Harking back to the 70's and 80's anthology films (Creepshow, Amicus' Asylum etc), V/H/S is the story of a group of young troublemakers who make their way to a seemingly empty house to find and steal a video tape. On arrival at the house they discover a dead body surrounded by video tapes and 'snow' filled monitors and proceed to search through the pile of tapes and around the rest of the house to find the one tape they had been sent to find. As the rest of the group search the attic and basement, a few stay behind and play some of the tapes which we the audience then get to see the content of. The whole thing is shot Blair Witch-style with hand-held cameras and every story is therefore seen through the point-of-view of the camera holder. This oft-used technique has proved rather hit-or-miss of late and is one which has to be done very well to succeed otherwise it just leaves the viewer with a headache and motion sickness.
I came away from this film with some fairly mixed feelings. The framing story (the search for the allusive VHS tape) really serves no purpose than to allow the introduction to each of the mini-stories in between and wasn't all that scary or enjoyable as a stand-alone piece. The five mini-stories range from average to down-right terrifying and thoroughly enjoyable and are detailed as such below:
The first tale of five concerns 3 friends who are planning to hit the town and bring back an unsuspecting woman to help them film their own porn film. One of the guys (the most reluctant of the three) is wearing a pair of glasses with a camera built into them (I like the fact that this is filmed at a time when glasses cams exist, but everything is still stored on VHS ... anyway) to capture the sordid event as it takes place. After visiting a few bars, they end up in a club where they pick up 2 girls; one loud and very drunk, the other very shy and quiet and take them back to their hotel room. They very soon realise that this was a big mistake and, as they always say about murderers on the news 'it's always the quiet ones you have to watch!'.
In my opinion, Amateur Night is the best of the five films. It's tense, pretty scary at times, beautifully acted (especially by the amazing Hannah Fierman) and has some moments of beautifully terrifying effects which will leave you shocked and amazed that the film's creators could create something so well made with what must have been a small budget. The major down side to this segment is that it's difficult to see any of the other sections matching up to this furious beginning and, sadly, for the most part, they don't.
Second Honeymoon follows Sam and Stephanie as they travel on vacation, staying at a hotel at night and visiting sites during the day. In my opinion this was the weakest of the five stories. There are one or two creepy moments in the hotel room but other than that it falls pretty flat. Even the twist ending doesn't do much to save this vignette and will probably be quickly forgotten by most viewers.
Tuesday the 17th
A ridiculous title and an obvious nod to what is to come, as 4 young people (a jock, a geek, a sexy blonde and a quiet dark haired girl) head out to a remote spot in the woods to swim in the lake and get high. A tale is told of a killer who once lurked in the woods and was never caught and, slowly but surely, each of the teens are picked off one by one. This section is very much filmed in a tongue-in-cheek style and actually has a few decent gore effects but still falls fairly flat out of the pack.
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger
The fourth section of the movie and personally, my second favourite after Amateur Night. A young girl has a number of Skype conversations with her lover who lives in another State. She tells him that she is hearing strange noises during the night and thinks her apartment might be haunted. She has a strange lump in her arms and feels something under her skin. We watch as she Skype calls him each evening and takes him (and us) around her apartment as she hears strange noises.
This section was very much in the Paranormal Activity vein, with many of the same scare techniques, but despite its obvious nod to PA, it still works well. The Emily character is played beautifully by Helen Rogers and we feel her fear as she becomes more obsessed with the noises she hears.
I must admit that the only bit that lost me was the very end of the segment where the director has added a super-twist, but it was obviously over this reviewer's head. It only made sense after going away and reading about the scene and then re-watching. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who didn't get it, but on further reading, it suddenly becomes clear and is actually a clever ending.
That's the date of Halloween, for any non-American readers! 4 lads, in fancy dress (one with a NannyCam in his costume!?) go to a house for a Halloween party but somehow end up at the wrong address and stumble upon a Cult sacrifice.
This final segment begins a little slowly but very quickly all hell breaks loose and some terrifying and clever effects are used to show the arriving demons. Although this segment wasn't the best, its use of effects goes some way to redeeming it and allows the sections to end on a semi-high.
Overall, I would say that V/H/S really works because of 2 or 3 of the sections standing out and being far better than the rest of the film. As an idea, it's clever and interesting and must have been successful as V/H/S 2 followed soon after (not seen yet, but will watch and review shortly). Is it worth watching? I have to say yes, mainly for the Amateur Night and Emily sections which pull the film to a whole new level. As far as the overall production goes, as a low-budget indie production, it's one to put on the list for a dark night if you're after some good scares and some silly low budget bloodshed.