V/H/S DVD Review
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, and Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholes Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella
2012, Region 1 NTSC, 116 Minutes, Rated R
DVD released on December 4th, 2012
There's been a strange resurgence of VHS tapes in culture lately. Despite the fact that Blu-rays offer high definition audio and video and tons of content, people are clamoring for these old tapes like some weird collector's item. Some filmmakers have taken this craze and brought in an aspect of VHS that has yet to be recaptured in DVD or Blu-ray: the mystery. When VCRs were prevalent, I remember having tapes of all kinds of stuff but never really labeling them correctly. I probably spent more time figuring out what was on each VHS than I did actually watching them. That allure is at the heart of V/H/S, the anthology found-footage horror flick from Magnet Releasing.
A group of twenty-something assholes are paid to break into a seemingly abandoned house to steal a single VHS tape. They know nothing about the tape aside from the fact that "they'll know it when they see it." As they're each out to make some fast cash, they look around the house for more swag and find a guy that looks to be dead in front of a bunch of TVs and VCRs showing blue screens or static. There are loads of tapes around the joint, so they start popping them into the VCRs to see what's on them. Each tape contains bizarre footage of people dying in increasingly strange and horrific ways.
This is where the anthology aspect comes in. Each tape is a different short film, broken up by these misfits looking for more loot. It becomes clear early on that this is some weird shit. Whether it's a group of guys looking to make their own version of Girls Gone Wild and are then torn to shreds by a demon woman or a girl that brings some friends in the woods to hunt a killer that can't appear on film, this is creepy. Each story starts out in a similar manner, with everything looking very normal. Suddenly things get crazy and people start dying quickly.
This is a great idea, but the medium of the handheld camera can get annoying. There's a reason you don't see many shots in movies of someone running while holding the camera. It can make you nauseous to watch that footage as it's flying all over the place, not to mention the fact that the camera is making noise as the person is running. You're spending more time struggling to figure out what you're looking at instead of paying attention to what's going on. To their credit, the filmmakers get creative with this. It isn't just some guy holding the camera all the time. The first segment, entitled "Amateur Night", has a hidden camera in a pair of eyeglasses. It provided a POV shot throughout the entire short. Similarly, "10/31/98" is filmed from a camera mounted on the head of a guy dressed as a nanny cam teddy bear for Halloween.
The film itself is terrifying. Some of the shorts put everything right out front, providing you something specific to fear, such as the creature in "Amateur Night" or the killer in "Tuesday the 17th." Others are much more subtle, providing an unsettling feeling and one that any viewer can relate to. For example, "Second Honeymoon" follows a couple on a road trip, filming their adventure. While they're both sleeping, someone picks up the camera and starts to record them. At first it looks like it's the husband filming his wife but when the camera pans to the other side to see him sleeping soundly, a whole new wave of terror comes in. It's such a simple move, but it amplifies everything for the rest of the segment.
The most innovative short is definitely "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger." Directed by Joe Swanberg, this is shot completely on a webcam as a guy has a series of conversations with his long-distance girlfriend. It's filmed from his laptop as the two of them chat about the weird things that are happening in Emily's apartment. Think the little girl from The Ring and you're on the right track in terms of the creep factor. This is such a great idea and it works with the theme of the movie. How it was transferred to a VHS tape, though, is a mystery.
There are a lot of questions left unanswered by V/H/S. Some are basic like "Why are there backslashes in the title?", but others get to the heart of the story like "Who hired these guys to find the tape?" and "Which tape is it that they want?" You don't need answers to these because the film works on its own. The shaky cam can get annoying at times, but it definitely gives the movie a more realistic quality to it. Even with this, there are some impressive special effects including great makeup throughout. Just don't watch the movie if you're not feeling well as all the motion might make you throw up.
Video and Audio:
As you can imagine, a film that's supposed to look like it's made entirely by VHS tapes can look pretty crappy. I don't know if any of the filmmakers actually recorded on video, but I imagine they used HD and then had to apply copious filters. The audio is clear and you can hear everything that comes through for good or worse. This means that the camera picks up ambient noise like wind and traffic for scenes shot outside. It gives it a more natural feel, but it's a little annoying.
A commentary with the cast and crew is included on the DVD release as well as interviews with the same people. An alternate ending for "10/31/98" is on the disc as well and I'm glad that they went with the version that is in the film because this one made no sense and really took away from the shock of the finale. Some more footage from "Tuesday the 17th" is included too but nothing that adds to the story. It's more like outtakes.
I liked the Balloon Night featurette that showed how the crew attached a camera to several very large balloons to get a shot of someone flying through the air in "Amateur Night." It's a nice behind-the-scenes look at indie filmmaking.
There is also a brief featurette on the look of V/H/S that includes quick talking points from the directors and writers. This is the kind of thing you'd show someone if you wanted to explain to them what the movie was about.
The special features are rounded out by webcam interviews, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a conceptual design gallery for Lily from "Amateur Night," and some obligatory trailers.
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