★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
V/H/S/99, the latest installment in the V/H/S horror anthology franchise, delivers plenty of the gory and the gruesome along with a nice balance of chills and chuckles.
Directed by Maggie Levin, Johannes Roberts, Flying Lotus, Tyler MacIntyre, and Joseph and Vanessa Winter
V/H/S/99, the latest installment in the V/H/S horror anthology franchise, is rife with late 1990s references. No surprise there, except that only one segment deals with Y2K. What matters here, though, is what handheld cameras during that era were used for, and how the filmmakers recreate that usage or stories, settings, and music that feel authentic to that time — and of course, how creepy or scary of segments they can deliver.
Maggie Levin (Into the Dark: “My Valentine”) helms and scripts the first segment, “Shredding,” which begins with something that really irked me about 1990s youth pop culture, Jackass-inspired videos. A pop-punk band into skating and insulting their drummer go not merely to investigate, but to desecrate an abandoned former rock club that burned down, resulting in the deaths of the headlining band members who played that night, who were trampled to death by fleeing patrons. Levin certainly makes most of the group members instantly unlikable so that we can’t wait to see those jerks get theirs, but the horror payoff isn’t very original, giving a nod to EC Comics’ horror titles and Return of the Living Dead.
“Suicide Bid” from writer/director Johannes Roberts (The Strangers: Prey At Night; Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City) is one of the two stronger efforts of the anthology for me. With a classic sorority hazing set-up, college frosh Lily (Ally Ioannides) finds herself having to spend the night buried alive in a coffin after the sorority sisters tell her the legend of the ghost of a girl who previously died by the same hazing method. Claustrophobes and arachnophobes, beware this chilling, terrific segment!
Kids of the nineties and their parents who watched shows like Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple should get a kick out of “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” directed by Flying Lotus (Kuso), who cowrote the screenplay with Zoe Cooper. A young girl has her leg mangled on an episode of the titular TV show, and her mother (Sonya Eddy, unforgettable as Rebecca DeMornay on Seinfeld) seeks revenge. This segment was about to lose me as it bordered on torture porn, but then it took a sharp turn into bonkers land and I was flabbergasted. The ending of the segment makes it well worth a watch.
More prank-playing jerks abound in “The Gawkers,” directed and written by Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls; Into the Dark: “Good Boy”), as a group of teen boys go horndoggy over the beautiful new neighbor of two of the guys, and they coax the younger nerd sibling into installing spyware on her computer. They get the topless shot they hope for, but they get a lot more than that when she discovers what they are doing. Some CGI effects show the budgetary limitations of the segment, but points awarded for the story’s reveal.
How much viewers enjoy “To Hell and Back,” my other favorite segment after “Suicide Bid,” may depend on how much they liked cowriters/codirectors Joseph and Vanessa Winters’ previous feature Deadstream, as this takes the basic premise of that film and moves the location from a haunted house to Hell itself. Two friends (Joseph Winters and Archelaus Crisanto) are hired to film an occult ritual but find themselves sent to the underworld by accident. This segment boasts my favorite special effects and makeup work of the anthology, and the combination of creepy and comedy works well.
Overall, V/H/S/99 is a solid portmanteau, delivering plenty of the gory and the gruesome along with a nice balance of chills and chuckles, and what didn’t work for me (including jackassery, torture porn elements, and some of the characterization) may hit home with others. For those concerned about getting motion sickness from the shaky camera work that many found footage films are well known for, the cinematography only bothered me during “Shredding” and seemed more steady after that.
Review by Joseph Perry
V/H/S/99 screens as part of Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which takes place from October 13th–20th, 2022. For more information, visit https://brooklynhorrorfest.com/.
V/H/S/99 will be released exclusively on Shudder on October 20th, 2022. It will be available on Shudder US, Shudder CA, Shudder UKI and Shudder ANZ.