After a seven-year absence, the V/H/S series is back and strong as ever with V/H/S/94. The fourth entry in the horror anthology series hits the ground running and never lets up. This violent and joyfully absurd horror thrill ride deserves a spot on your Halloween watchlist.
The film begins with Jennifer Reeder’s Holy Hell, a wraparound segment linking the five found footage stories together. It’s 1994, and a cocky SWAT team bites off more than it can chew after storming a cult compound. The place is littered with dead zealots, staticky TVs, and mysterious VHS tapes. Each creepy-ass video features one of V/H/S/94’s four main tales.
Storm Drain (directed by Chloe Okuno) follows a reporter and cameraman who descend into a sprawling sewer system searching for an urban legend called the Rat King.
The Empty Wake (directed by Simon Barrett) sees a young funeral home attendant spend the night alone in a room with a coffin containing a mangled corpse.
In Timo Tjahjanto’s The Subject, a woman awakens in a secret lab to discover she’s a mad scientist’s latest experiment.
In a plot that sounds like an episode of True Blood, Terror (directed by Ryan Prows) sees a gang of domestic terrorists capture a supernatural being. These backwoods goons harvest the creature’s blood to use as a weapon in an attack on the U.S. government. Spoilers: things go badly.
Found footage horror movies are an acquired taste – even the good ones can be hard to sit through. The camerawork often borders on unwatchable, the pacing is as slow as molasses, and you’ll find better production values in high school theatre.
V/H/S/94 works so well because it avoids the issues that plague the genre. The anthology format fixes the pacing issues – you get five roughly 20-minute stories with five wild climaxes. You’re not sitting around for an hour waiting for something to finally happen. Even though V/H/S/94 delivers tight, self-contained stories, its scale and production values are through the roof relative to most found footage features.
Most importantly, V/H/S/94 doesn’t resort to hard to watch shakycam nonsense that has become the genre’s calling card. Instead, this found footage flick is easy on the eyes. It’s shot to look amateur and lo-fi, but it doesn’t resort to chaotic camera movement to create a frantic vibe. The Empty Wake even switches between camera perspectives as the action unfolds. Does it break the illusion? Sure. But I’d rather pretend someone edited this spooky video together than sit through more stomach-churning shakycam footage.
V/H/S/94’s segments are strong across the board, with the wraparound segment being the weak link. To be fair, the wraparounds are the least compelling aspect of each film in the series. And yet, I wasn’t mad at Holy Hell’s madcap energy. It captures the same campy tone as the cutscenes in early ‘90s video games like Sewer Shark and Night Trap. Despite the weak story, I still enjoyed vibing out on Holy Hell’s cheesetastic wavelength.
All five directors are wilding out, none more so than V/H/S series veteran, Tjahjanto. I imagine him pitching his short as RoboCop meets The Human Centipede, with a dash of Hardcore Henry. This segment is as shocking and outlandish as you can imagine. It’s also devilishly fun. The Subject is little more than an unhinged revelry to obscene violence. Although this premise would get old quick in a feature, it’s the perfect length for an anthology movie segment.
While the latest V/H/S entry doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it delivers the series’ signature brand of terror and suspense. V/H/S/94 proves there’s still plenty of (after)life left in this gleefully twisted anthology series.