The V/H/S franchise was one that came and went so fast in the first half of the 2010s, you’d have to be a extreme horror fan to recognize. It could be that it was overshadowed by the Paranormal Activity movies which used th same found footage format that was growing very tired and overused by the time first V/H/S arrived.
If anything else, the movie helped directors Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner and Radio Silence get a leg up in the realm of horror. I actually liked the first movie for some of the stories that were simple and told through characters we sympathized with. But a sequel V/H/S/2 seemed too ambitious as did improve on the storytelling if not the story. One notable vignette deals with a zombie outbreak through a Go-Pro that also answered the questions why don’t zombies attack each other? They do. They just don’t like their taste or their own taste.
And then there was V/H/S/Viral which got backlash from critics and fans alike and just like that, it was over…until V/H/S/94 released earlier this year revived the franchise and it did have some great stories. So it was only natural, a sequel would be fast laned through a five-month production for V/H/S/99. And this rush to get it out before Halloween is shown in quality. The movie is currently streaming on Shudder.
For the most part, this is a boring and uneventful enry into the franchise. Unlike previous movies, there’s no frame story but instead we see stop-motion animation of army men. It does have an innovative way as well as setting up the fourth story, “The Gawkers” which involves a bunch of horny teenage boys. They’re so obnoxious and one-dimensional that when the twist happens, you’re actually rooting against them.
The story, written by Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre, who also directs, is a retelling of the infamous webcam part of American Pie in which the woman being videoed gets her revenge. The only problem I have with it is how it seems to put everything together by having the beautful Sandra (Emily Sweet) standing in front of an opened window so she can look across the street where the horny boys watch when they discover her secret. Also it’s done so lazily it doesn’t even make sense but just having the boys say a line about how she knows they’re watching her. How would someone who asked someone to set up her webcam even know she was being watched through Spyware?
There’s a lot of problems with this entry in the franchise. The first story, “Shredding” written and directed by Maggie Levin, is its worst as it follows an obnoxious punk rock band, R.A.C.K. ,as they go in the Colony Underground, which is an abandoned music venue where a band named Bitch Cat was trampled to death years earlier in an electrical fire. You don’t have to be a genius to tell where this one is headed and it’s done so sloppily with characters we don’t care about, you can easily just skip it.
The second one titled “Suicide Bid” is an impressive story written and directed by Johnannes Roberts. It follows Lily (Alexis “Ally” Ioannides) as a freshman at an unnamed college who wants to be part of Beta Sigma Eta and only chooses that one to be selected to pledge which we learn is called a “suicide bid.” But during a night of initiation, the other sisters of Beta Sigma Eta put her in a coffin overnight in an open grave. They tell her the urban legend of Guiltine, who did the same initiation but was forgetten and left to die.
The feeling of claustrophia and being buried alive is evident here with Ioannides giving a good performance especially after some big spiders show up. Then a storm rages, with heavy downpours andwater seeping through the wooden crate. Where this vigenette heads, I won’t say, but there is a nice payoff. But I had questions about whether a video camera in 1999 would still be operational in heavy rain.
The third story “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is a slightly better than “Shredding” thankfully for a performance by Steven Ogg (who has appeared on The Walking Dead and Westworld) as an obnoxious and probably racist host of a children’s game show modeled after Double Dare. When a young black teenage girl, Donna (Amelia Ann) is brutally injured on a phyiscal challenge course causing serious injury to her leg, her mother, Debra (Sonya Eddy) freaks out and kidnaps the host. Then, with the rest of the family, they force him to do humiliating, degrading and dangerous stunts in their garage.
This one is written by Zoe Cooper and Flying Lotus, who also directs. It’s shamelessly misses a good opportunity for a reveal at the end that makes absolutely no sense. It’s one thing to have a twist that was hinted like “The Gawkers,” but this one goes off the rails it’s the worst twist since the horse-human hybrids in Sorry to Bother You. After the set-up for this one, it was a huge letdown.
The fifth and final story “To Hell and Back” is the best and it’s the work of Joseph and Vanessa Winter with the former playing Troy, a videographer who has been hired along with his friend, Nate (Archelaus Cristano), to document a coven’s ritual. The vigenette begins innocently with a grandmotherly woman sitting happily with a 2000 mask on and a group of witches who look like a book club preparing the ritual in a basement on New Year’s Eve 1999.
But the ritual in which they are to summon a demon Ukabon is interrupted when a demon name Fercus appears in the room. The witches immediately cast the demon back to Hell, but he takes Nate and Troy to the afterlife where they arrive in a ravine that is called the Feeding Ground. Around them are creepy demons and humans in total body-horror images that would make David Cronenberg proud.
They find a damned soul, Mabel (Melanie Stone) who talks like she’s from centuries ago. She offers to take them to Ukabon if they take her back to Earth. The whole vigenette is so over the top but clever in its design of Hell that you wish they spent more time there. Troy and Nate are some of the few characters in the whole movie who seem more three-dimensional as other characters in the movie are annoying and jerks. I posted a blog post of the Winters movie Deadstream earlier this month and there’s the same blend of horror-comedy in the vein of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies in its presentation.
“To Hell and Back” has a cop-out of an ending. I wished the Winters had gone for a different ending rather than what the audience was properly expecting. But aside from that, it is a great vignette. The set of the Feeding Grounds of Hell are a creepy canyon with a dark reddish sky with lightning and dangerous areas wherever they step. Unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t as great as this one, which has been the problem with the previous entries.
But if you think this franchise is dead, well never say die. There’s already a V/H/S/85 planned with some vigenettes reportedly already filmed. My guess is it will be released next Halloween season if not sooner. Bruckner who recently made the remake of Hellraiser and Scott Derrickson who made Sinister and The Black Phone are reported to be directing their own vignettes, so maybe it will be an improvement.
What do you think? Please comment.