James Jay Edwards

V/H/S/94 Shows the Fatigue of a Fourth Installment

(V/H/S/94; courtesy of Shudder)

James Jay Edwards reviews V/H/S/94, a found footage anthology horror film and the fourth installment in the V/H/S series, screenplay by David Bruckner. (Shudder

 

Found footage movies are a dime a dozen. Because they’re cheap to make, just about anyone can do it. And just about anyone does. The good ones, however, are few and far between. Cannibal Holocaust was the original faux-documentary horror film. The Blair Witch Project, for better and worse, solidified the subgenre as a valid filmmaking style. The Paranormal Activity movies further encouraged studios to pursue the trend.

In 2012, the first V/H/S movies showed that the subgenre can translate to the anthology format. And V/H/S/94, the fourth movie in the series, shows that the subgenre combined with that format has legs.

 

(V/H/S/94; courtesy of Shudder)

Set in, of course, 1994, V/H/S/94 opens with a police raid on a suspected drug den. Inside, the officers find a bunch of people who seem to have had their eyes ripped out while watching videotapes. The tapes are what make up the content of the film.

First up is “Storm Drain,” written and directed by Chloe Okuno (who made the short films Slut and Full Circle, about a news crew covering a story about a “rat man” who reportedly lives in the sewers of the city.

 

(V/H/S/94; courtesy of Shudder)

Next is “The Empty Wake,” directed by Simon Barrett (Séance) from a script he wrote with David Bruckner (The Night House), about a young funeral worker who, for some reason, has to work an overnight wake in a funeral parlor in the middle of a terrible storm.

Then comes “The Subject” from Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You), about a crazy scientist whose lab, which he uses to conduct cruel and horrible experiments on people, is raided by a military unit that has no idea what it is in for.

 

(V/H/S/94; courtesy of Shudder)

And finally, there’s “Terror,” from writer/director Ryan Prows (Lowlife), about a militia group of “patriots” that winds up with a captive who is a little more than they can handle.

And it’s all tied together by the recurring police raid story that was written and directed by Knives and Skin’s Jennifer Reeder.

 

(V/H/S/94; courtesy of Shudder)

V/H/S/94 sticks faithfully to the concept of the V/H/S movies, with segments that organically exploit found footage and documentary-style filmmaking techniques, giving the entire production a very low budget feel. Which is exactly why studios love found footage—it’s cheap. But with V/H/S/94, it looks it. Each story has visual effects that are passable, but only because of the low-fi camera work. It’s not seen just through the VHS filter, but through a 1994 VHS filter, so the film gets away with images that would stick out like a sore thumb in high def.

But the visuals are not really the problem with V/H/S/94. The whole thing just feels tired. The stories seem to have evolved past being scary and have trespassed into corny territory. Barrett, Tjahjanto, and Bruckner are all veterans of the V/H/S franchise, and all have done better work in previous entries. Each story from V/H/S/94 starts off strong, but eventually gets silly. This may make the movie fun, but one gets the feeling that this is not what the filmmakers are going for. The schlock takes the horror right out of it, so what’s left is just another found-footage B-movie. And most found footage movies do, in fact, suck.

 


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Now, to be fair, V/H/S/94 does not suck. But it’s a departure from the other films in the series. The segments are not nearly as creative, the scares are mild (or, in some cases, nonexistent), and even the wraparound feels convenient and undercooked. With the exception of Timo Tjahjanto’s section, there isn’t any real voice or vision to any of the shorts. The V/H/S franchise can do better. And it has. And it probably will in the future since these movies are so cheap to make. But, for now, V/H/S/94 is a wart on the face of the series.

V/H/S/94 streams on Shudder beginning October 6th.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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