(Obligatory reminder that you can pick up Son Of Danse Macabre, my book on the last thirty years of horror on your Kindle or your Nook)
(Disclosure: A screener was provided for this review)
The buzz that V/H/S carried out of Sundance was almost uniformly positive. Nearly as uniform were the negative reviews that greeted the film during its theatrical release. This kind of whiplash of hype and anti hype is common, and in my experience one is hardly ever more reliable than the other. But as a result by the time I slipped V/H/S into my Blu Ray player I literally had no preconceptions on the film. Masterpiece or mess. Lady or the tiger.
As usual the truth is something in between. I happen to have a soft spot for anthology horror films. There is something about even the weakest of them that retains the warm feeling of being told a scary story. Though quality in V/H/S varies from segment to segment for my money the ones that hit do so well enough to make up for the weaker parts. And even the weakest sections are not without a couple of striking images and well executed beats.
V/H/S opens on a group of lowlifes who record their rampages of vandalism and sexual assault like a felonious version of CKY. Recruited to perform a burgularly, in order to search for a very specific V/H/S tape, the crew breaks into a creepy house where they find rows and rows of tapes each seeming to show something inexplicable and horrible.
Things get off to an appropriately E.C.ish start with "Amateur Night" which in which a group of horny frat guys out hunting for women learn the meaning of the term, “Sexual Predator”. While a bit broad, it also features a dark sense of humor and some makeup effects that are genuinely disquieting. "Second Honeymoon" is Ti West’s entry in game. The backlash against West is in full swing now, but I still stubbornly like him. Though I’d say "Second Honeymoon" is the weakest thing he’s done this side of Cabin Fever 2, that still puts him above most modern horror filmmakers simply because he bothers to establish the normal rhythms of life before he brings the discord of horror to them. Because of his patience horror in West’s films feels like a violation. And the only thing that keeps" Second Honeymoon" a notch below The Innkeepers and House Of The Devil is an unnecessary twist ending.
"Tuesday The 17th" by Glenn McQuaid, is an interesting experiment, and the decision to render its killer as a mass of distortion is brilliant, unfortunately there ultimately doesn’t seem to be enough payoff to the story. Horror may not need an explanation, but it does need a punchline. "The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger" is probably the weakest segment of the film, I’m convinced that there are few things as bracingly uncinematic as Skype conversations, and the fact that it basically reverses "The Second Honeymoon" twist, that didn’t work all that well in the first place is problematic.
Things end with a bang though, with "10/31/98", a good ole fashioned haunted house movie that may not end up being truly frightening, but is an awful lot of fun.
All in all V/H/S is uneven, as any film that has six different directors is bound to be. But the moments that work outnumber those that don’t by a good 3 to one margin. It may not be a masterpiece, but I say bring on S-VHS.