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Oct 15, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 14: V/H/S (2012)


I am not the biggest fan of the 'found footage' genre as I find it limiting. Sure there have been successes - I like the first Paranormal Activity - but otherwise it is an approach that leaves me cold. I gave The Blair Witch Project props for breaking new cinematic ground, but that was about it, and Cloverfield just bored me (and made me dizzy).

I was tempted to do this to my TV about 10 minutes in.
V/H/S is not only a found footage picture but also a horror anthology with 5 individual stories buffered by a connection story, all by different directors. It didn't take long for this picture to alienate me, pretty much by the end of the first story I was restless and bored - although the film eventually gets around to featuring some effective moments.

Guys, if we find this tape I bet we can get $0.75 for it from someone.
The connecting tale (directed by Adam Wingard) features a group of the most obnoxious screen hoodlums ever, who carry out violence like breaking windows and sexually assaulting random women on the street (yeah, exactly...) and videotaping them. After a particularly heinous exploit, one of them announces there is a way for them to make some big money by robbing a house where a rare VHS tape is said to be located. Of course they can't pass this up and break into the place where they find a seemingly dead old man in a recliner. The place is full of VHS tapes so while the other guys search, one of them starts watching tapes. One-by-one the teens disappear, and another takes over watching duty (my question - your friends mysteriously disappear and you decide to stick around and keep watching tapes? Just throw them in a bag and leave!). Eventually the zombified old man attacks the group and as we all know crime does not pay, especially in horror movies (even the bad ones).

I like you, but not this movie.
That acts as a buffer between each of the main stories. The 1st (directed by David Bruckner), is about a group of horny teens getting ready to go out and party and get laid. They rig a pair of glasses with a 'spy cam', obviously to be used for nothing good. Almost the first full 10 minutes of this has the group looking in a mirror, swearing and high-fiving and patting themselves on the back for their ingenious plan while the camera shakes. They pick up a couple of females and take them back to a cheap hotel. One of the women has freaky eyes and keeps turning to the guy with the camera (whose POV we are experiencing) and says "I like you". Once at the hotel, the plan becomes obvious - have sex with the women and record it without them having a clue. While one of the guys sits on a sofa in a drunken stupor, the leader of the group tries to take off the clothing of a passed out female with the intentions of raping her (more douchebags - this movie seems to celebrate them). The creepy girl is awake and alert and continues telling our camera-guy that she likes him. The attention eventually turns to her and and a threesome heats up. The drunken dude gets involved which spurs the woman to suddenly turn into a beast and rip them all to shreds. The keeper of the camera makes a run for it - but will he survive? Honestly I didn't care as they all kind of deserved to die - they were pretty obnoxious.

How do you like this look?
Story 2 is directed by Ti West who directed The House of the Devil that I watched and loved a few days ago. A young couple is on their second honeymoon, taking a road trip and, of course, filming it with an incredibly shaky camera. Again, a large portion of the footage has the two of them goofing off for the camera and engaging in inane small talk that means absolutely nothing to us, nor does it push the story forward in any sort of direction - although they are infinitely more likable than the guys from the first and connecting stories. At a fleabag motel, a strange woman comes to the door asking for a ride which confuses the couple since it is in the middle of the night, well before they intend to leave. Later, the camera picks up a mysterious figure roaming around the room while the couple sleeps, and they are robbed. This incident gave me hope that things might be finally picking up - but not really. The couple continues their journey and nothing much happens, but then of course it does. The end of this had an effective twist, although getting there was a chore.

If I keep this mask on, maybe nobody will know I was in this dud.
Story 3 (directed by Glenn McQuaid) sees a group of teens (again filming everything - again with terrible camera skills) on a camping trip. As they frolic about, the camera keeps showing flashes of dead bodies. Things lead to the inevitable deaths of them one-by-one which isn't exactly a surprise, for us or for one member of the group.

This was much more preferable than having to keep watching this.
Story 4 (directed by Joe Swanberg) was easily my favorite. It is shot entirely as a Skype-like chat between a woman and her soon-to-be-boyfriend. She has a bump on her arm that is bothering her and thinks her house may be haunted. She is constantly trying to corner the 'intruders' and record the conversation so she can prove it to her male friend. Her bump gets worse, and she starts digging into her arm with a scalpel (probably not the wisest move). The noises come back and she goes exploring which results in the best scare of the picture. I did wonder though how a 21st century Skype conversation made it onto a now obsolete VHS tape.

At least you're catching my best side.
The 5th and final story (directed by Matt Bettlinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella) was also strong. A group of friends prepare to head out to a Halloween party, but show up at an empty house that appears to be haunted. The haunts don't freak them out, but instead they act like frat boys (which they probably are) high-fiving each other when strange things occur. They go into the basement to discover a group of men performing some sort of ritual on a chained up woman. Again, instead of freaking out the guys join in which doesn't sit well with the men, or the house which starts turning on them. As expected, all hell breaks loose.

There are so many things to dislike about this picture, I don't know where to start. None of the characters are remotely likable, and the shaky camera gets old very fast. The opening 10 minutes of the first story had me wanting to reach for my iPad to check e-mail (and I'll admit I did...for a minute) because it lost me that quickly and never won me back. The connecting story is a mess and makes little to no sense.

Please make my fortune that this movie won't ruin my career!
As I mentioned, the movie does have its moments - the twist ending to story 2, the killer in story 3 is exciting and has a unique look, most of story 4 and the final moments of story 5 contain the most excitement of the picture - but it is an experiment that does not pay off as the directors seem more keen on playing up the 'found footage' and rough 'VHS' elements rather than making an entertaining horror picture.

This picture isn't even listed in the Leonard Maltin movie guide (or at least I couldn't find it) and all the reviews on Letterboxd were as abysmal as mine. However, I did notice that the first sequel V/H/S 2 does receive high marks so I will probably give it a shot soon. A third film, V/H/S: Viral, played at Beyond Fest this past month and is due in theaters soon.