Blu-ray Review: V/H/S (Magnolia Home Entertainment)

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V/H/S Blu-ray

It’s not surprising that the “found footage” style has permeated the indie horror scene in recent years—as the Paranormal Activity series, and before it The Blair Witch Horror, have proven, a film shot cheaply on video can be very profitable if it resonates with audiences. Beyond that, the lo-fi technology has enabled anyone with a digital camera and an idea to become a filmmaker.

While that has yielded a lot of cinematic crap, now along comes a film that uses this cinema verité-gone-psycho style of filmmaking to honor a classic tradition in horror movies—the anthology film. In the tradition of the 1970s Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror films, V/H/S is a collection of short stories cleverly tied together by an overarching storyline, and it’s one of the most viciously potent horror films to hit home video in years.

At its outset, V/H/S may come across as just another ho-hum direct-to-video cheapie. The opening sequence, which sets up the framework, shows a group of jerky young men who stage charming “stunts” including pulling up young women’s tops on camera against their will. These enlightened souls break into a man’s home looking to steal a rare and infamous videotape; we see the victim is a “collector” of tapes and appears to be dead. The charming intruders start to watch tapes from the guy’s collection, and these tapes are the short-films-within-a-film that make up this anthology.

And it’s in the short films—each created by a different young horror director—that V/H/S takes off. The first story, “Amateur Night”, may be the best. In it, another group of jerky young men, out on the prowl for nubile young ladies, pick up a strange girl with huge eyes who just doesn’t seem … right. I won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say I could see “Lily” becoming a new horror icon on the level of Pinhead from the Hellraiser series. She’s that kick-ass.

Subsequent stories concern:

• A young married couple, traveling the country, who, it seems, are being followed

• A group of partyers in the woods stalked by a different kind of threat

• An online romance that is not what it seems

• Young men looking for Halloween fun who encounter some real paranormal activity

Running at almost two hours, V/H/S is a non-stop, in-your-face ongoing pummel of scares and shock. The violence is extreme at times; no holds are barred here, and with the shot-on-video realism of everything, the term “snuff film” came to mind at times.

But: It’s only a movie. And, for those with a taste for horror on the more extreme side of things, V/H/S is a sordid treat—a chance for some of today’s most audacious young horror filmmakers to strut their stuff. The stories are clever and filled with shocks and twists, as well as plenty of mystery—as in the best horror fiction, not everything is explained—and why should it be?

As a shot-on-video, “shaky cam” kinda flick, V/H/S doesn’t benefit too much from Blu-ray presentation. The quality of the films varies from segment to segment; the dark scenes are especially grainy and, at times, unfocused, as is only fitting for a film that portends to be shot on VHS tape!

Bonus features are OK. The alternate ending isn’t much (the ending in the actual film is far more satisfying, in the worst possible way), but there’s good commentary from the filmmakers, as well as some interesting behind-the-scenes content, including design art for Lily. Ah, Lily …

V/H/S is a gory, creepy, shocking treat—a very creative and devilishly witty spin on the found footage trope that’s sure to delight any fan of modern horror. It stands (severed) head and shoulders above most of the scare flicks out there.

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