the remaining 1% (this is not a political movement, this is a way of life). Once you arrive home from the swap meet or receive that package from eBay sell VHSSlut 1354 or cannibalize what’s left of the mom and pop shops out there you get to watch it on your Hi Def, flat screen television connected to a pretty descent 5.1 surround sound all complimented by that dusty, gray boxy thing of a VCR you’ve lovingly swiped from your parents attic. Do you remember how to adjust the tracking? Did you purchase a head cleaner (wet or dry)? The horizontal streaming lines begin. You see the FBI warning which is clearly more frightening than anything you’ll find on current media releases. You may enjoy a trailer but you might find them at the end of the film as well. The sound will be hollow. The video might be washed and in need of some fresh black paint, but you’ll be watching the damn movies, lovingly, warmly on a format that you call home or mom or whatever pet name you’ve come up with for the plastic magnetic tape holders. This is what VHS means now. It means picking up the latest HorrorHound magazine and flipping straight to the Video Invasion column to find out what’s collectible, get the history… to dork out. When you see the logo, when you hear the sound of the tape winding and the heads clicking in or the barbaric sound of the tape ejecting… you’re in love and sweaty and sticky. Or at least that’s what VHS meant before you watched the new portmanteau/anthology feature brought to us by Magnet Releasing known as V/H/S. Get ready to associate those three letters with a new piece of fantastic.
V/H/S is the latest piece of found footage programming the studios have decided will capitalize on poor quality filmmaking, poor quality audio, camera shake, poor lighting and even worse dialogue. In short, V/H/S is the latest piece of anti-Hollywood riding a wave of indy success leading to major box office numbers. It’s no secret that I’ve enjoyed a few entries in the style so far. I was one of the Blair Witch believers when it was first released; before we knew it was faked in the earlier days of media content on the interwebs; before the spoilers began running amok from the average citizens of the world. So I thought that was real and loved being scared, planned my trip to Burkittsville and packed all my Weird NJ magazines into a duffle bag only to end up at some random kegger (with no keg mind you) and no hope of actually leaving the state of NJ or car that would make it there anyway. No flashlight, no map, not a single luxury. I didn’t even get nauseous from the camera shake. Since that time in the late 90’s things have changed a bit. I’m not a found footage hater, but there’s a lot of shit out there, so you have to wade through it. It’s probably as difficult to make a found footage movie believable or at least capture the audience as it is to make a full on Hollywood production so I don’t hate on it for it’s quality. That’s part of the charm. It’s the same reason I love Grindhouse style films and the film wear and tear that is often associated with the style. I think it takes two things to make you a found footage film fan (dreadful alliteration I apologize): 1. you have to be gullible or at least you have to have a working “suspension of disbelief reflex” and 2. you have to believe, even a little, that the supernatural is actually possible (which probably ties in with number 1). Once you’re brain turns off and you actually can imagine what you’re watching to be real, well…then the movie just has to not fuck it up for you.
V/H/S synopsis from Magnet:
V/H/S is a POV, found footage horror film from the perspective of America’s top genre filmmakers. In ‘V/H/S’, a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicable than the last…
First impressions: In screening this movie I found that I got a tad bit nauseous which didn’t even happen during the Blair Witch Project on the big screen. This could be due to the review copy I received for screening purposes being a slightly lower quality burn to prevent piracy. It wouldn’t be the first time that a lower quality film was sent for review, but it’s the first time that I’ve felt queasy after reviewing a film at home. It could be a combination of the lower quality screener and the style of the film. It was really only for the first thirty minutes of the movie. V/H/S is, after all, a compilation of short stories combined with a wrap around story shot by different filmmakers and production teams. It’s possible the particular shooting method for a couple of the early stories is more disorienting than the later ones. Just hold out through the whole thing. Get the vomit bag ready… just in case. Remember, it could just because I’m a giant pussy.
I don’t spoil movies which makes talking about V/H/S somewhat difficult. V/H/S has several different stories. It’s difficult to take the whole experience as a whole because of my enjoyment of each story individually, but analyzing it for its parts might prove to be too revealing. Each story including the wrap story has very little time to develop and turn you on with a twist. I can’t ruin it for you, so we’ll stick with a superficial engagement of the film. Each story varies in plot device, use of the found footage style (from home movie camera to web camera), reason that filming is actually occurring (they aren’t just trying to catch ghosts on film despite their wife’s pleading that it’s a bad idea because of some foot prints in some powder), level of special effects and level of gratuity. If you don’t like one particular story (and I would find that hard to believe) then move on to the next one. Each one is completely different with the exception of the found footage element. There’s no reason to switch off this movie. The acting is competent. It can be funny at times although it does have the occasional bad dialogue that you’ll find in this filming style. Some people just can’t do “real life”. It is also possible that V/H/S considers itself a parody or a criticism on the style itself and thus employs the use of the “unreal reality” technique of acting that was made famous in the Paranormal Activity series. Being unfamiliar with the actors in this film I’m not prepared to give a full detailed run of their performances and how it fits into their larger body of work, there are some truly stand out performances among them. Hopefully some of the newbies enjoy the horror genre to stick around and some of the directors making acting appearances as well.
Plot devices includes (and you can skip the hyphenated parts if you want to have each story’s plot device completely a mystery which I wholly support):
-A wrap story of a pile of hoodlums attempting to steal a found footage VHS tape and the strangeness they encounter in their efforts.
-A travel adventure between a young couple who may not be as alone as they think they are.
-A web chat between two romantics, the distance between them and the evil that lurks on the other side of the web cam.
-A jaunt in the woods that has all the makings of a forestry slasher film that implores a rather unique antagonist.
-A group of would-be frat boys trying to capture some nookie on film with an unsuspecting femme on the other end of a well hidden camera… 80’s sex comedy law states that this kind of ploy never works out and since you’re watching a horror movie someone probably gets semen in their eye.
-A group of guys go to a Halloween party that is unforgettable, terrifying and pretty much that’s all I’m going to say about it because I’d be fucked to admit more.
What gets me about V/H/S is that the effects are perfectly buried in the style. Quite often when watching the found footage style of movie you’ll find that the effects are either out of place or nonexistent. That is simply not the case here. When the special effects due occur they are special. There’s even a bit of CGI (or what looks to be CGI) that I found mesmerizing. I actually can’t get some of these images out of my head for all the right reasons. We’re not talking about the next Alien or T2. This is what you love about independent filmmakers being tasked to create horror on a budget.
My favorite thing about anthology movies and especially about this particular one is the change to have horror stories told to you in that “campfire” style. You have to tell the story quick, but you can’t rush it. You have to punch the audience with your twist, but if you reveal it too soon you’re story falls flat and you end up with dead air in the middle of a movie between stories. What is unique about this particular entry into the portmanteau style is that it has several different, talented directors of varying experience as the story tellers. Of course the illustrious Ti West worked on one of the stories although not my favorite of the bunch. That does NOT mean it was bad. They are ALL good. Ti West has the rock star title for indy horror filmmakers right now that the genre needs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella known as RADIO SILENCE absolutely terrified me with their work. This group of filmmakers captured a little piece of everything that scares me in horror without making me feel like I was watching a Rob Zombie homage. We all know how Rob likes to put every piece of horror iconography into his movies. This group has produced a few shorts, but nothing quite like this. Keep your eyes on anything they do and hope they keep it spooky. One more time, the name is RADIO SILENCE. David Bruckner continues to be amazing. His work on The Signal is considered a fan/cult favorite horror flick; real proof that the genre is alive and screaming (and can take a joke or two). Speaking of laughs, Glenn McQuaid who directed and wrote I Sell the Dead makes a contribution. Joe Swanberg is a name that I don’t know at all but is praised for his realistic portrayal of human existence. I’d say it worked out well for him here too. Adam Winguard will be contributing to The ABCs of Death very shortly but has been putting out quite a few indy horror flicks over the last couple of years. I’m not familiar with his work, but hope to get acquainted soon. His works include You’re Next, Autoerotic and A Horrible Way to Die. Like I keep saying, each segment is good in its own right and collectively works. Each of the directors have made contributions that work individually and as part of the larger body and that makes for a great anthology. It’s also where folks criticize Chillerama, not enough cohesion of stories and chaos, but that’s why I loved Chillerama, so I guess it depends on what you’re going for.
V/H/S/ is a great way to get familiar with some new blood in the horror-verse. It’s also a pretty spooky movie although don’t expect large suspense build ups. This is pure horror. It’s got the Tales from the Crypt/Eerie/Bloke’s Terrible Tomb of Terror/Creepshow vibe. Fun and funny horror with some bad ass effects work in a found footage package that quite a few horror fiends could easily have found themselves the subject of. I can’t say that I’ve had more fun watching this style of movie since Cannibal Holocaust (yes, the ultimate found footage), and I can tell you that this will be on my wish list as soon as I see it available. They better do some limited edition VHS packaging because a. Ti West is involved and b. the fucking name is V/H/S.
V/H/S is coming at you 8/31/2012 VOD and in theaters 10/5/2012. This is a perfect Halloween treat if you can find it in your area.
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