The V/H/S/ series has been around for a few years now (eleven to be exact!) and in that time we’ve had six mainline entries, two spin-off movies, and even a television series. The anthology format means that whilst the title stays the content can be hugely different each time. Whilst this does mean that viewers are able to discover new names within the horror industry they may not have been aware of before, it also means you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get when you start a V/H/S/ film off.
The latest entry in the series, V/H/S/99 tries to stick to a theme, however, and it seems like there may be some kind of indication as to the types of movies you’re going to be getting. According to the blurb for the movie, the short stories presented here are set in the year 1999, centring on the final days of analogue, and the paranoia surrounding Y2K. That feels like a bit of an oversell, as other than one of the stories presented within being set on the eve of the millennium, there’s nothing here that necessarily needed them to be set in the times they are, and they only share a vague connection to the year 1999.
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V/H/S/99 opens by perhaps putting its weakest foot forward, as the first segment in the movie is the least interesting of the five. ‘Shredding’, written and directed by Maggie Levin, follows a group of four teens who are trying to make both a band, and either a really odd documentary film about their band, or a Jackass style prank and stunt show; it’s not entirely clear what their deal is. The four teens head to an old building where a band called Bitch Cat died being trampled to death during a fire. Breaking into the condemned building, the teens discover that they might not be the only things inside.
‘Shredding’ is the opening act of the film, and it was my least favourite of the five presented. It takes a while to really get into things, and the constant antics from the teens, and the inter-cutting of footage from the band CKY, featuring Ryan Dunn, leads it to feeling very disjointed. By the time anything horrific actually starts to happen you’ve either failed to connect with the characters, or thoroughly dislike them. This segment does contain some pretty decent practical effects and make-up, but that alone doesn’t do much for it.
The second segment, ‘Suicide Bid’, by Johannes Roberts, tells the story of a college girl who’s desperate to join the most popular sorority on her campus. She makes a suicide bid, where she only applies to the one sorority, and it seems to pay off and the girls invite her out for a night of partying. It’s then that she gets hazed by them, as they tell her that she has to go through a specific ritual in order to join; she needs to spend the night buried in a coffin. She agrees to the challenge, but once the lid is sealed and the soil begins to drop she realises she’s made a terrible mistake.
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Compared to the difficulty in connection with the characters in the first segment, ‘Suicide Bid’ instantly brings you onto the lead character’s side, and makes her to be a likable, if naive, character. The claustrophobia of being buried alive in a coffin is captured really well, and the tension starts to build even before the really horrific things begin. As to the more overt horror elements (not that being buried isn’t horror enough), the segment does a nice job at escalating the tension and the frights throughout, and does a couple of unexpected things too.
‘Ozzy’s Dungeon’, directed by Flying Lotus, is a short of two halves. In the first we see footage from a cheap and cheesy children’s challenge show where contestants compete to win their wish. No one has ever won Ozzy’s Dungeon before, and when one of the contestants is about to win, making her the first to ever do so, her leg is viciously broken on the assault course (and by broken I mean almost clean off!). From here we jump forward in time, to the show’s host waking up in his underwear in a cage in a dank basement. The girl’s family have taken him prisoner, and now intend to make him compete in their own version of his show, though one much more deadly.
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This segment is pretty gross thanks to the fact that a lot of it feels very real, and very gritty. The horror of being taken prisoner, of being tortured for the pleasure of your captives is one that isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. Because of that, and because everything that isn’t bright kids’ show is dirty and grimy, it feels gross and off-putting to watch. This segment contains several surprises that will keep you entertained, and manages to never stray completely into the real of gross-out torture porn.
‘The Gawkers’ is directed by Tyler MacIntyre, and follows a group of older teens as they use their video camera to try and spy on girls, even going so far as trying to upskirt them. When a beautiful young woman moves into the house opposite them they begin to obsess over her, desperate to get her naked on film. When the younger brother of one of the teens ends up talking to her, and gets invited round to help set up her tech, the group try to convince him to help them spy into the woman’s home.
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This segment has a frankly ridiculous twist to it, but it’s one that’s delightfully fun so I can’t really hold it as a bad thing. There’s not a huge amount that can be said about this part of the film without giving too much away, but it’s a pretty decently made segment with some cool moments in it. The behind the scenes extras reveal some amazing practical effects used in this segment that sadly don’t quite translate to the final film, as it looks like these effects were enhanced with CGI that ended up making it look worse.
The final segment of the film is by far the best. ‘To Hell and Back’ is written and directed by Vanessa & Joseph Winter and is more of a horror comedy. The story follows a couple of documentary filmmakers who are tagging along with demon worshippers who are attempting to summon a demon into the body of a woman at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999. When another entity creeps in on the ritual the witches send it back to Hell, but accidentally send the two filmmakers too. Stuck in Hell, and with only a few minutes before midnight, the two men try to find the demon that’s being summoned so that they can try to hitch a ride back home.
This segment feels like it could be part of the What We Do In The Shadows universe. It’s got a silly humour to it that finds the perfect tone to keep the ridiculous things that are happening constantly entertaining. Moments that could have come across as slightly too cheesy to be frightening are given enough of a comedic leaning to make them enjoyable, the dialogue is pretty witty, and there are several visual and dialogue based gags that will have you laughing out loud. Out of all of the segments on offer in this film, this is the one I would absolutely watch an entire, feature-length movie of.
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The new physical release comes with several extras to make it stand apart from its standard Shudder release. There’s an audio commentary that features most of the different directors, who interact and talk about their sections. There’s also a couple of gag reels and blooper segments, some behind the scenes looks at how certain segments were made and their practical effects. There’s also a music video for Bitch Cat, camera tests, make-up tests, storyboards, location scouting videos, and more. There’s a surprising amount here, and it’s great to see behind the scenes into what goes into making a film like this.
Whilst there are some parts of the film that are genuinely fantastic, there are other parts that are borderline dull. Sadly, when some parts of an anthology piece fail to deliver, it can affect the overall quality of the piece. If you do pick this up and find yourself questioning why during some segments, try to stick with it until the end, as you might find some that you love.
V/H/S/99 is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Acorn Media.