fri 09/12/2022

V/H/S | reviews, news & interviews



Six imaginative and scary tales in a horror anthology which lives up to its hype

A night to remember: Lily (Hannah Fierman) in 'Amateur Night'

V/H/S is the first film to convincingly update EC comics’ Fifties horror anthologies, which gleefully corrupted the kids of Eisenhower’s America. They also inspired British films such as Tales from the Crypt (the 1972 anthology with Peter Cushing as a vengeful pet owner, and Joan Collins murdered by a psychotic Father Christmas), an HBO TV series and the Stephen King-George Romero tribute Creepshow.

Ealing's Dead of Night (1945) and its murderous ventriloquist’s dummy looms over them all.

V/H/S keeps these forebears' twists and narrative variety, slams them into the found-footage sub-genre and sticks it all on video tapes being viewed by youths sent on a mission to retrieve a particular cassette from a corpse-ridden house. The mumblecore credentials of its six stories' directors have been exaggerated elsewhere (only Hannah Takes the Stairs’ Joe Swanberg fully fits that ambling, articulate aesthetic). They do have fierce word-of-mouth expectation, and a strike-rate of scary invention which means sequel S-VHS is already underway.

There’s a carelessness for found-footage rules, V/H/S’s supposedly analogue source not stopping the most interesting tale, Swanberg’s “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, setting its whole narrative on Skype. This creates a seamlessly funny and terrifying two-hander for his actors, Helen Rogers and Daniel Kaufman (pictured below), as the former gamely tries to survive an apparent haunting by deciding which sort of ghost film scenario she’s in – is it Ring? – and her long-distance boyfriend gapes in the screen's corner.

“Second Honeymoon”, by The Innkeepers’ young horror prince Ti West, best understands where to extract real queasy fear, cutting from the lights going off on an unhappy couple in a desert motel to the predatory POV of an intruder’s camera, lingering on them in the helpless sleep we all enter every night, peeling back their bedclothes in the eerie silence of the heart of the dark, then flicking open a knife. Every pointedly nuanced camera-angle and word feels convincingly spontaneous. Adam Wingard’s VHS-shot framing tale “Tape 56” and David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night”, a YouTube narrative by horny jocks who pull more than they bargained for, also use apparent rawness and chaotic editing to wrong-foot and seduce you. Glenn McQuaid’s slasher reboot “Tuesday the 17th” exploits the qualities of the video cassette we’re supposedly watching, bloody bodies glimpsed as if badly taped-over.

V/H/S’s corralling of found-footage possibilities far more varied and insidious than in The Blair Witch Project’s day subverts our knowledge of YouTube grammar to get under our skins. But it’s the cast of regular, naive if educated types and unhackneyed spins on familiar tales which make it feel so fresh. The anthology format also allows the sharp shocks which are the preserve of the horror short story back onto the big screen. Made mostly by horror neophytes this time, The Blair Witch Project’s co-creator Eduardo Sanchez is among the directors working on S-VHS. This new franchise feels idealistic in its open-ended potential.

Watch the trailer for V/H/S

V/H/S exploits the qualities of the video cassette we’re supposedly watching, bloody bodies glimpsed as if badly taped-over


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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