By Ross Maclean
Like vinyl records before it, there’s a growing wave of nostalgia for VHS tapes developing and this horror anthology attempts to tap into a yearning for the lost days of the video nasty. From nine different directors (including hot property in the genre, Ti West) across six films, V/H/S harks back to films like Creepshow and Cat’s Eye but adopts the current trend for found footage as a device; Tapes from the Crypt, if you will.
The advice when watching any portmanteau film also applies here: not every part will be good. It cuts back to one short as a buffer between films but there’s no clear reason why that particular film should be the one. It’s the least satisfying and if anything confuses things further. It could have done with something a bit more unifying hanging them together rather than just an aesthetic.
As far as the style of the film goes, enjoyment will largely be dependent on your tolerance levels for constantly dizzying camerawork that is always moving and spinning wildly. At the level it’s applied here, it becomes headache inducing. The grainy first-person perspective, as ever, stretches credulity especially when faced with threatening situations but at least some parts do attempt to justify it.
The first proper story sets the bar very high as a group of obnoxious lads cross paths with a succubus. Think of it as a form of payback for Project X as a group of similarly misogynist yobs get their comeuppance. Ti West’s story is a more laid back affair which follows a couple’s journey down Route 66 where they attract the attentions of an unwanted visitor. It’s creepily effective and strikes a balance between developed characters and jolt scares.
Other films attempt to do something a bit different including one which uses a webcam to hilarious effect. It’s a shame that it was beaten to the punch slightly in this area by last month’s The Pact but it remains an innovate use of simultaneous point of view and reaction shots. Another goes all-out with a blistering haunted house film with remarkably good special effects. The only disappointing entry represents a dip in the middle of the film as it riffs on the ‘teenagers in the woods’ staple to no real effect.
The litmus test for any horror film though is whether or not it’s scary and the answer here is unequivocally yes. The plentiful laughs and a nice visual gimmick are decoration - although it remains to be seen why it carries the title V/H/S when many of the films use a mix of far more up-to-date technology.
A few of the chapters can’t quite sustain their lengths, especially in this format, and it would have been helped by an ending which sought to tie it all together a bit more. Some might have been hoping for it to be transgressive, rather than the solid but unremarkable mix that it is, but as a loving tribute and innovative representation of the new wave, there’s no higher compliment than to say there are parts you’ll want to rewind and watch over. Now that’s surely something worth tracking.