V/H/S/99 - New Release Review
Directors: Flying Lotus, Maggie Levin, Tyler MacIntyre, Johannes Roberts, Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter
Starring: Verona Blue, Ally Ioannides, Stephanie Ray, Duncan Anderson
Written by: Zoe Cooper, Maggie Levin, Chris Lee Hill, Flying Lotus, Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter, Johannes Roberts, Tyler MacIntyre
Produced by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, David Bruckner, Jared Cook, Vanessa Winter, Josh Goldbloom, Brad Miska, John Negropontes, Chad Villella
Cinematography by: Alexander Chinnici, Alex Choonoo, Jared Cook, Nicholas Piatnik
Original Score by: Keeley Bumford Dresage
Witness a hellish vision of 1999, as social isolation, analog technology and disturbing home videos fuse into a nightmare of found footage savagery.
From 'Creepshow' to 'Cat's Eye' to 'Trick 'r Treat', anthological storytelling has always been intrinsically tied to the horror genre. The 'V/H/S' series stands as one of the most prolific in the genre with the release of its fifth film 'V/H/S/99'. Renowned for being a unique collection of found footage based stories that cover all kinds of sub genres such as ghost stories, monsters and even demonic possession. As with the other entries in the 'V/H/S' series each segment is directed by a mixture of up and coming and established directors in the genre who are given carte blanche to tell whatever horror story they want within the confines of the found footage setup.
Differing from other entries in the series the wrap-around segment in 'V/H/S/99' sees a young boy making a stop motion war/monster movie with his toy soldiers which makes a welcome call back to the previous entries cult monster Rat Man (Hail Raatma!). This framing device makes it feel like each story cuts into this kid's home movie, sparking feelings of nostalgia we all would have when there was that one video tape in the house that was used to tape the late night movie or an episode of a tv show you were going to miss by not being in the house.
The first story in the anthology comes from writer/director Maggie Levin and is titled 'Shredding'. It follows the simple premise of a teenage band breaking into an underground music venue where a tragic accident happened many years ago. As part of their homemade tv show R.A.C.K. Fucks Shit Up they intend to see if it is haunted while they play a show at the infamous venue. The footage the teens shoot for their show really taps into the MTV reality documentaries which followed bands on the road. It is a brilliant device utilised by Levin to establish the characters and their personalities in a short space of timeshowing the majority of the group to being a bunch of young, dumb and obnoxious teens. To the credit of the actors playing those roles, they make them feel really believable through their natural performances with the exception of the character of Ankur whose superstitions get the better of him. When the supernatural elements come into play it becomes a full on bloody rock n' roll fest akin to Black Roses making 'Shredding' the ideal start to the film.
Next up is the claustrophobic chiller from Johannes Roberts, 'Suicide Bid' where college freshman Lily (Alexia loannides) whose "suicide bid" of applying to only one sorority takes a dark turn during her initiation when she agrees to be buried alive. The thing that makes this segment really tick is the escalation of the terror where Lily's predicament leaves you constantly saying oh no every time her situation worsens in the coffin. The found footage element really works well at capturing the claustrophobia of her situation and loannides' performance is tremendous as you don't for a second believe that she isn't terrified.
The following segment (and one of my favourites) is 'Ozzy's Dungeon' from Flying Lotus. A demented take on a kids gameshow like 'Fun House' where the winner of the show gets granted whatever they wish for. When the game goes wrong the host is kidnapped to take part in a 'Saw' infused version of his own game. Whilst this in and of itself sounds like a wicked bit of fun the thing that really elevates this segment over the others are the performances, particularly from Steven Ogg and Sonya Eddy. Ogg really throws himself into the role of the slimy host bearing a constant shit eating grin. It is the kind of over the top performance that is perfectly in line with the tone of the material especially when the tables are turned on him and he enters cowardly lion mode. Opposite him, Eddy is every bit as good as her character's sadistic glee in their quest for vengeance for her daughter's injury on the show is a joy to watch before the story reaches its horrific Lovecraftian conclusion.
The wrap-around element of the film leads directly into the next story 'The Gawkers' which is helmed by Tylor MacIntyre. It follows a group of horny teenage boys whose perverted voyerism involving their next door neighbour takes a turn when it is revealed that she isn't the woman they hoped she would be. A crude cross between 'Rear Window' and 'American Pie' MacIntyre perfectly captures the "bro" culture of the era with the cast of teenagers leaning heavily into the seedy misogyny of the time whilst filming themselves as some kind of Jackass wannabes. MacIntyre's script co-written by Chris Lee Hill is simple yet effective at making each of the characters detestable (even though some of them seem like the exact same person) which makes their demise in the finale all the more enjoyable to watch.
The film ends with a bang with Vanessa and Joseph Winter's segment 'To Hell and Back' about a pair of videographers who on the cusp of the millennium are teleported to hell after a summoning ritual goes wrong. Guided by a demon called Mabel they find themselves in a race against time to get home. With this segment and 'Deadstream' under their belts Vanessa and Joseph Winter are fast becoming the Sam Raimi of found footage horror. In the short space of time they are given they pack in plenty of scares, humour and gore that makes 'To Hell and Back' an absolute riot. Joseph Winter and Archelaus Crisanto have great chemistry as the bickering videographers and Melanie Stone is devilishly brilliant as their demonic guide. The main reason why this segment is the best of the bunch is because the characters are the most likeable and the Winter's realisation of hell on screen. A labyrinth of jagged rocks that seems to go on for an eternity it packs an incredible amount of scope which is all the more impressive when you factor in the film's low budget.
Like a lot of anthology horrors the main thread that ties each story together in 'V/H/S/99' sees a character/groups of characters messing with something they shouldn't be messing with, resulting in them getting their comeuppance in a very gruesome way. Whilst the found footage element works better for some stories over others (with 'Suicide Bid' and 'To Hell and Back' being the chief examples) it doesn't prevent the film from being ideal viewing for this time of year. It is easily one of, if not the best entries in the series so far leaving you eagerly anticipating next year's follow up 'V/H/S/85'.
- Joseph McElroy
'V/H/S/99' is available to stream exclusively on Shudder on October 20th