V/H/S ’94 ***

Directed by Jennifer Reed, Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Ryan Prows.
Horror, US, 100 minutes.

Streaming on Shudder from 6th September

The V/H/S franchise continues with this fourth entry, finding new ways to package tales that are only connected by the format they are displayed on. Returning to the original format after the previous entry V/H/S VIRAL attempted to update the format to the mobile phone age we return to 1994 when the VHS system was dominant. It’s a smart move that pushes the series forward by going back but as with most anthology movies the overall results are a bit of a mixed bag.


This time the four stories, with a humorous ad break directed by PSYCHO GOREMAN’s Steven Kostanski, are framed within the filming of a SWAT team’s armed raid on a compound inhabited by a mysterious cult who seemingly like to congregate around banks of televisions to watch cassettes and then inflict extreme ocular damage upon themselves. As the team race around the compound looking for anyone alive, we bear witness to four videos broadcasting reality bending tales of horror all, barring one, shot on video.


The first of the stories, “Storm Drain”, is shot by a local news cameraman as he follows his female reporter into a city sewer system to investigate the myth of a supposed “rat man” who has been spotted lurking around the city outskirts. Director Chloe Okuno makes the most of the found footage format by smartly answering the ever-present question of why you would keep filming in such a situation. Okuno makes great use of the dark location, providing what are probably the films most successful scares and then tops it off with an imaginatively designed creature and a smart ending that both stings and amuses.


From such a promising start we are then subjected to the least satisfying entry, Simon Barret’s The Empty Wake. A simple story, a new employee at a funeral home is left on her own to host a wake during a stormy night, simply told through three cameras, two of which are locked off, it feels overlong and free of tension although its gory shocks are nicely realised.


Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto, who co-directed with Gareth Evans the franchises still greatest entry Safe Haven in V/H/S 2, breaks somewhat from the analog formatting with “The Subject.” Missing the tracking lines and juddering cuts that plagued the video format, this entry, detailing a mad doctor conducting cybernetic experiments on unwilling volunteers, has the digital excuse of a bionic eye showing the story through a first-person viewpoint. It eventually goes on to resemble a first-person shooter video game of that era with its seemingly intentionally unconvincing gunshot effects and blood spatter reminiscent of those games and the battery life icon on display in the corner serving the same function as an energy bar as the protagonist battles to survive. Tjahjanto, as always, goes for broke with some nastily impressive imagery that revels in the bloody melding of man and machine.


Before things are wrapped up in a slightly unsatisfying meta-fashion in the wraparound section, LOWLIFE director Ryan Prows delivers one of the franchises strongest and most interesting tales with “Terror.” Prows commits to the format wholeheartedly with cheap camcorder footage shot by racist militia members preparing an attack on a federal building with the aid of a vampiric captive. It is an effective melding of the political and the supernatural that also provides another memorable creature achieved through practical effects work.


Despite its mixed results the V/H/S franchise continues to impress with these pacy tales that are often unafraid to take risks than the majority of anthology horror films out there. As a showcase for up-and-coming writers and directors it makes for a great introduction to unfamiliar viewers while for those more established, like the returning Tjahjanto, it is an opportunity to flex their creative muscles in interesting ways. The results may vary in quality but it’s worth investing in as a welcome reminder of the VHS age, even with all its crackling audio and tracking interference.


Iain MacLeod.


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