The original V/H/S movie back in 2012 was one of the early pioneers that helped resurrect the horror anthology format. Since then we have had two further instalments (V/H/S/2 and V/H/S/Viral) with the latest chapter, V/H/S/94, having just debuted at Fantastic Fest. Those unable to attend the festival don’t have long to wait though as V/H/S/94 will be landing on Shudder on 6th October, just in time for spooky season. But will it be worth a Halloween watch?
In short, the answer is yes. As with so many anthology films, your enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on how you find the short stories contained within. V/H/S/94 follows standard practice and features segments that cover as many types and styles of genre cinema as they can. The mission therein is to offer something for everyone, however, there is no guarantee that there will be something to please all viewers. This is especially true in this instance as there are fewer sections on offer; only five even if you include the wraparound story.
Typically the structure of a V/H/S film has a couple more components, each one being a bite-sized slice of scares. In V/H/S/94, with just four main tales stretched across the hundred minute run time, each section is granted around twenty minutes to tell its story. This extra time works for some of the stories, but bloats others. The extended screen time means that each story presented follows a three act structure. Previous highlights of V/H/S installments have gone all in from minute one, the shorter run-time meaning that the good stuff has to get underway immediately. Here, the longer time allows breathing space, but in doing so means that there is a real ‘peak and troughs’ feel to most of the segments. Many start slow, take their time building up, and then cut off after a big revelation. This approach works for some, but not all, and a couple of them drag at an almost tedious pace.
As the name suggests, this version is set within the nineties. This time the setting of each story logistically helps traverse issues of budget and technology, whilst also allowing the film to embrace its eponymous celluloid. Each piece has been crafted to look like its time period and the ‘tapes’ have been painstakingly treated to include plenty of tracking distortion and audio drop-outs to emulate the sense of it having aged. This attention to detail occasionally veers a little close to being distracting, the tracking in the wraparound story especially feels a little too overzealous.
Following tradition, each new video is directed by a different filmmaker, the talent this time includes Chloe Okuno (Slut), Ryan Prows (Lowlife), Jennifer Reeder (Knives & Skin), Simon Barrett (Seance) and Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You Too). Favourite stories will differ from viewer to viewer, but for this writer it was Okuno’s opening twisted tale Storm Drain, and penultimate chapter The Subject from Tjahjanto that have stayed in my mind. Storm Drain follows a news reporter and her cameraman as they venture into the sewers in search of a mythic creature known as Ratman. It’s a tense and terrifying journey through the underbelly of both the city and society, the pair encountering the city’s forgotten-about homeless population and features some excellent practical effects. Tjahjanto’s The Subject brings in some much needed sci-fi body horror elements and throws everything in the filmmakers arsenal at the screen.
The nightmare fuel that is presented includes an enigmatic beast, dismembered zombies, high-tech experiments, and some undead bloodsuckers. None of them quite capture the imagination in the way that the siren in the first film’s Amatuer Night did (it spawned its own feature-length film), but there is plenty to elicit the odd squeal or two. What really holds the entirety of the V/H/S/94 together though is the glee with which all the filmmakers throw blood and guts at the screen. The gore gags and practical effects are face-melting insanity, all squelchy sound effects and gnarled flesh, that will satisfy even the pickiest of gore hounds.
V/H/S/94 doesn’t quite capture that same spark that the original V/H/S ignited, but does prove that there is still life in this anthology series. A bloody and grunge tinged collection of stories that offer a little taste of some exciting voices working in the horror world whilst at the same time creating some perfect Halloween party viewing.
The V/H/S franchise returns with a jaunt back in time, one that throws all the gore it can onto the screen and proves that there is still life in this series.
V/H/S/94 arrives on Shudder on 6th October 2021.
This review first appeared on THN.