SXSW Film: V/H/S

Horror anthologies don’t seem as common as they once were. Growing up I remember watching both Creep Shows as well as The Twilight Zone film at way too young of an age and being scared to death. To this day I still blame “The Raft” sequence from CreepShow 2 for having a crippling fear of swimming in lakes, streams and other murky land locked bodies of water. Of course those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of horror anthologies over the years. The horror genre is ripe with anthologies both great and those that require a bucket of beer and a group of friends to laugh at the film’s terribleness to make it through.

Thankfully in the case of V/H/S it falls in the former category. Further V/H/S is a showcase of amazing talent from the indie world, some established in the horror genre, some completely new to the school of slash and gore. V/H/S made all kinds of waves when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Stories of fainting in the theater, and or getting sick immediately placed V/H/S on my must see list once it was announced as part of the midnighters segment of the SXSW 2012 fest lineup.

As is typical with genre films, it’s tricky to discuss elements of V/H/S without giving too much away. Shooting as straight as I can and say that the film’s through story, aka “Wrap Around” officially known as “Tape 57” shows several twenty something year old men causing all kinds of terror and mayhem. Perhaps these are the late teen/early twenty something versions of the old folks from Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers? A member of the group has heard tales of a high value VHS tape that is alleged to be at an old man’s house. The word is that a pawn shop will pay top dollar for the tape, contents unknown. The group goes in search of the tape getting a little bit more than they bargained for when they discover not just one, but several horrifying VHS tapes and a further horrifying reveal as well.

All of these “tapes” are of the found footage/first person shot variety. For all involved as best I know, is a first time/take at the style for them all. The talent behind and in front of the camera that directed shorts for the film include several that have become house hold names for hardcore genre fans. Those include Ti West, writer and director of SXSW 2011 favorite The Innkeepers. Coincidentally, The Innkeepers is out on BluRay and DVD April 24th. Buy it, shut the lights off and turn the sound to 11. The writing and directing team behind Fantastic Fest favorites, A Horrible Place to Die and You’re Next Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. David Bruckner (The Signal), Glenn McQuaid (I sell The Dead) and in a name not commonly associated with horror, though he did have turns in Barrett and Wingards A horrible Place to Die and You’re Next, Joe Swanberg. V/H/S also sees the introduction of a group of four filmmakers that go by the title of Radio Silence. Radio Silence comes from the world of YouTube with the group’s slogan of “safety second” style of short horror/thriller films that typically run around three minutes.

Each of the segments showcase their maker’s talents. In some cases like those of Swanberg  he pulls double duty as actor in Ti West’s segment “Second Honeymoon” while also directing a Skype-esque sequence that was written by Simon Barrett. “Second Honeymoon” is the most realistic of the group with the other segments going in various fantastical, and supernatural directions. Said directions are often very intense that had me jumping and sitting on the edge of my seat several times. To pick a favorite amongst the group is a real Sophie’s choice. That said I have to concur with what was seemingly picked as the favorite by the Q&A moderator, and most of the 20 or so cast and crew that joined for the Q&A that Radio Silence’s “10/31/1998” was easily the most claustrophobic fear-inducing segment that actually, justifiably earns its place as the final segment presented.

The excellent genre distributor Magnet has picked up V/H/S for a Video on Demand run in August. The film will be followed by a theatrical release in October. It’s a fantastic group-watching experience or a “you will be sleeping with the lights on for the next week” solo experience. Anthologies are seemingly poised to be the next resurgent wave in horror films after having been left on the shelf to collect dust for far too long now. I state this based on the pending release of the Magnet/Drafthouse Films ABC’s of Death which actually had a rough cut trailer world premiere in front of the Midnight showing of V/H/S. From the quick look at that film, which as I understand it had 26 different directors create 26 segments for the anthology, each taking a letter of the alphabet to base their sequence on. My gut tells me ABC’s will be making its debut at the 2012 incarnation of Fantastic Fest but I’m making some assumptions. Regardless, horror anthologies have never truly gone away, SXSW 2011 saw the decent but not great Little Deaths. It’s just refreshing to see those from our generation that grew up watching them apply their collective talents to them.

I give V/H/S 4 “Sex Tapes” out of 5

                       

 

By John Coovert

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