V/H/S/94 takes us back in time...
When it’s done well, found footage horror films can be truly spine-tingling affairs. Shaky camera work, dimly lit locations, gratuitous gore and a plethora of opportunities for jump scares everytime the camera does a 180° turn have become synonymous with modern horror, starting with The Blair Witch Project, and then popularised even more so with Paranormal Activity.
Sometimes, there’s just too many ideas for ‘found-footage’ horror films floating around to turn them all into feature length films, so in 2012, Brad Miska came up with V/H/S, an anthology of interconnected horror short films from various upcoming directors within the genre. 9 years later, the 4th installment of the franchise, V/H/S/94 takes us back in time with a series of short films that in some ways show that this form of filmmaking may still have some scares left in the tank.
V/H/S/94 utilises 5 directors for the 5 shorts (one being the overarching story binding the VHS tapes together). Thankfully for the most part, there is enough uniqueness within each short to distinguish them from one another, and a lot of that is due to each director's own visual flair. However, at the same time, there is only so much originality you can add to ‘found-footage’. Every jump scare or moment of tension usually comes from a wide-angle shot of a dark room, with the camera flailing about until something enters the frame. By the time the film starts heading towards its second half, this element can grow a little tiresome.
The premise is set up by a SWAT team raiding an abandoned compound in which their investigation involves dismantling a violent cult. Upon their arrival, the SWAT team finds stacks of TVs and VHS tapes (amongst the odd body part or two), and decide to view them in order to help take the cult down.
The first 2 shorts (Storm Drain and The Empty Wake) feel incredibly similar in tone, even though in their own rights, are decently enjoyable and harken more towards traditional horror vibes. But their familiarities to other found footage creep-fests unfortunately don’t help them stand out from the rest.
The third short (The Subject) definitely changes up the pacing with more frantic action and a sci-fi flair that breathes a bit more life into the film overall. The final short (Terror) was my personal favourite, both directing and plot wise. It’s paced incredibly well, drawing you in as the insanity increases of time and caps off the movie with genuine mayhem.
This is the first film in the V/H/S franchise to properly interlink all of the short films, rather than just have them be standalone vignettes. Even though the link is loosely tied in towards the end, the small tidbits thrown in throughout the film, mixed with the mystery of what is connecting them all had me intrigued all the way through.
It’s always going to be the case that not every short is amazing, and it seems that the producers are aware of that, as each short gradually increased in quality and entertainment as the film went on.
Storm Drain opens the film with a news reporter tracking the story of a ‘Rat-Man’ living in the sewers of LA. Following up next is The Empty Wake, in which a funeral home director must watch over a casket at a wake that has no one in attendance. Halfway through the film we’re introduced to The Subject, a POV short that tells the story of a woman who has been experimented on by a mad (killer) scientist. And finally, V/H/S/94 closes out with a bunch of God-fearing rednecks who seem to be preparing for a violent mission on behalf of the Lord himself.
Each short has a fun premise, and for the most part executes equally on the thrills and the entertainment.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Everyone in this film understands they’re in the third sequel of the series. That’s not to discredit anyone, because for the tone this movie is going for, each actor and their characters fits the bill well. It’s the perfect amount of horror movie tropes, while not taking the material too seriously. The standouts of the film are definitely the believable performances of the psycho group of church-going cultists in Terror, in which the characters take on their violent doings with the utmost sincerity, in turn creating many hilarious moments for the viewer at home observing their absurdity.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
In a roundtable interview for ComicCon@Home, producer Josh Goldbloom stated that some of the filmmakers opted to use video cameras over digital, to add to the authenticity of tapes from the 90s, and this really works in favour of the film. The grain and markings on the film don’t feel tacked on for the sake of it.
Some of the CGI does let the film down at points, especially during The Subject, which is the more CGI heavy of all the shorts. It looks poorly rendered and even though these shorts are set in the 90s, the special effects probably didn’t have to look the same. On the flip side, the practical effects and gore are up the horror standard set today.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The sound design is great. Focusing on the grainy audio of video-tape recording in the 90s adds plenty of atmosphere to the film, and it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel overbearing or cheap. The static of the camera or the humming of tapes rolling is a fun addition overall!
While V/H/S/94 isn’t the strongest entry into the franchise, the films ability to have a load of gore-filled fun with each short film and the technicals aspects making it feel like an authentic 90s found footage horror shows that there is still life left in this series, as long as the keep getting the right talent to make interesting horror shorts.