I’ve written this review several times now. Our servers booted my initial review of the film’s theatrical release in September, and now it won’t let me save this particular entry into our Halloween marathon. So I greet you from my wife’s computer, hours after this review was supposed to go up. I assume that means the film is haunted, which should really just be another ringing endorsement on it’s behalf.
So, in the interest of brevity — and in case I have to write this all over again — here’s the quick rundown: opening paragraph discusses the shifting dynamics of horror anthologies over the years, and how yesterday’s pick, Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, is a classic example of the anthology form. Second paragraph discusses the recent glut of “found-footage” movies — kick-started by Paranormal Activity, naturally, and I think I name-dropped Cloverfield at some point — and how there’s only so many fresh perspectives left for the medium to explore, and enter V/H/S. There we go — I think we’re all caught up.
V/H/S‘s most compelling concept is its success in weaving together different milieus of horror; specifically, marrying a “found-footage” aesthetic to an anthology’s frame. Curated by a who’s-who of semi-new jacks — most notably Ti West of 2009’s insta-classic The House of the Devil, but also Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die) and David Bruckner (The Signal) — it’s a rough-and-tumble, endlessly entertaining, often-scary trip through the annals of horror. Monsters, haunted houses, exorcisms, knife-wielding stalkers, and aliens are all examined, dissected, and reconstructed within its framework; it’s a spectacular piece of work, and invigorating for horror fans of all stripes.
If the overarching wraparound tale is the collection’s weakest — a mysterious benefactor hires a group of hooligans to break into a house and steal a videotape, and it’s inexplicably filmed for posterity — the tales contained within, each captured on a different VHS tape, are top-notch. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” functions much like his films — the mundane coaxes you into a false sense of security before the swift climax brings the scares hard — but, for my money, it’s Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” that should provide the most pleasures for the long-suffering horror fan. This tale of the lone survivor of a Voorhees-style massacre trying to lure the killer into a trap by plying him with irresponsible teens and stale archetypes is satirical and scary in one fell swoop, a delightful subversion of expectation and formula. Equally impressive is indie-film collective Radio Silence’s take on the haunted house tale, “10/31/98”, which fits every scare from the likes of The House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting into a breathless, lightning-quick tear through a possessed Halloween party. And though the film never quite explains why Joe Swanberg’s smart, nervy “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” seems to exist on a Skype conversation dubbed onto a cassette, it’s a stellar use of new technology nonetheless.
As the newest film on the list, V/H/S has a lot to live up to as our boldest example of new-model horror; fortunately, the new-model guys are reverent to the old school, and the result is a giddy, thrilling sprint through some of horror’s most tried-and-true concepts. And it also may be haunting my internet.
Extra Credit: Those more interested in the “found-footage” aesthetic owe it to themselves to check out Joel Anderson’s lovely, creepy, deeply understated Lake Mungo. It’s a mockumentary-style rumination on loss and doubt, and it’s as solemn and naturalistic as that implies, but the stray supernatural images captured are pure, chill-to-the-bone horror. It’s a deeply haunting film that will stay with you for days.
More 31 Days of Halloween:
Day 1: May
Day 2: The Night of the Hunter
Day 3: The Descent
Day 4: Night of the Demons
Day 5: Them
Days 6 & 7: Night of the Living Dead // Dawn of the Dead
Day 8: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Day 9: A Tale of Two Sisters
Day 10: When a Stranger Calls // Amusement
Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Day 12: The Orphanage
Day 13: I Know What You Did Last Summer
Day 14: Dressed to Kill
Day 15: Deep Red
Day 16: Jeepers Creepers
Day 17: Black Sabbath
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