by Hope Madden
It’s been a full decade since the first short compilation V/H/S hit movie screens with its conceit of a single videotape full of horror snippets. Several of these original bits were great, and the directing talent showcased some serious cinematic promise: David Bruckner (Hellraiser), Ti West (Pearl), Adam Wingard (Godzilla vs. Kong), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream).
There have been a number of sequels, hitting and missing through the last ten years, but 2021’s V/H/S/94 – with its clear timestamp and shorts from Jennifer Reeder (Knives and Skin), Chloe Okuno (Watcher), Timo Tjahjanto, Simon Barrett and others – generated renewed interest in the series.
Wisely, the next installment also embraces exactly what homemade VHS tapes captured: a specific moment in history. For this installment, it’s 1999. Nickelodeon spewed goop at guests and cameras. The hip and entitled believed they and the music they listened to were punk. The internet made Jackass-style, testosterone-fueled idiocy acceptable. The incredibly popular film American Pie depicted the essentially criminal activity of young men as something to find charming. Those rascals!
1999 also saw the birth of found footage, so setting the new V/H/S film the same year as The Blair Witch Project makes good sense.
A new crop of filmmakers seems to channel their own childhoods for five short films capturing the era. Among the highlights are Maggie Levin’s Shredding, which follows narcissistic teens and the unearned cred they flaunt (to their peril) into the site of a punk concert tragedy.
Writers/directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter (Deadstream) employ the same sense of fun with their short To Hell and Back. The charmer of the bunch, it depicts a couple of best friends hired to record a conjuring on Y2K, to bumblingly catastrophic results.
Johannes (47 Meters Down) Roberts’s Suicide Bid offers fairly predictable sorority hazing horror, while Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls) turns the most repugnant part of American Pie into the horror it should have been. Neither short is wildly imaginative, but McIntyre does find a unique comeuppance.
The Flying Lotus piece Ozzy’s Dungeon is imaginative enough for everyone. It’s not scary or especially funny, but it’s weird, and sometimes that’s enough.
As with every V/H/S installment – and most short film anthologies, generally – the film hits and misses. None of the segments will stay with you the way Okuno’s Storm Drain from ’94 did. Hail Ratma! Still, it’s a quick, fun Halloween diversion.