Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Frank Review of "V/H/S" (2012)

The Short Version? More found footage. Yay?
What Is It? Horror Anthology.
Who Is In It? The directors' friends and neighbors.
Should I See It? No.

I'm just old enough to remember all the different ways people used to watch movies, from drive-ins to filthy downtown spankhouses. Grandmothers would tune in to the afternoon Million Dollar Movie showcase, kids would watch the Saturday afternoon kung-fu flicks or stay up late for wretched horror movie presentations hosted by local actors in make-up. It was a huge deal when a 2+ year old movie would debut on network television, less so when tired shit would work its way down to UHF. There was sometimes that one really insane cinephile who had copies of favorites available to project on super-8 film. You used to have to work hard to find a movie you wanted to see, and the when/where/what of your viewing experience was pretty much always determined by a higher power greater than yourself. Even with cable, a programmer decided that you'd be catching bits of a limited selection replayed throughout a month, and that you'd have to stay up until at least 10 p.m. before you could masturbate to European softcore.

Home video changed everything. Betamax and VHS meant never having to ask anyone's permission to watch any movie that you could get your hands on. Every town had a video store, and every video store had uncut obscurities on the main shelves and a back room for pornography you'd have to wait way later than Skinemax After Dark to sneak off with so your parents didn't know you'd pilfered their stash, but was so much more worth it once you did. The horror section fully embraced the grindhouse aesthetic, with covers as lurid and disgusting as the law would allow. I was seriously too afraid to watch some of that stuff until I was an adult, only to find little committed to those spools of tape that warranted the hard sell of the boxes. VHS was gratuitous; it was the freedom to indulge the id monster on anything you were brave enough to walk up to a clerk and ask to check out.

On the other hand, as I said and as with most things, there was a lot more sizzle than steak. The internet changed everything again, and with a few strokes of the keys in a search engine I can see real people tortured to death, or having sex with exotic animals, or whatever else the demented mind can conceive. It's easy to become desensitized, and for all its LCD pandering, memories of the video store and VHS format are comparatively quaint. They mostly recall the '80s, with all its cheese and flash and very occasional glory.

If you're going to make a movies that combines the letters V/H/S in the title, you're creating specific expectations in the minds of people for whom those letters would be a relevant selling point. One of the main complaints film geeks seemed to have about Planet Terror was that on the Grindhouse bill, everyone else had conformed to expectations of '70s exploitation cinema, whereas the soul of Robert Rodriguez's zombie spectacle was clearly from someplace nearer to the summer of 1986. What I saw of House of the Devil was boring as fuck, but as a production it was memorable for its fidelity to the referenced time period, down to releasing it in a collectable oversized VHS box that served as marque advertisement space in the video store days.

The only thing evocative in V/H/S is its selling viewers on one kind of movie, delivering quite another, and totally pissing people off as a result. It is another tedious millennial "found footage" feature of narcissistic self-documentation. One of the obvious reasons why you didn't see this sort of thing among the self-possessed of early generations is because VHS was a cumbersome format that necessitated recording with a hefty camera. Aside from annoying VHS artifacts like blue screens and static between cuts, this movie looks to have been recorded on someone's iPhone. Despite being an anthology with multiple directors and screenwriters, nearly every segment involves the same group of obnoxious buzzed fratboys indulging in voyeurism until being ripped to pieces by one unimaginative and obtuse threat after another. There's a banal lo-fi repetition very much of the internet age, like clicking on one "similar videos" link after another on a hosting site.

The bridging sequence involves douchebags who turn a profit from sharking and home invasions watching a trove of mysterious VHS tapes without regard for the increasing likelihood of getting caught. The first segment might as well have featured the exact same group of characters, only this time covertly recording chicks at a bar and an attempt to score with two in a hotel room that predictably goes very wrong. The second segment chronicles a couple's road trip that plods along until a last second "twist" reveal that's ineffectively set up. If you give it any thought at all afterward, it will come down to logistics, not characters. The third feature is a post-Scream meta summer camp slasher exercise that plays like a looped sample of a song you never liked much in the first place forming the spine of a new tune you enjoy even less. The best of the set involves a believable couple's Skyping sessions that tells a complete, affective horror story. The linking vignette ends early after playing out exactly as expected and far outliving interest. Likely having recognized this, the final segment launches. It once again involves a group of obnoxious guys filming shenanigans, but at least they turn out to be a decent sort, not that it does them any good. The editing on this one was the strongest, but the story and characters were representatively thin, serving to remind how poor and familiar the whole affair was.


  • Cast & Crew Audio Commentary One viewing was enough, thanks.
  • Alternate Ending (10/31/98) Trimmed off for effectiveness.
  • More Tuesday the 17th Because you always want more in a found footage feature, right?
  • Amateur Night - Balloon Night Behind the scenes of the short's ending effects.
  • Webcam Interviews
  • Cast & Crew Interviews Just under thirty minutes.
  • AXS TV: A Look at V/H/S
  • Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
  • Conceptual Design Gallery - Lily
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Also from Magnolia Home Entertainment

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