What I’m Watching At Home: V/H/S

VHS

Viewed on March 2, 2013 via Netflix Streaming

I’m slowly making my way through the movies of 2012 that I was unable to see at theaters. I saw Compliance in February, and now I’ve seen V/H/S. (See the other movies I missed in 2012 here.) What originally appealed to me about V/H/S was that it was several short horror films in one, and from the trailers a lot of the stories looked scary. Also, Ti West was directing one of the films, and I’d really enjoyed his work with The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil.

The premise of V/H/S is that a gang of hooligans are hired to break into a house and find a videotape. Their normal racket is videotaping themselves assaulting women in the street and exposing their breasts for the camera (despicable) and selling the footage, but finding this tape promises to pay a lot more. Once they’re in the house, they realize there are a ton of videotapes, and they don’t know which ones to take. Maybe that’s why they start watching the tapes. It wasn’t really clear to me why they started watching them instead of just taking them.

Each tape (or it could be different parts of the same tape; that wasn’t clear to me either) is a different short horror film. The story with the hooligans (titled “Tape 56,” directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett) is the framing story. After each short film, the narrative returns to them, and the movie ends with them. I don’t want to ruin the story, but I’ll say the ending was unsatisfying as the whole mystery of the tapes is never explained. Really the theft of the tapes is just a weak excuse to show several unrelated short horror films.

There were five stories in total; six if you include the frame story. None of them were very good, but a couple were okay:

“Amateur Night” (directed by David Bruckner, written by David Bruckner & Nicholas Tecosky) was one of the okay ones. It’s about a group of college-aged boys that go bar hopping looking to hook up. One of them is wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in hidden camera, which his friends urge him to wear while having sex. They end up bringing back a pair of girls to their hotel room and things take a horrifying turn. I liked this one because the turn was kind of unique and actually scary.

Amateur Night

Hannah Fierman as Lily in “Amateur Night”

“Second Honeymoon” (written and directed by Ti West) is about a couple traveling through the southwest of America. One night as they’re about to go to sleep in their hotel room, a strange woman knocks at their door asking for a favor. The husband can’t put his finger on just why, but she frightens him. It is not the last they see of her. I wanted this one to be better as I was looking forward to Ti West’s short the most, but I never got into it, and the ending seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Tuesday the 17th” (written and directed by Glenn McQuaid) was my least favorite. Four teens go on a camping trip into the woods.  Bad things start happening. The characters were uninteresting, the danger they faced was not scary, and the acting was a little spotty, especially that of the lead actress..

Before I go on, I should mention that all of these shorts are found footage films, which you’d think would explain why they’re all on VHS tapes, but I’m not sure any of them were actually filmed on VHS, so how did all of them end up on the tape, especially the next one? Good question, Nic. Good question.

Helen Rogers as Emily in "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger"

Helen Rogers as Emily in “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (directed by Joe Swanberg and written by Simon Barrett) may be my favorite. It was my girlfriend’s. The whole thing is a series of video-chat sessions between a couple. Emily has been hearing strange sounds in her apartment, but when she investigates, she finds nothing. One night while video chatting with her boyfriend, we see a small figure run up from behind her and slam her bedroom door shut. It’s a genuinely creepy moment because we see it happening and she doesn’t. That’s one of the cool things about the video-chat gimmick: the character is almost always facing away from the action, so we can see the impending danger while they can’t. It makes for a lot of tension. And like the “Amateur Night” short, this one has a unique ending.

“10/31/98” (written and directed by a group of filmmakers collectively known as Radio Silence) was pretty good. This one is about four friends on their way to a Halloween party, but they end up at the wrong house. There doesn’t seem to be a party going on there but once inside, things start going bump in the night, and they assume the party host has set up a haunted house experience for them, so they continue exploring. Not the greatest idea, dudes. There are some good horror tropes in this one like narrow hallways, lights that shut off, and doors that slam, all of which are effective in creating genuinely tense and scary moments.

I think what I’ve learned from V/H/S is that it’s not that easy to make an effective short horror film. There just isn’t much time with the characters to care about their fate, so if scary things happen, yeah they may frighten you a bit, but you don’t really care enough about the outcome. With no investment, there’s just not a whole lot of enjoyment. Still, I look forward to seeing this year’s horror anthology, The ABCs of Death, which actually features 26 short horror films. I’m not expecting to love it, but I am extremely curious what the experience will be like.

My Rating

It was OK.

 

V/H/S
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence.
Writers: David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Simon Barrett, Radio Silence.

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