After a year of seeking genre films from the far flung corners of the globe for distribution (including some of my own favorites of last year: The Woman, Chop, Phase 7, La Meute and Yellow Brick Road) Bloody Disgusting enters the production game with the upcoming V/H/S. The film combines one trope bordering on overused (found footage) with one underutilized (the anthology film) and tasks a handful of the brightest young talents in horror to do their worst.
Do they succeed? The answer is a resounding “Kind of”. It's not without its charms and under the right circumstances V/H/S will appeal to a hardcore horror fans. Each segment highlights different horror trope, with a classic monsters, haunted house, paranormal and slasher archetypes getting their moment in the spotlight. Each segment delivers a handful of visceral thrills and crowd pleasing moments. Still V/H/S is loaded with major issues that will annoy or infuriate others.
Adam Wingard’s tale frames V/H/S with Jackass inspired miscreants tasked to break into a home and steal a videocassette. Given no other instruction except the cryptic “You’ll know it when you see it” they find a creepy shithole and a stack of tapes left behind by the deceased owner. Each tape comprises the horror shorts that make up the film.
David Bruckner’s Amateur Night and the Radio Silence's 10/31/98 bookend V/H/S with different takes on similar subject matter and are the best of the bunch. Amateur Night follows a trio of “yah dudes” out on the prowl. While barhopping, they find a pair of ladies to accompany them back to their motel. Of course, anyone not operating with a blood alcohol level high that could be mistaken for Shaq's free throw shooting percentage would know that the wide eyed and almost mute lady is bad news. Amateur Night succeeds because when the shit hits the fan, Bruckner keeps slinging it at the blades. There action features a prop cock that will have dudes covering their junk and cringing in their seats. Newcomer Hannah Fierman plays the creature and she’s freaking awesome. I want to see her in everything going forward: movies, television, cattle racing competitions. I don’t care what it is as long as it sates my giant sized movie crush on her. 10/31/98 also follows a group of young dudes, though this time it’s a more affable bunch. The foursome makes their way to a Halloween party only to stumble upon a house of horrors. Blissfully unaware, they tromp around like giggling school girls while all manners of “boo” scares reveal themselves. The short feature two of my favorite moments: the crew’s reaction when the stumble upon an exorcism in the attic and a pair of bear costumed hands trying to provide solace to a freaked out woman.
Ti West presents Second Honeymoon. A young couple (played by Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takl) on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. It contains the creepiest scene in the film during a moment when you realize who isn’t holding the camcorder in the couple dingy motel room.
Swanberg pulls double duty as the director of “The Terrible Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Young”. The short consists of the Skype chats between a couple in a long distance relationship and elicited the best audience reaction of the night. Poor Emily (the amazingly cute and chipper Helen Rogers believes her house is haunted, and before too long strange things are happening in the background of her video chats. The climax is bizarre with a wicked black comic touch.
Glen McQuaid (“I Sell The Dead”) uses the home video to great effect with his playful take on the slasher genre. Four friends head out to the woods to drink, fuck and fuck around. The killer can only be seen on videotape and makes his presence known whenever the tracking goes wonky. It was a clever way to acknowledge the shortcoming of the videocassette footage and featured some great kills to boot. I’d enjoy a feature based on the idea.
While I enjoyed the film it spurts overall V/H/S left me cold. The concept and stories are solid, but the execution is lacking. For one, V/H/S often moves at a snail’s pace. There's a fine line between a slow burn and a snooze fest. Too often the film falls on the wrong side of that line. The framing segment runs far too long and fails to engage viewers. It did not need fifteen minutes of antics comprised of sexually assaulting women or smashing shit up to establish scumbag credentials. One good look at Calvin Reeder’s dirty ‘stache and you know these guys are the worst of the worst (in his defense Reeder does great dirtbag). This section could have been cut down to just getting them in the house in order to trim the fat from the film. Amateur Night forces audiences to spend far too long watching bros-being-bros before unveiling the goods. Ti West’s predilection towards moseying along towards a rushed (though satisfyingly gory) conclusion rears its head. The “blink and you’ll miss it” reveal and motive also beg the question why would these events even be recorded in the first place. While West’s languid pace works in his features like The Innkeepers due to the sweeping beauty of his shots, here you’re forced to sit through a poorly shot vacation movie. His short is rife with MacGuffins that pad the running time but add nothing to the short.
By far the biggest knock on V/H/S is the insistence of the filmmakers to replicate all the warts and flaws of watching amateur home movies. viewers that struggled to get through shaky cam experiences like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project may want to keep the vomit bucket close by. The constant tracking issues, glitch edits and segments "accidentally" taped over compound the visual diarrhea. It's an ugly and often visually boring film to slog through. As V/H/S plods along, the gimmick becomes stale mighty fast. The tact reeks of talented creators looking for an excuse to make a poor looking film-after all you can blame the technology.
Magnet Studios has picked up V/H/S for some sort of release late this year. While Magnet has distributed some of the best and most diverse genre efforts in recent years (Trollhunters, I Saw The Devil, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil to name a brief few) they focus on the video-on-demand and Netflix Instant market with their films seeing very little theatrical push. That works against V/H/S as with the right (i.e. properly lubed up) crowd this could become a cult favorite and staple of the midnight movie circuit. By contrast, I would have struggled to get through V/H/S if watching at home. The sometimes plodding pace and the deliberately jarring editing would prove no match for the myriad of distractions at arms reach. However, in the right circumstances, this could be another Rocky Horror Picture Show, except crowds could hurl bloodied dildos at the screen instead of rice.