Found Footage is all the 90’s Craze These Days! “V/H/S/99” Available at Amazon!
The year: 1999. The format: VHS. The theme: The most horrifying experiences caught on found footage camera. A horror anthology for the turn of the century puts together five of the most terror-drenched short films that resurrects the punk-rock dead, turns urban legends into vindictive playthings, televises Lovecraftian game show frights, peers into the stone-cold eyes of a Gorgon neighbor, and goes to Hell and back! All caught on camera from a first-person view as VHS vicariously relives the glory days through a digital world, capsulated by the horror realm and all its fanatical acolytes for the analogue video format to live undead forever.
Living in the age of a VHS comeback is admittedly kind of weird. VHS has become a hot collectible, especially and obvious the rate and obscure that mostly resides in the horror and cult genre. Most recently, a discovery on a Brazilian VHS cut of Jaws 2 has a couple of minutes of shot footage that no other release holds to this day. That, being just one example, is sought after power of VHS that saw various versions of one film be disperse far and wide across continents, which the same could be said about DVD that too saw a variety of different cuts due to the diversity of playback formats, distribute cuts, and numerous levels of censorship between countries. VHS is also making a comeback in format style with gritty, faded, flat colored image veneer and tracking lines and the absent transmission signal of snow statically adorning the screen with beautifully hypnotical and flickering white dots. So, it’s now surprise that on the heels of 2021’s “V/H/S/94,” another analog anthology is greenlit in 94’s wake with “V/H/S/99” for 2022, written and helmed by newcomers to the series but not necessarily newcomers to the horror scene. The movie’s sequential lineup Is as follows: Short filmmaker Maggie Levin writes-and-directors “Shredding,” taking a break from killer sharks is Johannes Roberts to oversee his “Suicide Bid” entry, musician Flying Lotus directs and co-writes with Zoe Cooper with “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” “Tragedy Girls’” director Tyler Macintyre writes-directs “The Gawkers” along with co-writer and fellow “Tragedy Girls’” screenwriter Chris Lee Hill, and the husband and wife tag team of Joseph and Vanessa Winter, filmmakers of “Deadstream,” helms-and-pens “To Hell And Back.” The Shudder exclusive series latest is produced by Josh Goldbloom (“V/H/S/94”), David Bruckner (director of “Hellraiser” ‘22), Chad Villella (producer of the of 2022’s “Scream”), Bloody Disgusting’s Brad Miska, and “Scream” ’22 and “Scream VI” director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin under the production banner of Studio 71 and presented by Cinepocalypse Productions and Bloody Disgusting.
A new set of five tales of analog rendered terror invoke a new set of actors in each short film that carrier with them a broad range of experience. While a couple of the stories shred the narrative with hectic editing (I’m looking at you “Shredding”), performances throughout come over with blistering consternation and definitely a late 90’s grunge attitude with “Shredding” and “The Gawkers” delivering the full blunt force of period, heckling away in their baggy clothing, bohemian hairstyles, and a penchant for skateboard thrashing. The other films are merely timeless with only mere mentions of date, or their timestamped on the video tape recording, or are just a thematical proverbial nod to the specific point in time, lacking the keep it real essence that is quite idiosyncratic to the hop from a phasing out decade and into a whole new other. The cast of these shorts play their roles with exuberance and wackiness, which if you have lived in or can look back to the converging decades/millennium and see some of the gameshows or cultural shenanigans that defined America as people or, if you want to go smaller, just the pop culture, wacky is a pinpoint descriptor. The short films’ of “V/H/S/99” are comprised of a cast including, selectively, Steven Ogg (“The Walking Dead”), Ally Ioannides (“Synchronic”), Keanush Tafreshi, Jesse LaTourette (“There’s Someone In Your House”), Dashiell Derrickson, Isabelle Hahn, Sonya Eddy (“Blast”), Emily Sweet (“Castle Freak” ’20), Melanie Stone (“Deadstream”), Archelaus Crisanto, Luke Mullen, and Ethan Pogue.
Anthologies have been around for decades and are a great medium to showcase a multitude of individual storytelling from a variety of filmmakers walking different paths in life. Fans can often salivate over these types of jump-the-shark formats that can start off with the zombie undead, transition 10 minutes later into a supernatural spooky, and then segue into a creature feature with a wraparound bonus story that may or may not connect them all and squeeze each episodic terror vision in a full-length feature runtime. Though I enjoy a good collection of short and sheer frightful films, anthologies are not my cup of sanguinary tea. Hopefully, no partisan takes seep out of this review as I attempt to examine “V/H/S/99” objectively. Out of the five segments, three have landed strong with a right amount combination of style, gore, performance, narrative logic, and, of course, terror, and if you like comedic sugar in your black cup of horror then “To Hell And Back” is a perfect Venti-sized, well-blended mulatto of choice that thrusts two dimwitted demonic ritual documentarians into the pits of dark, gloomy, and malformed creature Hell and fight their way back to their own plane of existence. Though one flaw some make catch when watching the caboose film of the anthology is that it doesn’t particularly reflect 1999 other than the small caveat, which is pivotal to the story, that at the turn of the millennia is when the veil between our world and Hell is as it’s thinnest. The other two better entries capture more infinitesimally in detail of the late 90s, early 2000s clothing and discourse. “The Gawkers” taps hard into the weird aggressive hormones of a teenage boy while exploring the newfound ways to use technology as spyware. Webcams aboard big boxy desktops chauffeur in a whole new way to be creepy that lands them in hot water not by the law but by the wrath of ancient femme fatale of Greek mythology. Johannes Roberts rounds out the better half with a sorority haze gone wrong that evokes an urban legend to become more than just a story and Roberts “Suicide Bid” offers, again, that period presence that feels like a tribute throwback to the 1998 “Urban Legend” film itself, but adds a supernatural surprise that utterly creepy and not as deep with only 6 feet underground rather than a 47 meters down, the director is slowing raising his fear to the surface. The shorts left hanging below the bar are “Shredding” and “Ozzy’s Dungeon” and for reasons that have to do with their style and story. “Shredding” promising premise is plagued not by punk phantasms back from the dead but simply pilfered of focus with a hectic, if not severely chaotic, VHS-graded editing scheme that shocks the perception senses while “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is inspired by Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple gameshow where kids have to compete in toned down ancient society games to race up the temple to win the big prize. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” definitely is weird, sadistic, and Lovecraftian-inspired for sure but its story design loses motivation and often cheats rounding the bases in order to reach the shocking climatic finale.
Acorn Media International brings tape to the United Kingdom with a Blu-ray home entertainment release of “V/H/S/99.” Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, though doesn’t cater to the standard 4:3 ratio of video tape, the provided image quality purposefully varies to give audiences the titular analog experience. Faded grading, tracking lines, static and that jittery playback is all part of the visual environmental experience and even a few of the filmmakers shoot the film digitally to then run it through VHS to garnish with unnatural base video turbulence. The English DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix heightens the exposure and familiarity to of being that person behind the camera as all of these shorts of short POV. Intense and, often, cacophonous, the audio tracks still manage to level out, be discerned, and manage to relay the chaos no matter how much bedlam is thrown at the screen. From the zoom in-and-outs of the video tape recorder, there’s a clean sense of depth and the range is bountiful as the ambient track runs the gamut of omnifarious sounds that give each episode an individualized stamp. English SHD is optional. Bonus content includes an exclusive panel from New York’s Comic Con with guests producer Josh Goldbloom, “The Gawkers'” Tyler Macintyre, and “To Hell And Back’s” Joseph and Vanessa Winter as well as a total arc gag reel. After that encompassing project feature, the girth of the bonus content breaks down into the individual shorts with “Shredding” having a deleted scene and the complete fictious band BitchCat music video, “Ozzy Dungeon” has two deleted scenes, “The Gawkers” has a deleted scene as well as bloopers, camera tests, and The Making of Medusa, and “To Hell And Back” rounds out the features with a hefty look at the raw footage, scouted location, and a storyboard and blocking rehearsals. There are no bonus features for Johannes Roberts’ “Suicide Bid.” Physical features include a slightly thicker traditional Blu-ray snapper, a Europe standard, with a cover art that matches the North American RLJE release, a city being loomed over by skull made out of colorful galactic stars and a pair of video lenses for blank eyes. The disc art is pressed with the same front cover image. Though no mention of a region playback on the back cover, I suspect a region B encoded release as per usual with Acorn Media Interntional. “V/H/S/99” has a total runtime of 109 minutes and is UK certified 18 for strong blood violence/gore. “V/H/S/99” is not my kind of off the heasy subgenre, but the latest series anthology packs a punch and I would never discourage anyone from not experiencing firsthand an homage trip through terror.