What I'm Watching: V/H/S
Can I keep up this pace of one new review a day for the entire month?? Let me tell you, if I don't keep doing anthologies, it's a strong maybe! But these movies take a lot of extra time with more stories to cover.
ANYWAYS, let's kick this off with V/H/S, an older movie, but one I never got around to, because y'all know I get sick of found footage from time to time, and this movie hit JUST as one of those periods really crashed in on me. But I did get around to it this weekend, and while it has the dual curse of found footage AND an anthology movie, let's see how thinks shake out!
Tape 56 - Our wraparound story, and easily the best looking of the found footage movies I've seen, because it looks so bad. This FEELS like people who have no idea what they're doing with a camera filming stuff, and that actually brings some reality to it. It was helped even more by randomly cutting to scenes of other bits on the tape that got partially recorded over.
The story here is a bunch of mayhem seekers who get paid for causing chaos, get hired to rob a place for a single video tape, break in, and the tapes they find are the other stories we watch. Now THAT is how you do a wrapper.
On the downside, gratuitous boobs almost immediately as they assault some girl in the parking garage and bits of a sex tape, did kinda turn me off, but it does paint these guys as jerks, so there's that.
I was surprised that the wraparound story ended before the final VHS tape. And just the kind of twist I like. Overall, the wrapper was fun, and fed in well to the videos we watched. It served its purpose and had some good scares and twists along the way.
Amateur Night - Oh look, college assholes with video glasses. The first story follows a group of frat boys who go to pick up girls at a bar, and have things go spectacularly wrong. It once again falls into the trope of major jerks getting their comeuppance, but at least there's one nice guy amongst them, and he's the guy behind the camera.
Something about the glasses does not work for me. I think because they try too hard to show it's not supposed to be a typical camera (But I'm pretty sure it actually is) that's doing the filming. It's a minor quibble, but it does break the reality early on. Fortunately, you're worrying too much about the murdering later on to worry about the camera, and that fades away.
And what's this doing on a videotape??
BUT, while I have issues with the tech and style I do like the story being told, of the cautionary tale of these college douchebags picking up girls at a bar, being assholes, and having it come back to bite them on the hand when one of the girls turns out to be some kind of monster. It's a classic story, and plays off common fears, although it's usually the women who have to worry about guys turning out to be figurative monsters. A nice change of pace to have the woman destroy the guys instead.
Also, the effects are really good on the creature, super creepy and unique, aided by the girl having a unique, unsettling look in the first place.
Second Honeymoon - A couple on their honeymoon but then late at night, some girl knocks on their motel door and wants a ride someplace, but that's pretty weird so they continue to go about their lives.
But then things take a turn for the worse when they go to sleep, and I presume the same woman sneaks into their room, starts using their camera to film them and messing with their stuff.
It's a sloooow story, but it dribbles enough of a sense of dread with the mysterious stranger filming them in their beds, that it's not a bad slow. And when things don't just start going bad at a certain point, but suddenly, violently, and very brutally going deadly wrong is a good way to pay off the build up. You don't see it coming quite as hard and fast as the movie throws at you. It's also got a great twist that I honestly don't think works if you think about it too hard, but it's a good moment regardless.
Tuesday the 17th - Ahh, we have reached the 'four friends wander into the woods' portion of our viewing. I knew this had to come along eventually. It starts off with the usual car ride antics, then wandering through the woods, and thankfully weird shit starts happening with the camera as it starts flickering and showing dead bodies where none are.
Now, that's cool, but, "Durrr, what's wrong with this camera??" is not the right response if you're seeing bloody corpses. That's the response you give when there's random static or glitches that are abnormal. NOT BODIES.
Fortunately, the camera starts picking up human shaped visual glitches that start killing the campers, and it's great. I love the idea of something only cameras can see, and it makes found footage have a point beyond cheap and easy film making. And bonus, it's really creepy and off putting when you see these glitches garbling the video and only giving glimpses of whatever it is.
The short provides little to no answers what this creepy audio/visual glitch is, and I'm of two minds on that. Something like this cries out for some sort of expansion since it's a new thing and you can't just go, "Okay, Bigfoot!", but the mystery of it also enhances the horror. I'd lean more towards a little something more, but it's still a good, solid, terrifying story, as far as it goes.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily - And how do you follow up kids in the woods? With the new found footage trend, Skype chats! Which uh...isn't this called VHS?? Ehhh. Anyways, this one's about Emily, chatting with a guy friend, and freaking out over bruises and noises she's been hearing in her apartment.
While we once again break the VHS conceit, it IS a good device for the story, where Emily calls her friend up when the weird stuff starts happening again, so he can watch and advise, and be generally terrified for her, in our place.
And of course, once you start seeing the shadows move behind her while she's talking, it's pretty much straight up classic, spine tingling horror. It's a great use of the placement of a laptop camera.
"Maybe it was a breeze or something!" To paraphrase George Clooney in From Dusk Til Dawn...breezes do not run by dressed in t-shirts, I don't give a crap how breezy they are!!
Emily continues to investigate the weird shit in her apartment, until it finally comes for her. And oh, there's a wonderful little twist in the tale that I won't spoil.
Overall, a very effective story, that used its storytelling tools well, with some great scares.
10/31/98 - It's no surprise that this is a Halloween story, with that title. A couple friends get dressed up and head to a party, only to discover the place is pretty sparse on the party goers, and is all but empty.
They assume they're early, but fortunately it's more than that, because otherwise it would be a pretty boring story!
The gang takes a long time exploring the house, and eventually find a ritual up in the attic that they think is part of the festivities. Until that goes horribly wrong, and people start being thrown around and into the ceiling.
They save the girl in the ritual, and that's when the spook factor shoots through the roof. And I mean that almost literally. The stuff that starts flying around, hands reaching out of walls...SOME of it is cheesy, like a random flock of crows going across the hall from one room to the next feels silly, but the rest of it is GREAT. Seeing stuff like the house closing itself up to keep them from using doors is awesome, and not the sort of stuff found footage usually bothers with, and it brings this story to a whole other level.
And that's pretty much all the stories, with a few comments of mine on their particular tales. As you can probably tell, I really REALLY enjoyed this. Unlike another recent anthology movies, this was A) a proper anthology, with the style done right. Each story was given enough time to actually tell a story, and while they did kinda stop, they still feel complete, and leave you with that good kind of wanting. They do sometimes mess with the idea of this being on VHS, but I can forgive that for some good scares.
I may be late to this movie, but I definitely give V/H/S a very high recommendation. It uses the anthology format very well, and does some smart and clever tricks with the whole found footage genre that I haven't seen very often. A three year old movie is more refreshing to the genre than a lot of more recent efforts.
The best part is that none of these stories are clunkers. So often that happens that there is one or two stories that fizzle, but every one of the videos in V/H/S is thrilling, with good chills and scares. Loved it!