Indie horror and found footage are two genres that very often go together like peanut butter and, well…yeah you know (except the taste in the latter is usually much more tolerable). Arguably spawned from the iconic late 1990s shaky cam thriller popularly known as The Blair Witch Project, this subsect of usually independent horror film stands as one which possesses much merit, surprises and raw scares despite the notion of it oversaturating the movie market in recent years. Basically, for those unaware, ‘found footage’ is defined as a production in which the point of view is shown from a single, sentient, always moving camera or camcorder that a person in the film is utilizing or sometimes possessing and recording with. This style of movie-making leads to some pretty unique nuances, angles and developments.
With that being said and done, the V/H/S series exists as yet another, more obscure yet, at the same time, fairly noteworthy namesake among underground and horror fest enthusiasts that originally released and premiered at Sundance in early 2012. Leading to two sequels, the indie horror series consists of anthologies of horror shorts created by numerous different indie directors and typically features a brief “wrap-around” type of story or narrative that ties it all together in some manner and that the film transitions to in between the aforementioned shorts. So there are three of these suckers, huh? Let’s get right to them then.
First and foremost, the first V/H/S features a filming/directorial credit by Adam Wingard, who’s done other horror-related material such as the likes of You’re Next, The Guest, and The Blair Witch (2016), another found footage film that is a sequel to the 1999 classic. There are six stories in the film, (including the wraparound segment) that are, within the narrative of the overall bigger picture, being viewed via a series of VHS tapes by a group of thieves who have broken into a seemingly abandoned house.
One tape displays, oddly enough, a bunch of young men getting ready for a house party. One of the men happens to have a pair of glasses that records everything he sees, leading to some gruesome and/or pretty hilarious hijinks, if you could imagine. They fool around until they encounter one odd woman who has a rather frightening secret. Now I won’t spoil too much here, but overall I thought the first segment was pretty wild with its supernatural twist near the end. Pretty satisfying. Next up, we have a story about a couple with a camcorder on a road trip in the southwestern United States who are being routinely terrorized and actively stalked by a mysterious individual wherever they go. I thought this second one was kind of bland and boring, since it’s a simplistic plot we’ve seen in countless thrillers to date. Nothing to write home about and the ending is lame, in my opinion.
The third segment is probably the most unique, despite its mocking title of ‘Tuesday the 17th’. Basically, it’s about a group of friends who go out on a camping/hiking trip through a remote part of the woods in an attempt to have fun and bond until they realise they’re being picked off one by one by an unseen force. I say this one is unique purely because of how they paint the killer out to be this invisible entity who can’t be recorded on camera and can only be seen under certain circumstances, which, due to either the short length or lackluster writing, is never really explained. But the killer in question seems to be tied in some way or another to the lead girl of the group, so there’s also that. The last two stories involve a webcam ‘experiment’ of sorts and yet another group of people going into a proverbial haunted house.
In general, this low-budget first entry into the series has some little nuances to it that stand out, but the far-fetched aspects and campy paranormal elements kinda conflict with the more realistic drama, which is hit-or-miss on its own. The acting is subpar for the most part making this film generally come off as having a comedic undertone, aside from a couple of scenes that were somewhat convincing horror-wise due to the stellar special effects. I’d recommend it to those into old-school slashers, or body horror flicks with supernatural twists, especially for the g(l)ory of the opening and camping segments. The haunted house one also had some decent effects, though the wraparound could’ve used better character development or just better characters in general. I’d give it a 6.5 or 7 perhaps.
Meanwhile, V/H/S 2 came out just one year later and sported a total of five stories this time around. The stories here feel more fleshed out in more ways than one, and the characters seem a tad more likeable, though most of them serve as little more than cannon fodder, since we all should know how these types of movies go. Wingard comes back as director for the introductory story as well as his frequent collaborator Simon Barrett in addition to Eduardo Sanchez, AKA one of the creators of the original Blair Witch film. The wraparound here revolves around a pair of private investigators who are looking into the disappearance of a local college student. The two make their way into the student’s residence and discover, oddly enough once again, a stack of V/H/S tapes, and proceed to watch them one by one.
The first tape shows a man who gets a type of eye transplant or surgery that enhances his vision in a few different ways. This procedure is apparently helpful at first, but it is found out that there may be some unwanted, disturbing and possibly life-threatening side effects to it. The second story or tape consists of a “ride in the park” gone wrong as it appears as though the world’s been overrun by mutant zombies. This one is unique in that it features the usage of a GoPro camera and inclusion of some pretty thought-provoking plot twists with the main character. Story three or ‘Safe Haven’ is about a news crew that is investigating the existence of a religious (and possibly Occult) cult in Indonesia. This one’s got some supernatural elements in the third act of the story and has some decent action sequences. The final story is about an alien abduction occurring during a slumber party. A small group of teens has to escape the alien beings attempting to abduct them at their farmhouse and even includes a dog, making it, along with the zombie sequence, two of my faves on V/H/S 2.
But on a more serious note, the alien and zombie ones were my faves because they felt the most suspenseful, had the strongest main characters, the zombie one had the best effects and gore, and the alien one felt claustrophobic at times, too. Overall, V/H/S 2 improves on its predecessor quite a bit in nearly every department there is. I’d rate it about an 8 out of 10.
V/H/S 3: Viral:
V/H/S 3: Viral is, right off the bat, my least fave one of the bunch. The effects, based upon most of the on-screen deaths presented (which this one has a metric ton of and possibly the most of the bunch, though that doesn’t save the movie), look even more low-budget than previously, with a lot of CGI where it doesn’t need to be. The writing also feels more haphazard, chaotic, and sometimes even inconsistent, especially near the end of it. Oh, and this one only has four segments in it.
Getting to the stories, the frame narrative or ‘wraparound’ shows a young man who is obsessed with viral videos and longs to film and upload one himself as he tries to save his girlfriend from an apparent kidnapping. As it turns out, the main character finds himself inside a truck seemingly being driven by itself and also another stack of V/H/S tapes along with some TV sets inside, as well. The sequence of recorded segments, or stories, begin to play.
Story 1 titled ‘Dante The Great’ demonstrates the phenomenon of a human being acquiring some pretty interesting and deadly superpowers. Essentially, an amateur magician discovers a cloak that was once owned by Houdini himself and dons it, which starts giving him super illusionist powers a la evil Criss Angel Mindfreak or some Harry Potter villain. Though this is a clear advantage for him and he becomes famous because of the cloak, the man also discovers that the cloak requires sacrifices in order to continue working; therefore he sets off on a magical murder spree of sorts to continue his illusionist ill-intent. The second story was honestly so convoluted and all-over-the-place crazy-mad that I had issues following it. It involves some parallel universes and inter-dimensional travel done by an inventor. There’s a lot of insanity here that threw me off and I felt, in the end, that it was a bit much. The final story is probably the “coolest” as it includes a lot of bad guy cultist slaying done by some skater kids and their boards. It doesn’t sound as good on paper, but the execution was satisfying and destructively entertaining. It takes place in Tijuana, is gory as all hell, includes cultist zombies and some demon monsters in the mix as well. It’s chaotic too, but in a better way…and the plot I thought was unique in a way.
The third installment of the series felt very rushed, more so than the other two, and was more miss than hit, aside from the skater/cultist story. One other story was too ridiculous and out-there to keep up with and remember, and the third tape with the magician had a neat concept, but I thought the acting and execution could’ve been a lot better. I don’t have too much to say about the wraparound, but it ended up being kinda meh all things considered. I’d give V/H/S 3: Viral a 4.5 or maybe a 5 at best.
All in all, while none of these flicks are what I’d consider being my faves as far as found-footage horror or heck even horror itself goes, there are some little things here and there that I appreciate, such as the utilization of different camera devices and filming styles (i.e. webcam, GoPro, etc.) as well as all the gore and supernatural elements. I really enjoyed quite a few segments, such as the zombie one in V/H/S 2 or the camping one in the first flick. Despite this, all of these movies also have some problems with them; whether it be the storytelling or acting in the first flick, the slow pacing in the second installment or the lackluster effects and subpar writing in the third one. Overall, though, I’d still consider checking them out if you’re at all a horror fanatic, especially of the found footage and supernatural/paranormal variety. There may be just enough fancy gore, cool elements and decent stories in there to entertain you for a good few hours or so.