If as a general rule, comedies benefit from speed, then horror movies are helped by the exact opposite—the slower and more lingering, the juicier. Conceived by a bunch of rising young Turks that includes Ti West (The House of the Devil) and David Bruckner (The Signal), V/H/S breaks up its two-hour running time into five short films, “discovered” on static-laced videocassettes by a Jackass-ian gang of housebreakers. None of the segments has enough air to breathe—unless you’re Rod Serling, this brief format is extremely hard to do. In one bit, apartment-crashing ghosts make their presence known too obtrusively; elsewhere, a friends-by-the-lake slasher tale takes several shortcuts into boring Friday the 13th sequel territory.
But like George Romero’s grand exception to the rule, Creepshow (1982), sometimes laughs carry the day. Bruckner’s leadoff contribution, “Amateur Night,” rides hard on the boorish behavior of a trio of hard-partying frat boys who pick up a pair of comely barflies, one of who turns out to have a more voracious appetite than they do. The vibe is panicky and brutal, ending with an amazing brainteaser of a shot (does the girl have wings?). It’s too bad V/H/S starts off on such a high note. Mainly, the omnibus film feels undercooked, even on the grounds of its forced technological setup. Didn’t anyone think to play around with the nightmarish scenarios of wobbly tape tracking or jammed top-loading decks? Now that was scary.
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