For a while, it seemed as if the V/H/S franchise had gone the way of Blockbuster Video. But last fall, after a seven-year break, the series arose from the dead like a ghoul from a V/H/S movie.
The comeback title, V/H/S/94, recaptured the magic (and mayhem) that endeared the films to legions of viewers. V/H/S/94 delivered the creepy stories, gruesome violence, and morbid sense of humour that fans fell in love with. And now, less than a year later, V/H/S is back with a new found footage thrill ride titled V/H/S/99. So, does V/H/S/99 build off last year’s strong return, or does the series sacrifice quality for a quick turnaround?
Right off the bat, V/H/S/99 switches up the series’ long-running format. It ditches the wraparound segment in favour of stringing the stories together on a single cassette, mixtape style. Even though the wraparound segments were the glue holding the shorts together, no one will miss them. They’re always the dullest parts of these movies.
The film plays out like watching a worn-out video that’s been recorded over too many times. It seems as if some sicko went around collecting the most twisted home movies ever on a battered cassette. Segments bleed into each other, and random clips disrupt the narrative in staticky bursts. Odd TV commercials and home videos sometimes pop up, which adds to the film’s chaotic lo-fi vibe.
Horror anthologies are notoriously uneven. For every heart-stopping gem in the group, there are a couple cheesy throwaways. V/H/S/99 doesn’t have that problem. It’s one of the rare horror anthologies with solid movies across the board. All five shorts give audiences something meaty to feast on.
Maggie Levin’s Shredding sees an obnoxious crew of wanna-be Jackass stars tempt fate by desecrating the sight of a violent tragedy. Shredding starts things off on a high note with the most raucous outing of the five shorts. It features gory visuals, fantastic music, and wonderfully hideous monsters.
Johannes Roberts’ Suicide Bid comes across like the unholy child of Buried and Mean Girls. It follows a group of vicious sorority sisters who torture a new pledge. Tense and claustrophobic, Suicide Bid also features the anthology’s most shocking visuals.
Flying Lotus’ Ozzy’s Dungeon is next-level insane. It features Grand Theft Auto V star Steven Ogg (Trevor Philips) as a maniacal gameshow host who puts his contestants through physical hell. Think of it as a Nickelodeon gameshow crossed with The Running Man. Shout out to FlyLo because Ozzy’s Dungeon is somehow V/H/S/99’s both lightest and the darkest entry.
Tyler MacIntyre’s Gawkers sees a gang of teenage boys (and future sex offenders) obsess over a hot new neighbour. When they hack her computer to sneak an X-rated peek, they’re faced with the last thing they want to see.
Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s To Hell and Back sends the film out on a high note. This short sees a demonic summoning go wrong and transport a couple of schmucks to a hell dimension. Imagine sending the dudes from The Detroiters into the Doom universe, and you get the idea.
V/H/S/99 gets pretty campy, but that’s a feature, not a bug. All six directors wink at viewers while embracing a schlocky B-movie vibe. The irreverent tone feels closer to anthologies like Tales from the Crypt than XX or Southbound.
V/H/S/99 isn’t scary, but it is shocking. Horror lightweights might therefore want to steer clear of V/H/S/99’s macabre melodrama. All five stories find ways to get under viewers’ skin. They each do an excellent job setting narrative stakes and then raising tension. And just when the tension becomes unbearable, the movie hits you with some horrific visuals. It’s a satisfying loop that kept me dialed in for all 99-minutes.
I love how each director team lets their freak flag fly. Each story goes to bizarre places to make use of excellent practical effects. Found footage flicks may be intentionally lo-fi, but the film’s gallery of monstrosities wouldn’t look out of place in big-budget studio releases.
V/H/S/99 offers all you could want from a horror anthology, and it’s a top-tier found footage movie, too. So, if you dig either genre, it delivers the best of both worlds.
While this release doesn’t outshine V/H/S/94, it’s in the same ballpark. And honestly, I’m down to watch yearly V/H/S releases if they maintain this quality level. History says it’s unlikely V/H/S continues this hot streak, but let’s worry about that problem next year.
For now I’m happy to kick back and rewatch this diabolically fun addition to the series.