V/H/S

vhs

Reviewed by Alicia Glass 

Studio: Bloody Disgusting

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella, Radio Silence (10/31/98); David Bruckner (Amateur Night); Glenn McQuaid (Tuesday the 17th);  Ti West (Second Honeymoon); Joe Swanberg (Emily)

Review Rating: 7.5

A gang of thieves in search of a rare V/H/S tape break into a house to discover a corpse surrounded by bizarre and horrifying stories all also on tape.

“Found footage” films, like The Blair Witch Project for example, are not everyone’s cup of tea, admittedly mine either. Normally. Somehow, this movie manages to make the shaky-cam shots, video feedback loops and other vhs tape phenomenon that we thought went away with the advent of DVDs be memorable and key to each vignette. Perfectly aimed at my age bracket, where one can still remember the beloved vhs tapes and all the shows and movies we had stored on them, long before the clean crisp newness of DVDs (and their damn scratches) were dreamt of, we can appreciate the rawness of the tapes in comparison and how they really do evoke the feeling of being there. Because of the various mediums and disparate styles of VHS recording used, each story has a primal fear to it that’s out of this world!

The over-arcing storyline is referred to simply as Tape 56, in which for some reason a gang of thieves was hired to find and steal this rare video tape, annnnd decided to film their thievery and destruction on some random houses before that. They enter the proposed house, find what they believe to be a corpse dead in a chair, and mountains of vhs tapes to go through in order to find whichever one they were hired to steal. This is an easy, fairly simple way to tie in the other vignettes: while some of the thieves are searching the house, others pop in video tapes to find the one they’re looking for. And what they do find is some seriously sick and twisted depravity. On with the show!

Amateur Night, the first tape, is more or less what one might expect – at first. A few drunken frat boy types have set up a camera in a pair of grandpa glasses to record their sexual encounters with some drunken chicks they’ll pick up from somewhere, and have sex with back at their hotel room, secretly filming an amateur porn video in the process. After pitching and striking out a few times, the boys manage to convince the perfectly normal and quite drunk Lisa, and the there’s-something-odd-about-that-girl Lily to come back with them to their hotel room. Lisa proceeds to pass out forthwith, which pisses off the boys something awful. But in the meantime, Lily is informing Glasses, “I like you” and trying to get something on with just him, while the rest of the guys are trying to horn in on that action. About when Lily’s eyes blacken, fangs shoot from her mouth and blood sprays across the headboard, do the amateur boys learn that the term “monster in the sack” is all too real!

Second Honeymoon is, compared to the first vignette, a lot more subtle. Sam and Stephanie have gone out West for their second honeymoon, and while everything seems more or less normal, strange things are afoot. Steph gets a prediction from a fortune-teller that she’ll soon be reunited with a loved one, which is odd the audience thinks, isn’t she already with her husband? At some point in the midst of interviews and shots of the couple exploring, there comes a grim scene where the camera is held by a would-be killer who traces Sam’s throat with a knife, steals money from his wallet, and as a final insult puts his toothbrush in toilet water. After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing of the apparently happy couple, Sam accuses Stephanie of stealing his lost money, and that night we learn the shocking truth about Stephanie, what happened to Sam, and where the money went. Always remember to erase the evidence, kids.

Tuesday the 17th could have been one of those seriously annoying stories, and yet somehow they made it work. So Joey, Spider and Samantha and their new friend Wendy all decide to go out having fun in the woods. Wendy proceeds to regale them with horrific tales of how former friends of hers died terribly in these woods a year ago. And of course, inevitably, the thing that killed Wendy’s friends returns, to be almost-but-not-quite caught on tape like the old VHS tracking errors, slaughtering its way back to Wendy.

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger has an almost Skype-style conversation going between Emily and James, who’ve apparently known eachother since they were little. James claims to be in training to be a doctor, and keeps assuring Emily he’s coming to see her as soon as he possibly can. Meantime, Emily has sustained some sort of itchy wound to her arm that reminds her of something that happened to her when she was *gasp* younger, and is being plagued by visitations from what she thinks are child ghosts. The “Holy crap!” ending is a little difficult to understand, let me just say that James and the “children” have Invasion of the Body Snatchers beat.

Snippets of the thieves interactions is laced here and there between the vignettes, including a very fun one where the first thief watching these sickening tapes discovers that hey, the corpse in the chair behind him, disappeared. It’s about here, before the last story, that the over-arc is wrapped up when the walking corpse proceeds to literally scare (and probably eat) the life out of them hapless thieves. And now for our last story.

10/31/98 is of course a Halloween story, where friends in costumes (a pirate, the Unabomber, a marine and a teddy bear nanny cam who’s doing the actual filming) all get lost trying to find the bomb-ass Halloween party some friend of theirs invited them to. The house they finally go into is strangely empty and yet full of phenomenon, hands grasping from the walls and the like. Does that discourage our boys? Not in the least! Even when they discover what is apparently an exorcism going on in the attic, there’s raucous joining-in of chanting until the gang sees real blood flow and realizes too late, this is so bad. But, being the kind-hearted (?!) souls they are, the gang, after having almost escaped the house in their blind panic flight, return to cut the would-be exorcised girl loose and escape with her. Is she grateful? Ask the oncoming train.

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