V/H/S/85 - Fantastic Fest World Premiere
Director: David Bruckner, Scott Derrickson, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Natasha Kermani, Mike P. Nelson
Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, Jordan Belfi, Chelsey Grant, Alex Galick, Justen Jones
Written by: C. Robert Cargill, Zoe Cooper, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Scott Derrickson, Mike P. Nelson, Evan Dickson
Produced by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Josh Goldbloom, Brad Miska, James Harris, Chad Villella
Cinematography by: Alexander Chinnici, Nick Junkersfield
Original Score by: Stephen Lukach
Unveiled through a made-for-TV documentary, five tales of found footage horror emerge to take viewers on a terrifying journey into the grim underbelly of the 1980s.
From the first entry released back in 2012 right up to last year's 'V/H/S/99' the series has given both up and coming and established directors a creative sandbox to unleash the most terrifying and disgusting pieces of found footage horror they could conjure up to varying degrees of success. Now we have the release of 'V/H/S/85' which includes work from David Bruckner, Scott Derrickson, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Natasha Kermani and Mike P. Nelson. Lately the series has focussed on time specific entries such as 'V/H/S/94' which embraced the heyday of video culture in the early 90's and 'V/H/S/99' which honed in on the fears surrounding Y2K. 'V/H/S/85' is no different by leaning into the rise in popularity in home video entertainment.
Right from the get go you are immersed in the time period with the film's use of a 4:3 aspect ratio complete with grainy footage and video tracking. The film opens with David Bruckner's segment "Total Copy" which is a sci-fi body horror tale told in a news documentary format. Although it is a short opening it establishes a creepy atmosphere laced with mystery, acting as the perfect wrap around segment for the film. As we move from story to story we are slowly shown through a series of interviews that a terrible accident has occurred. It is a great device for keeping the viewer engaged and eager to know what is going to happen next. Another thing that it captures wonderfully is the look and feel of the moral panics and societal fears that the likes of these documentaries drove in the 80's as it looks just like an episode of something like '60 Minutes'.
The first full segment is Mike P. Nelson's "No Wake" which sees a group of teens going on a camping trip by the lake, which on the face of it is the set up of so many slasher films of the period. The segment embraces the clichés of the slasher by having the warning signs posted everywhere that they shouldn't be there along with some inexplicable occurrences. One thing it does well is establishing the characters in such a short space of time. They feel more fleshed out than ones you would get in a feature length film which is a credit to Nelson's writing. When things take a bloody turn it propels the action with some truly terrifying sound design coupled with some gleefully brutal gory effects that the series has been synonymous for. He returns with another segment tied to this later on called "Ambrosia” which is a brilliantly chaotic examination of the white middle class family of Reagan's America and obsessive gun culture which is short and brutal fun.
From here we move onto Gigi Saul Guerrero's segment "God of Death" which focuses on a morning news programme in Mexico City during the tragic earthquake of 1985. The opening is full of observational humour from the news presenter to the fashion on display lulling the viewer into a false sense of security before dragging them to a blood soaked hell. What Guerrero does so well here is slowly moving from the real life horrors of a natural disaster to something fantastical almost seamlessly allowing it to be more impactful. It is the ideal segment to maintain the momentum of the film.
Next up is the technophobic horror "TKNOGD" from Natasha Kermani which looks at a performance artist who awakens a demon from the virtual world. In one of the most atmospheric segments of not just this film but the series in general, there is a sense of unease throughout thanks to soundscape surrounding the segment. Zoe Cooper's script for this segment also does a good job at showing how technological fears from the 80's are just as relevant now as they were back then in terms of our over reliance and "worship" of them in what is a sharp and to the point segment.
The penultimate and best segment is Scott Derrickson's "Dreamkill". It is probably one of the most disturbing segments of the entire series as it opens with a POV murder on a super 8 camera that is like a cross between 'John Carpenter's Halloween' and 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer'. The mixture of the 911 call along with the atmospheric score makes it all a living nightmare and it is one of the best sequences Derrickson has put on film. Whilst the story surrounding it might seem a bit absurd you buy into it thanks to the impactful opening.
The film closes with Bruckner's conclusion to his "Total Copy" segment which is handled in an impressive one take, complete with a gruesome creature design. It pays off all of the pre-established mystery in a bloody and chaotic fashion and wraps up the film nicely, ending it with a brilliant final shot which feels like the summation of American media consumption in the 80's.
The period focussed editions of the 'V/H/S' series seems to have breathed new life into the franchise and 'V/H/S/85' show no signs of slowing down. In an age where films over rely on 80s nostalgia 'V/H/S/85' captures the period through the stories rather than beating you over the head with obvious references. It sticks to the gory yet fun roots of the series but also offers a lot of variety thanks to a diverse range of creative talents. With anthologies you sometimes expect there to be weak links with one or two underwhelming segments but that is not the case here as 'V/H/S/85' is one of the best entries in the series so far.
- Joseph McElroy
'V/H/S/85' received its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest '23 on September 22nd and will stream exclusively on Shudder on October 6th