Sunday, September 23, 2012

V/H/S (2012) Modern Campfire Stories

Sometimes I find old VHS tapes hiding in storage bins.  I'll pop them in and the worst I may think is, "damn, my hair was blonder in 1993."  Nothing too scary.  No ghosts, no demons, no knife-wielding maniacs.

The same can't be said for the doomed characters in the collaborative found footage release, V/H/S.

Found footage films seem to be all the rage these days.  Personally, I like the subgenre, but like the modern zombie film, it could suffer from burnout.  Still, there is a lot to enjoy until that happens.  It seemed like a dream lineup when it was announced that several independent horror directors would combine to create a found footage anthology, sort of a Blair Witch Project meets Creepshow.  Modern campfire stories, if you will.  While I found V/H/S to be extremely intriguing, I was left wanting more, almost as if there was a big piece missing.

The movie itself consists of a framing story by A Horrible Way To Die director Adam Wingard called "Tape 56" and provides the reason for how we're able to see each chapter.  The wraparound story follows a group of opportunistic Internet bad boys who make money filming themselves performing general acts of maliciousness (destroying an empty house, terrorizing innocent women, etc.).  They're hired to break into a house and find a mysterious VHS tape.  Upon entering they find hundreds of tapes, blank TV's, and a dead man sitting in a chair.  As strange things happen around them, various members of the team put in random tapes, giving us each story.

The first chapter, called "Amateur Night," is by one of the directors of The Signal, David Bruckner (specifically, he directed the first part of that film).  It tells the story of a group of dudes documenting their night of luring women to their motel room through the use of a spy cam on one of the guys' glasses.  Things take a turn for the strange when an odd girl with a limited vocabulary ("I like you") tags along and gets caught in the motel room with drunk, sex-starved guys.  This is very much like a modern campfire story, maybe a cautionary tale from inebriated college dudes who see themselves as ladies' men.  Yeah, let's just say it didn't work out well for these guys.

The second chapter, from Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), is called "Second Honeymoon."  Here, we find a young couple out on the road, enjoying what appears to be the said second honeymoon.  It starts out innocently enough, but there seems to be a third person enjoying the trip as well, someone who scoops up the video camera and takes a few shots of the sleeping couple.  I love West's work but I felt there could have been more to this entry.  Still, there's the basis for an intriguing story that would've worked even better over a longer length of time.  After all, West is the modern master of "slow burn storytelling."

Chapter three comes from Glenn McQuaid, director of the wonderful I Sell The Dead, and it was, to me anyway, the most intriguing chapter of the anthology, entitled "Tuesday the 17th."  A young woman brings her friends to a secluded wooded area for what they think is a weekend of partying.  Turns out this young lady has been here before, and is hell-bent on catching a weird killer (dubbed "The Glitch") who seemingly cannot be filmed.  Strange and off-putting, the idea of a killer that can somehow appear only as a series of glitchy shapes on film is very creative.  I wouldn't mind seeing more of this mythos.

"The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger" is the chapter offered by Silver Bullets director Joe Swanberg (and co-writer Simon Barrett).  A young woman relates her frightening nighttime experiences by Skype (which somehow ended up on a VHS tape) to a friendly young man she knows.  There seems to be an attraction as she grows increasingly scared of ghostly people appearing in her apartment.  There's a puzzling twist to the story, yet it retains some intrigue.

Finally, we're privy to "10/31/98" from the directing team known as Radio Silence.  Four guys, excited to attend a Halloween party, arrive to find an empty house full of shadows and strange voices.  Exploring the house, they find a party of a different sort in the attic and insanity follows.  As far as environment goes, I really enjoyed this setting - even when there was stark, bright light, the house's interior was confining and uninviting.

V/H/S was incredibly interesting and had some very intriguing ideas.  Giving voice to independent directors and writers is really great - this movie did play in theaters and has a chance to reach a wider audience than most smaller horror films.  While I felt like more time could have been devoted to some stories, the thought-provoking aftertaste of "Tuesday the 17th" and "10/31/98" gives attention to the possibility that these stories could work as full-length films.  I got the sense that the filmmakers were having a good time with the experience, and even though I had hoped for a little more, I'm happy with the fact that we could see more from these talented artists.

Now...I dare you to go through your old VHS tapes.  See the one that's not labeled?  Yeah, go ahead and put that one never know what you'll see.

Until you do, here's the trailer for V/H/S:


  1. This movie sounds pretty good. Will for sure check it out. I have gone through old unlabeled vhs tapes. Its usually music videos, Halloween specials and episodes of Baywatch.

  2. Very interesting movie.

    Same with a lot of my old VHS stuff from the 80's: music videos and wrestling, actually.

    Now I'm remembering Baywatch Nights...