Indie Horror-thon: V/H/S (2012)

Calvin Reeder in “Tape 56” in V/H/S, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Structured as an anthology of found footage films strewn together by a mostly-unnecessary narrative, V/H/S (and its sequels) is a at times sloppy, but always a thoroughly twisted showcase of what more horror movies should strive to be– shocking and fun.

In V/H/S, a group of young degenerates are hired to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside to acquire a rare VHS tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions stacked against a wall.

They find an endless supply of cryptic footage– each documenting horrific events caused by different supernatural entities. Although all of the short films in V/H/S is directed in a somewhat similar style, each was directed by different up-and-coming horror directors.

The film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (where supposedly two people fainted during the screening) in January 2012, and released on demand on August 31, 2012. The film made its limited theatrical premiere in the United States on October 5, 2012 and in the UK on January 18, 2013.

As a whole, I (like most viewers) will find different shorts much more engaging than others. Certain sections utilize the found-footage style better than others, and the acting, story and direction vary just as much. But V/H/S is a film that no horror fan with the nerves to stomach some of the repulsive parts should miss.

Here’s a breakdown of each segment:

Tape 56/frame narrative (Directed by Adam Wingard)

Adam Wingard is one a director that indie movie fans, horror or otherwise. That being said, the narrative framework is secondary and initially quite uninteresting.

The film opens with the unlikable main characters filming the terrible things that they do– vandalizing abandoned buildings, recording themselves sexually assaulting young women and selling the recordings as reality porn (fortunately it doesn’t get too graphic). Later, they make their way to a haunted house, where Tape 56 becomes much more enticing.

But in the end, I was still left a bit curious about some of the major details about what happens in V/H/S that could have been better explained, such as who wants this rare VHS tape and what’s on it? V/H/S 2 improves on the framework of the anthology. 

Amateur Night (Directed by David Bruckner)

V/H/S kicks off with a short about three guys going to a club to pick up girls. One is equipped with glasses with a hidden camera, which would potentially allow them to turn their exploits into amateur porn. They bring back two women to their motel– one of whom, Lily, is shy and keeps muttering, “I like you.”

Soon, we discover that Lily might be the vessel of a much more evil and supernatural spirit. The idea is straight forward, but the film’s use of first-person is especially engaging. Amateur Night is a hectic and frightening monster short.

Second Honeymoon (Directed by Ti West)

The one and only short that isn’t supernatural also happens to be the most tense. Second Honeymoon is recognizably a creation of West’s, who is currently my favorite horror film director.

This short is about a young couple going on a second honeymoon and rent a motel, where much of the film takes place. As the couple tries to enjoy their trip, they discover that they are being followed by a mysterious third person with unknown intent.

Second Honeymoon is just as chilling if not more so than some of the other shorts in this anthology. But it manages to do so with much more subtlety. Both in characters and location, West’s signature minimalism makes this short one of the best in the series.

Tuesday the 17th (Directed by Glenn McQuaid)

Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) picks up the pace with Tuesday the 17th featured a story fun and scary enough to justify a full-length film. The Irish film-maker knows how to make a low-budget film feel grander, and he does so with this one. 

In Tuesday the 17th, three friends accompany their new friend, Wendy, on a camping trip. Wendy leads them through the woods, and later casually tells them that a murderer killed her friends during a camping trip here the previous year. The group laughs it off as a joke. Then an unseen force begins killing off each camper.

At first, this short contains a few slasher movie cliches– a mysterious survivor who’s determined to put an end to a string of supernatural killings that the police won’t believe. Even the name seems to reference Friday the 13th, which also features young campers being slashed to pieces by a supernatural killer by the lake.

But the killer here is much more allusive, which makes the film all the more thrilling. The terror of Tuesday the 13th lies not only in the graphic deaths of each protagonist but also in the mystification of the killer, revealed in the credits as “The Glitch.”

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Directed by Joe Swanberg)

In The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, Emily and her doctor-to-be boyfriend James video chat about strange occurrences in her apartment that remind her of an accident she had when she was younger. She is under the impression that her apartment is haunted but reassured by her boyfriend that everything is fine.

Joe Swanberg is a director who is well-known for producing films with exceptional dialogue-driven sequences. And the video chat sequences and the reactions to the supernatural entities that haunt Emily make it easy to overlook some of the questionable character decisions.

Emily’s character is likeable and easy to empathize with to a fault. In the end, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is as tragically sad as it is nightmarishly frightening. But it provides a nice change of pace and an eerie build up to the film’s finale.

10/31/98 (Written and directed by Radio Silence)

By the end of 10/31/98, my jaw was on the floor. As the title suggests, this short takes place on Halloween in 1998. Four costumed friends are heading to a Halloween party, but they aren’t sure of its exact location. They end up in a house teeming with sinister paranormal activity.

However, they assume that they believe it to be an elaborate haunted house attraction, until walking into the attic, where several men are performing an exorcism. The film resourcefully utilized various CGI to bring the house and its malevolent inhabitants to life.

Watching 10/31/98 feels like running through a genuine haunted house. The suspense and panic of the poltergeist phenomena that nearly swallows main characters whole builds up slowly and masterfully to the thoroughly satisfying climax. This final short ended V/H/S exactly the way it should.

***

Critics will find lots of nit-picky problems with V/H/S the same as they would any film that is as bold or jerky as this. But those who are prepared to overlook the film’s minor holes and inconsistencies will be in for an adrenaline-fueled roller coaster ride that covers an impressive variety of horror movie subject matter.

V/H/S can be purchased cheaply on Amazon right here.