Ooo scary stuff. Very metal.
dirs: David Bruckner, Scott Derrickson, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Natasha Kermani & Mike P. Nelson
The V/H/S franchise has had, I think, 6 entries thus far, and I have to say I think this is the best of the lot of them, or at least of the ones I have seen. I am not a horror film scholar (I shudder to think of what such a person would look and smell like), nor am I paid for my highly valuable insights and opinions on the internet, so I don’t have to be exhaustive in everything I do.
I basically just watch and review stuff that piques my curiosity.
V/H/S/85 succeeds, partly at least, because of the abandonment sporadically of its found footage conceit. I don’t care about the origin of footage – I don’t need for there to always be someone filming stuff (on a bulky and clunky 80s video camera, in this anthology’s context), and someone perpetually yelling at the ‘person’ filming to stop filming before, during and after something terrible starts happening. But by the same token it does add a different energy to what we’re watching sometimes. At other times, the absurdity of someone who’s being shot at or eaten by some horrific creature still managing to keep the camera relatively steady takes you out of whatever you’re watching and tells you you’re an idiot for suspending your disbelief in the first place.
Also, the segments are significantly different from each other, thematically and action-wise, even as they’re linked by a time period, aesthetics and the deliberate ‘corruption’ of the medium, being, the look and feel of degraded magnetic tape video, accumulated in almost a palimpsest of footage recorded over footage recorded over footage. Interspersed between the different segments is an overarching story which I was very dubious about each time it would pop up, which is (deliberately) so cheesy and hacky that it gives off Z-grade direct-to-video, but when I realised that it was a shaggy dog story when I saw the punch line, I do admit to laughing out loud.
It was a brief laugh, dear reader. After all, this is not a comedy anthology. This is horror.
Respect for the fallen.
The first segment No Wake has a bunch of, I dunno, teenagers travel to a lake, try water skiing, and then someone kills them. Something something should have practiced better water safety? Maybe, uh, shouldn’t drink and drive?
The second is a delightfully retro Mexican entry set initially in what looks like a not very well funded tv station during a morning news program, which falls apart literally when an earthquake hits Mexico City on the 19th of September, 1985, which actually happened.
The camera crew, some of the tv station staff and some emergency response rescuers try to survive and get out, contending with falling concrete and claustrophobic spaces, only to fall afoul of an Aztec god, who feasts on human hearts, apparently. Don’t you hate when that happens?
I mean, 10,000 people died from that earthquake, but I guess enough time has passed such that people don’t feel compelled to mutter “too soon”, or whatever the equivalent is in Español. This segment had a lot of people screaming people’s names many times before and just after they died, but it made for a decent palate cleanser between segments.
TKNOGD is perhaps the weakest of the segments, but it still works better than it has any right to. A performance artist, using what we would think of as primitive VR technology, puts on a performance in front of a crowd of bored onlookers, tempting fate and incurring the wrath of the gods by stating some plain truths: God is dead, technology is our new god, within the endless horizons of cyberspace new gods will form, and then come back to get revenge on us. The best aspect of this segment is the clueless audience assuming the ‘end’ result is all part of the performance, despite how horrific everything has turned out.
Ambrosia begins by looking like a family gathering for some rite of passage celebration for one of their number. It starts off very recognisable, very familiar, in that if you’re of a certain age, as in if you were a kid in the 80s, you had similar tapes of parties and get-togethers with the same uncles who thought they were cut-ups and giggling aunties tipsy on shandies. But of course it degenerates into that most American of things, being a cultish celebration of guns and murder. However unlikely it might seem, it links back directly to the first segment with the kids killed at the lake, with its own curious logic. Even though it makes some kind of “sense”, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it leads to an ending where you’re like “and, so then what?”, because the implications of what’s happened transcends even the awfulness of what’s happened to the various participants.
Dreamkill is effectively the last segment, and it’s the only one that feels like it could have worked as a full length video nasty savage slasher flick from the 80s itself. Its one acknowledgement of the “found footage” conceit is that it pretends to mostly be footage from the various security cameras at a police station. However, this segment also includes an aspect that maybe was big in the 1980s that’s not present in any of the other segments, being someone with psychic powers, whose dreams are somehow superimposed onto nearby video tapes.
Does it sound awfully convenient? Well, what if I told you a police detective (the great Freddy Rodriguez, who I haven’t seen in anything since he played El Wray in Planet Terror or since he was a regular cast member on Six Feet Under) keeps receiving these tapes of horrific murders that take place days before the actual murders happen?
Freaky, huh? What if I then told you that there’s this goth teenager called Gunther (Dashiell Derrickson, presumably the son of the director of the segment, Scott Derrickson), who keeps sending the tapes in, always days before the murders happen?
As much as I loathed the sadistic (implied) violence of the murders, filmed from a first person perspective, this is the segment that really transcends the rest of the anthology, whereby I suspect Derrickson and screenwriter C. Robert McGill really hoped at some stage that this could have been a full length feature. This could easily have been an entire flick that you probably could have watched on late night television, or rented from the nasty section of the milk bar back when that still happened. Kids would have talked about this video nasty in hushed tones at school, lest the adults hear.
It probably also would have had a scene where the cops go to Chinatown, and then a strip club, and there definitely would have been an unexpected sex scene in a hotel room with neon lighting and a saxophone playing somewhere nearby.
At the very least, there would have been boobs. BOOBS! Attached to a human being with hopes and dreams and limited agency and such, but BOOBS all the same! And that part of the video tape would have been worn down from repeatedly being rewound back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, by 12-year old boys probably, to get that glimpse for 1.4 seconds at a time, stretching on into infinity…
That they manage to restrain themselves and keep it as short and nasty as it is, is a credit to them, to the humbling of their ambitions, to get it done as what it is. I don’t know that it needed to degenerate into a cop-killing frenzy in the end, but it managed as well to have the perfect ending, probably the most appropriate ending possible. Hat tip to all involved.
At the very end we have the resolution of the Total Copy pseudo-current affairs segment about some scientists and their bad decisions which plays in parts as an interstitial in between all of the other segments. It’s not great, as I said, but it does end on a gag that makes me smile even when I think about it now. That’s a relief to me.
I think it works pretty well as what it is, something fairly low budget, best watched on a Thursday after a few beers, ideally watched through a streamer like Shudder, that mostly brings to mind not just how crappy / awesome videotapes were, but also what watching tv aimlessly ‘back in the day’ was like when you flicked between channels and dead air, jumbling images and sounds together, creating a delirious melange in your mind, leaving you unsure of what you’d actually watched, unsure of what was an actual scene and what you might have imagined.
V/H/S ‘85. It’s okay.
7 times life is but a fever dream recited by a lunatic, heard by an opium addict, given form by a team of amputee fingerpainters out of 10
“So, uh, why don’t you just tell us where you got these video tapes from?” – would that it were so simple - V/H/S/85