V/H/S – Review
When a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.
We are up to day 11 of our K-O-ween 31 Days of Halloween Feature. Today we are taking a look at what will likely be the lowest rated movie on this entire list. The horror anthology VHS (Stylised as V/H/S but fuck typing that for the entire article) from 2012. Due to the nature of horror anthologies, this is a long ass review so I apologise in advance.
I was seriously debating whether or not to include this at all. There is a big part of me that thinks it is just not a particularly good movie. There is another part of me that believes that variety is key and that is one thing VHS offers – variety. With that in mind, let’s take a look.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire KO-Ween feature by clicking right here.
VHS is a found footage horror anthology in the style of the style of the old Tales From the Crypt movies and TV shows. We have a collection of stories all loosely connected together by a frame narrative story called Tape 56.
Tape 56, directed by Adam Wingard, focuses on a gang of criminals and their exploits. We first see them committing acts of vandalism and sexually assaulting a woman. The gang are apparently offered a significant amount of money to retrieve a video tape from a house. They enter the house and find a dead man slumped in a chair in front of several televisions.
The house is full of VHS tapes and this is where the background of the movie comes from. The group are watching the video tapes that they find as they look around the house. The events in the house unfold in between the other stories and escalate dramatically.
The first tape, Amateur Night, directed by David Bruckner, sees us following what appears to be a frat boy outing. A trio of young guys are heading out to night clubs and bars. They have convinced one of the trio to wear a pair of spy glasses so that they can record the night and their sexual encounters. While out and about, aside from generally being obnoxious and annoying, the guys meet a couple of girls. One of the girls appears to be somewhat odd. They take the girls back to their hotel room but it soon becomes clear that they will regret their debauchery.
The Second Honeymoon
The second story, Second Honeymoon by now well known director Ti West. We actually reviewed a Ti West movie recently as part of our 31 Days of Halloween feature, House of the Devil, so why not check out that review? This is a simple story about a couple, Sam played by actor and director Joe Swanberg and Stephanie played by Sophia Takal, taking a trip together.
The couple, both apparently germaphobes, stay in a grotty looking motel 6 while visiting what looks to be Nevada. A strange girl knocks on the couples door and asks for a lift in the morning. Sam, somewhat spooked and sensing something amiss with the girl, does not offer to help. It turns out, however, that there is more to this chance encounter than it may seem.
Tuesday the 17th
The third story, Tuesday the 17th directed by Glenn McQuaid, follows a group of friends as they take a trip to the lake. Apparently Wendy, a new member to the group, had an awful encounter at the lake a number of years ago. She travels to the lake every year to help her cope with what happened. The group, when making the trip to the lake, have some strange visions and encounter some bizarre things. Wendy informs her new friends that years ago the people she was with were murdered at the lake and the killers is still out there. It appears Wendy has an ulterior motive for bringing them to the lake and we are about to find out what it is.
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger
Directed by the star of The Second Honeymoon, Joe Swanberg, and sounding much like a mid 2000s post hardcore song, The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger follows a couple talking on a video chat app. Emily has noticed a lump in her arm and has been experiencing bizarre events in her home. She has seen a small childlike entity and wishes to make contact with it. Asking her partner to tell her what he sees on camera, Emily walks around the house with her eyes closed. It isn’t long before the entity appears and the truth is revealed.
10/31/98, directed by a collective known as Radio Silence, follows a group of young guys on a night out for Halloween. The group head to a house where there is, supposedly, a party being held. When they arrive, the group encounter a number of paranormal phenomena. Obviously believing they are in a themed haunted house, the group walk up to the attic. In the attic, a woman is suspended from the rafters. A group of people are chanting around her and she appears to be undergoing an exorcism. Still believing this to be staged, the boys join in with the people in the room chanting. The people in the room turn around and it becomes very apparent that this is not staged. The boys attempt to rescue the girl and exit the house.
A Mixed Bag
The difficulty in recommending VHS comes from the difference in quality between the stories. Amateur Night and The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger are clearly the best stories. Amateur Night actually went on to become a movie in its own right – Siren. Unfortunately Siren did not manage to capture what made Amateur Night so good and was, in fact, utter dog shite. Amateur Night is actually pretty funny and features a few genuinely fantastic horror scenes.
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger has a really compelling plot, a few decent scares, and some genuinely decent acting from Helen Rogers. This is one of those shorts that could have worked really well as an actual movie. The scares could have been given more time to develop, the relationship between the two could have been expanded on, and the story left to simmer for awhile.
The rest of the segments, however, are just nowhere near as interesting. The adjoining story is particularly bad and uninteresting. The theme of overly sexed up young men doing aggressive things is a little too overplayed in VHS. The main segment is the one most guilty of this. Tuesday the 17th is awful and features absolutely terrible acting. It is given far too much time and features a cast of horribly annoying characters. If they were aiming to create a villain you could cheer for when he brutalises a group of assholes then mission accomplished.
Time to Breathe
Some of the stories here just needed a bit more time in the pot so to speak. They were severely undercooked and could have worked so much better as movies. The Second Honeymoon is one of these. There is no real build up and there needed to be a lot more time expanding on the main character’s relationship with each other. There is clearly some complexity to their dynamic and I feel that could have been built on. A little more time for the scares and sinister events to develop would have been very welcome too. I found myself interested but also felt as though the lack of time given to the segment left it lacking.
10/31/98 felt like something of a rinse and repeat of Amateur Night. Sure, the story is different but the frat boy theme was well and truly played out at this point. 10/31/98 felt all too familiar. Perhaps as a full movie we would have a chance to develop the characters a bit more. Perhaps the history of the house could have been expanded on? Either way I don’t know if this would have helped as the segment just felt a bit generic and boring.
This is an issue with Anthology Horror as a whole. You will likely want more time from the good segments and the segments with potential. Bad segments will feel as though they are dragging on. It is worth pointing out, as well, that just because a segment seems like a good idea for a movie doesn’t mean the director will do a good job. The Siren is proof of that. Shorts are often shorts for a reason.
Violent and Hyper Sexed
Not exactly the tagline you want to put on your Tinder profile. VHS is very violent, features a lot of gore, and is hyper sexualised. There is a lot of injury detail and some gnarly practical effects. Amateur Night stands out in this regard. There is obviously tons of language, drug use, and sexual references. Most of the characters are totally unlikeable as well. The adjoining segment, in particular, features an awful group of dudes that I doubt many viewers could give two shits about.
I think this is also worth pointing out as some viewers hate nudity in movies. In my opinion, nudity has an important place in horror movies. I think, used correctly, it can add a sense of vulnerability to protagonists or be used for shock value to add to the horror. I rarely think horror nudity is out of place outside of some of the 80s pointless stuff. VHS, however, feels like the producers decided they were making a movie and asked “How many girls are getting their tits out in this?” and the reply was “Yes!”. There is tons of nudity in VHS and a lot of it is pointless.
How Many Boobs??
Amateur Night features full frontal male and female nudity but I believe this fits in perfectly. Again, the vulnerability aspect as well as being used for shock value. The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger features topless women. Again, given the context of chatting with a lover on camera, this makes sense. It’s a good way of highlighting the fact that the character is comfortable in their home but still exposed to the camera.
The opening segment, however, featuring a woman being sexually assaulted, scenes featuring one of the gang filming himself having sex, closeups on cleavages and the like all feel a bit pointless. It’s doesn’t have the same impact when you do it in every scene for silly reasons. I get it, guys with a camera will probably want to focus on a girl’s breasts but it got pretty old pretty fast. It really lends a feeling of frat boys making a bad horror movie to the whole thing.
Found Footage Anthologies
Found footage and horror anthologies make perfect bed mates. There have been a fair few and that’s probably due to the low cost of filming. If you have an idea for a horror movie and don’t have a lot of money, why not knock out a short on a handheld camera? It works well and keeps at least some cohesion between the stories.
VHS is, however, particularly guilty of some of the found footage sins. Shaky camera is everywhere and particularly bad in certain segments. Special effects are, at times, pretty terrible. Filming quality is very grainy and can be hard to watch and some of the content is very obviously improvised. If you are a found footage aficionado then you know what to expect. Many people, however, will be put off before even getting ten minutes into the movie.
Still Worth a Watch
I have complained a lot here. I actually loved VHS up until re-watching it for this review. It sort of dawned on me that a lot of it is just not very good. I still absolutely think it is worth a watch, however. VHS is plenty of people’s favourite horror movie. It is, at the very least, easily digestible and quite a lot of fun. The overall runtime is too long and they could have cut a few segments in my opinion. But if you aren’t enjoying a segment, just skip to the next.
A lot of the concepts are really interesting and at least two of the segments are really good. Helen Rogers and Hannah Fierman are both great and many of the directors, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and David Bruckner in particular, went on to greater things. If you enjoy frat boy humour and a ton of nudity then VHS is right up your street. If you are just looking for something easy to watch then VHS might also be a great option. It’s a bit different from most horror movies around and the short segment format means you don’t have to invest too much in the story. It is worth a watch but it’s hard to say it is fantastic.
Is it a Knockout?
V/H/S is a found footage horror anthology that is something of a mixed bag. Featuring a number of segments, some are much better than others. Amateur Night and The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger stand out as better than the rest. A couple of the segments are a mixed bag with one being particularly bad.
V/H/S has a number of decent performances and some equally bad ones. Camera work is often shaky and very grainy due to the nature of the movie and acting is, at times, clearly improvised.
This is a fairly violent movie with a lot of gore and a hell of a lot of nudity. Although I am a fan of and appreciate the use of nudity in horror movies, there are times where here it feels a bit unnecessary. A mixed bag, in general, there is still a lot to like about VHS and it is an easy watch thanks to it's short segments.