By nature, omnibus films tend to be uneven. But do they have to be? In the age of iPods, consumers can dissect and rearrange albums. Books of poems, essays or short fiction can be pruned for highlights. Why not take the same approach to anthology films? Now on demand, V/H/S offers a fresh opportunity to test this viewing strategy. A mock-doc throwback to multistory monster mashes like Dead of Night and Cat’s Eye, the film presents six tales of ersatz-found-footage horror. Not all of these short-form shockers are worth your time. We’ve assessed each chapter; a leaner, meaner creep-show awaits.
“Tape 56” (Dir. Adam Wingard)
Three guerrilla videographers are hired to break into an old dark house and steal a VHS tape. Inside, they find unmarked videos; each presents a macabre story. The wraparound segment, Wingard’s piece is both perfunctory and unnecessary—a scare-free framing device you won’t need in your just-the-highlights version. CUT
“Amateur Night” (Dir. David Bruckner)
The recording device here is a spy-cam embedded in a pair of glasses; three horndog brosefs hope to use the specs to shoot a sex tape with an unsuspecting bar girl. Predictably turning the tables on its predatory protagonists, “Amateur Night” amounts to little more than waiting for these amoral assholes to get their just deserts. That said, Bruckner—who codirected the underrated apocalyptic chiller The Signal—expertly utilizes the first-person-POV gimmick. He also unleashes a truly unsettling monster. KEEP
“Second Honeymoon” (Dir. Ti West)
This may be the weakest of the contributions—a disappointment, given West’s reputation as a budding master of horror. Attempting another slow burn in the vein of his The House of the Devil, the writer-director follows a young married couple (mumblecore mainstays Sophia Takal and Joe Swanberg) on a road trip through the Southwest. Devoid of tension and flatly filmed, “Second Honeymoon” builds to an empty, out-of-left-field twist. CUT
“Tuesday the 17th” (Dir. Glenn McQuaid)
The title is a dead giveaway of what to expect from McQuaid’s single-minded entry. It’s a faux-vérité spin on the Jason Voorhees canon, complete with dim-witted, sex-and-drug-starved victims, a secluded lakefront setting and a villain who, as one character puts it, can “appear anywhere at any time.” The gory executions are well staged, but this is just too rote to recommend. CUT
“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Dir. Joe Swanberg)
More Swanberg! Here the filmmaker steps behind the camera, emerging—against all odds—with one of the strongest segments. The short unfolds as a series of webcam conversations between a spooked young woman and her out-of-town boyfriend; he watches from a box in the corner of the screen as she tries to secure digital evidence that her apartment is haunted. Initially resembling a video-chat variation on Paranormal Activity, “Emily” gradually veers off into stranger territory, with Swanberg introducing an element of body horror and a bizarre conspiracy angle. It’s a distinctly unnerving experience. KEEP
“10/31/98” (Dirs. Radio Silence)
Convinced they’re attending a Halloween party, a group of costumed dudes stumbles into a more insidious situation. V/H/S’s final chapter was orchestrated by four directors who go by Radio Silence. Based on what the terror troupe has conceived here—a fun house of nifty poltergeist effects—it’s a filmmaking collective to watch. The most elaborate segment of the bunch, “10/31/98” will make a fitting capper to your abbreviated fright night. KEEP
V/H/S is now available on VOD; the film arrives in theaters October 5.