Of all the genre’s of film to utilise the portmanteau style, it is horror where the format works the best. Like a group of kids telling ghost stories around a camp fire, these collections of mini monster movies have effectively entertained and scared us for centuries.
Starting with 1919’s Eerie Tales – a German horror anthology collecting together five tales including one from Edgar Allan Poe’s the genre has survived through horror history.
From the brilliant 1945, British made, Dead of Night right up to the 80’s classics Creepshow, to the J Horror of Three… Extremes to modern day with the low budget fun of Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror and the excellence of Trick r Treat, a spooky slice of scares served up in some slick short stories is a sure fire formula for a frightening film.
V/H/S is the latest addition to the genre, using the immensely popular found footage format to stylistically and thematically link five films with a wrap around story by A Horrible Way to Die director Adam Wingard. It sees a bunch of nasty individuals filming themselves breaking into an old man’s home in search of a mythical VHS tape that they believe will make them millions.
Searching through the piles of video’s they find in the creepy abode, we watch what they watch with each movie upping the frights and shocks as the film moves forwards.
Each part is made by a different set of directors and writers with varying success, the first two little horrors being the weakest of the bunch, with stories revolving around a crazy night out and a honeymooning couple’s road trip.
Entitled ‘Amateur Night’ the first film follows three friends who using secret agent style camera glasses head out for a wild evening of drinking and drugs hoping to hook up with some girls and film their sexual exploits. The trio gets more than they bargained for when one strange woman turns the night into a living hell.
Crafted by The Signal director David Bruckner, the opener is well made and effective if also extremely obvious and the silly ending doesn’t help it much either.
Second up is Ti West’s ‘Second Honeymoon’ staring A Horrible Way to Die’s Joe Swanberg as one half of a couple on a road trip which takes an unexpected twist. Disappointingly West’s segment is the weakest of them all failing to build any tension and ending all too abruptly, with a knowingly clever twist that fails to inspire anything but annoyance.
Luckily ‘Tuesday the 17th’ by Glenn McQuaid the man behind I Sell the Dead firmly ups the opening ante, offering up a scary and sick slasher in miniature excellently shot and wonderfully warping the V/H/S concept by way of its creepy killer.
The frights stay high as well as the innovation in the ghoulishly gory ghost story ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’ by Joe Swanberg and Frankenfish scribe Simon Barrett who make sure that you will never use Skype again without wondering what is happening in your house while you chat.
The climax comes in ’10/31/98′, a Halloween set story which sees a group of guys in fancy dress heading for a party and ending up at the wrong address. Effects-wise this final film outdoes the rest and the group of directors who go by the name ‘Radio Silence’ create a first person funfair ride that definitely proves that V/H/S saved the best ’til last.
If anything lets V/H/S down it is the uninspired casting, which fills all the films with young white males, predominantly playing the same sex obsessed jock stereotype – all to varying degrees of nastiness. Worse still, they look so similar that some viewers may misleadingly believe characters are crossing over from one story to the next.
Visually and audibly extreme in style and content, the film (like the video nasties evoked by its namesake) tries and succeeds in shocking. It pushes gore and horror as far as it can although sometimes, unfortunately, due to the found footage format, it falls into the mucky realms of torture porn. The inherent sexism and gratuitous nudity pushes V/H/S further into this grubby genre.
That said, the above may be a turn-on in more ways than one to some viewers, and V/H/S knows its audience well, having filled its stories with characters exactly like them.
Like many other previous portmanteau pictures the spooky stories that make up V/H/S are hit and miss with a few mini-masterpieces but a couple of un-fearful failures. However, the winning format of the horror anthology guarantees that with six films for the price of one you will never be bored. There’s always a whole new scare is waiting just around the next cinematic corner.