The 400-Word Review: V/H/S
By Sean Collier
October 12, 2012
Call it When Horror Formats Collide. In V/H/S, the short-film anthology method (mostly) of yore — think Creepshow — meets the found-footage craze jump-started by Paranormal Activity. A quintet of violent shorts are tied together by a loose frame story (a group of hoodlums, tasked with finding a particular VHS cassette, find themselves in a house of horrors and meticulous rewinding.)
To separate itself from its gimmick, then, V/H/S had to meet two criteria. First, go all-out; we’ve had plenty of shaky-camera frights in the past few years, we’ll need to up the ante. Second, actually have something to say.
And surprisingly, V/H/S is up to the task.
Brutality and ultra-violence are present in spades, and while I’m not a fan of gore for gore’s sake, after four years of watching doors close via nannycam, it’s refreshing to see some folks simply get ripped apart. All six tales (counting the frame story) are disturbing and suspenseful; while they do vary in strength of concept, all keep the viewer engaged.
And — though I’ll admit it may be accidental — there’s something of a thematic thread uniting the shorts. In each, the role of a female character is reversed, twisted or otherwise divergent from a horror trope. In “Amateur Night”, a stoic woman picked up from a bar turns out to be a particularly extreme breed of sexual predator; in “Tuesday the 17th”, a young woman returns willingly to the scene of the crime for revenge; in “10/31/98”, the damsel in distress might actually be the boogeyman.
Since each segment was written, directed and produced by different crews, there’s a chance this could be coincidence. But there are so many references to the typical role of women in horror (and narrative commentary thereon) in V/H/S that it seems deliberate. Imagine that: a horror film with wall-to-wall nudity and gore that makes a subtle, progressive and metatextual comment just for the hell of it.
Film theory aside, V/H/S is an effective and varied anthology ready-made for hardcore genre fans. Timid viewers will undoubtedly find the depravity a bit extreme, so the film may not find success with general audiences; for dyed-in-the-wool aficionados of mayhem, though, it’s a must-see. If you’re old enough to have owned a copy of Evil Dead on the titular medium, V/H/S is for you.