V/H/S Review: Horror on Videotape

In V/H/S, a mysterious man (cause we never get to meet him) hires a group of men to steal a tape from an old house for a not quite disclosed amount of money. It’s a good thing they’re not too bright, because anyone else would’ve left once they discovered the dead body in the room upstairs surrounded by videotapes. But maybe it’s better they don’t. These men aren’t great examples of humanity, they spend their time pulling up unsuspecting women’s shirts for a porn site and breaking stuff in abandoned buildings. This lack of empathy for the characters is something that carries through all of the segments in V/H/S, with some exceptions to be discussed later. So one man stays to guard the dead guy and go through the tapes, while the others search the rest of the house. Even what they’re supposed to steal is vague: the guy who sent them said “they’d know it when they saw it.” Sure, I’d pay people and expect them to know what the hell that meant, cause hey, it’s not like there’s a room full of tapes and more in the cellar . . . Oh wait, yes it is! Any kind of emotional connection viewers might have been able to forge with these characters is undermined by the fact that when some of them disappear, none of the other characters seem to care or sometimes even notice. But anyway, on to the “found footage” tapes.

Amateur Night, the first segment, is one of the best ones, and is tied with the last one for being the gem of the collection. I’d have traded a bunch of the “somewhat nice guy looks at himself wearing glasses with a hidden camera in them” for a lot more story. The guys head to a bar, where they meet a bunch girls but only take home two, an attractive drunk girl and a strange girl who only says one thing and is totally attached to the guy with the glasses. Once in the apartment, we’re treated to watching one of the nice guy’s drunk friend try to have sex with the pretty girl, who passes out before anything can really happen. While he’s not creepy enough to continue when she’s passed out, he is enough of an ass to move in on the strange girl, despite her initial uneasiness with the idea. Then the other drunk guy decides it should be a threesome, and all hell breaks loose. I won’t spoil the ending, but it does demonstrate graphically why you perhaps should leave weird girls that only say one thing and have oddly huge eyes at the bar where you found them, or at least don’t attempt to sex them up and then be shocked at what happens. I do wish the glasses-cam had been a little better quality so that the ending scene was a bit clearer, it would have rocked so much harder than it did. While there wasn’t enough good story for a whole movie, I’d love to see the interesting elements extracted and expanded upon.

Second honeymoon follows a couple on vacation, and it took a long time for anything interesting to happen. They stop at a hotel and are getting ready for bed when someone comes to the door. The husband goes and answers it and comes back to tell his wife that it’s a girl looking for a ride in the morning. They go to sleep, and someone sneaks into their room, despite the locked hotel room door. She doesn’t hurt the couple despite menacing the wife while she sleeps and dunking the man’s toothbrush in the toilet. The first problem with this setup is that she somehow bypassed a locked door, and then she’s walking around in a very small space and doesn’t wake them up. This one features the most sympathetic character in the likeable husband, but it drags as we watch the couple visit locations and argue about stuff. This one ends abruptly and leaves the viewer wondering how exactly the script got to the endpoint that it did.

Tuesday the 17th, is a teens-vs-killer-in-the-woods tale involving a killer that’s not so easily seen. For the most part it’s so very horror-generic and not well-acted that it’s hard to enjoy, though there’s at least one interesting twist that could’ve been better developed. It also left me with a few questions about how the killer and the girl interacted on their first meeting, but I’m not so sure I’m interested enough to watch her go through it. This was another section where the characters were all unlikeable, even the smart nice guy, if only because he was so cliche.

In The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger a girl and her boyfriend communicate by webcam since they live far away from each other. It made me wonder why you would transfer digital video to a VHS tape, but if you’ve gone this far through the movie you might as well not question it too closely. Emily has a problem in her apartment: she thinks it’s haunted. She enlists her boyfriend to help her figure out what’s going on, carrying her laptop around like a camera in Paranormal Activity. I liked this one a lot, though I think here could’ve been a bit more of an explanation of what exactly was happening. This one could’ve used a few more minutes of development, but there are some awesomely gruesome scenes that washed the bad taste of the last segment out of my mouth.

10/31/98 is the other real reason to watch V/H/S. A group of guys, who seem a ton more likeable than most of the other people we’ve met during our time with these tapes, are going to Halloween party. They find the house where the party’s supposed to be, but the downstairs is empty. So like any good guests, they go looking through the rest of the house. They hear chanting in the attic, and they go and find a group of men doing something strange and possibly harmful to a woman tied up to some of the beams. They rescue her, and escape the house, but they soon find that no good deed goes unpunished . . .

V/H/S ends up being a real mixed bag. There’s enough good stuff here to make the movie one most horror fans would watch, though it might be one to rent first to determine whether it’s one they need to own.