The first word that comes to mind when I think of the V/H/S franchise is “extreme”…
…Extreme terror. Extreme gore. Extreme fun. V/H/S/94, which just premiered at Fantastic Fest, doesn’t just meet those expectations, it crashes through them.
The fourth installment in the popular found-footage anthology horror series, V/H/S/94 is set in, you guessed it, 1994, and follows a S.W.A.T. team sent into a warehouse to investigate something about a mysterious tape. Inside, they discover a house of eyeless corpses and other horrors, as well as four tapes depicting terrifying stories, each more depraved up than the last.
And every second is a bloody blast!
Audiences will want to take a deep breath before the film starts, like divers about to jump into chum-filled black water, because V/H/S/94 throws viewers right into the madness whether they’re ready or not. You’re not, by the way. Writer/director Jennifer Reeder's (Knives and Skin) wraparound segment, "Holy Hell", is pure chaos. We watch a S.W.A.T. team arrive at the aforementioned warehouse through a low-def lens. No explanation for what’s happening. Lots of uneasy shouting. A heavy sense of dread in the air.
Reeder’s segment gets the adrenaline pumping so hard your eyeballs will pop out of your skull. But V/H/S/94 is just getting started.
The film’s first story, “Storm Drain”, written/directed by Chloe Okuno, follows a fearless journalist hell-bent on getting the story of the century…and instead assigned a trash piece on the Rat Man, a half man, half rat beast supposedly living in the sewers. The segment plays out like Okuno one day thought, what if we did Master Splinter, the horror movie, and it’s just as awesome as that sounds. Like any anthology’s first story should be, “Storm Drain” is no mouse trap, and sets the bar very high for what’s to come. This rat tale is perfectly paced, unsettling, and gives us our first glimpse at some cheer-worthy creature effects.
There’s plenty more where that came from, too. It’s as if every segment is trying to outdo each other in the effects department, and we all win because of it. Hold your jaw, because it's going to drop to the floor when you see what V/H/S/94 has in store.
V/H/S/94 also checks the all-important anthology box of having a little something for everyone. Where “Sewer Drain” is more of a traditional monster movie, Séance writer/director Simon Barrett’s “The Empty Wake” is a more low-key creeper. But when I say low-key, don’t mistake me. Each and every tale in V/H/S/94 is a balls to the wall experience with the horror ratcheted up to 11. This one centers around a funeral home on a stormy night, where a new employee is tasked with managing a wake in which no one shows up…and a strange thumping is coming from within the casket. She apparently doesn't know the rule that when this casket’s thumping, don’t come knocking! Barret flexes his scare the shit out of you muscles, packing “The Empty Wake” with nerve-fraying suspense that will have you screaming your guts out. I know I did!
There isn’t a weak story in the bunch, but the bloody crème de la crème of V/H/S/94 is writer/director Timo Tjahjanto’s steam-punk horror, “The Subject”. You may know him for directing some of the wildest genre movies in the last couple years, including May the Devil Take You and The Night Comes for Us, and he brings all of that energy and more to this absolutely bonkers story concerning a mad doctor Frankenstein-ing machine parts with non-consenting test subjects. Told from the point of view of one of the doctor’s creations, this story blew my goddamn mind. “The Subject” is an utterly insane piece of grotesque body horror that starts slow and takes off like a rocket when it transforms into an action-packed videogame style that feels like a chapter straight out of Bioshock. Every time you think this segment is over, it ascends to another level of holy shit adrenaline. If you’re not losing your mind, it’s because you’re already dead.
Last but not least is writer/director Ryan Prows’ horror comedy, “Terror”. Every segment has a dose of comedy—“Storm Drain” has a reference to Pennywise that had me cackling—but “Terror” is by far the silliest, mostly due to its setting: A militia encampment full of dumbass white supremacists. These bumbling idiots just happen to have access to some kind of monster they keep referring to, which they plan to set loose on a Federal building in order to bring on “the fall of the unholy American empire”. The most chilling part about this piece is how realistic it is to the Trump flag waving, moronic pieces of Rat Man excrement we see everywhere today. We watch as these bumbling idiots fuck around and find out with the creature they’re holding, providing plenty of laughs at their expense and the extreme satisfaction of seeing white supremacists ripped to shreds. Always a good note to go out on.
V/H/S/94 is the must-see hardcore horror flick of the year, and might even be the best V/H/S yet. The talent behind each story is at the top of their game and firing on all cylinders. The creature effects are stunning, and there’s enough gore, grime and slime to make you want to rip your skin off because 100 hot showers won’t be enough. V/H/S fans are getting exactly what they crave with V/H/S/94, with a collection of horror stories that often feel like a well-budgeted snuff film in all of its low-def, grainy glory.
I imagine holding V/H/S/94 is like holding that gooey, pulsating tape from Videodrome. Whatever’s on that tape, you know it won’t be pretty, but you can’t help it. You have to know.
Watch if you dare.
(I totally dare you)
V/H/S/94 arrives on Shudder October 6th.
By Matt Konopka