The latest of the V/H/S anthology horror series is here and whether you’re a fan of them or not, it will certainly have something for everyone.
Speaking as someone who checked out the first anthology when it came out and disliked it, I have to say I had quite a good time with this new installment. The weakest aspect about V/H/S/94 is its wraparound story (Holy Hell, dir. Jennifer Reeder). It leads in very well and provides nice transitional points to jump into each segment but ends up becoming edgier than stuff like this actually was in the early 90s. The story concerns a SWAT group on a raid of a warehouse that has been taken over by what seems to be a cult who has collected the video tapes of the segments outlined below.
As I found with this one like I did the first V/H/S, the stories work less effectively as horror we can identify with on a personal level than they do creating or highlighting a lore evident in folk or (dare I say it) cautionary tales.
The first segment, Storm Drain (dir. Chloe Okuno, Slut) is arguably the strongest of the lot in terms of tone, framing and pacing. It follows a local news correspondent investigating claims about a rat monster that may have been blown out of proportion, occupying the first few minutes of the short with testimonials filled with people everyone has encountered at some point in their life. Hard not to smile at that. Everything is as it should be until the reporter gets a request to go deeper, literally, into the sewers to investigate more. Her and her cameraman begin a reluctant journey into the storm drain and eventually come to a point of no return. The bits of humor mix well with the story being told. Its moments of horror come out naturally both for the viewer and the characters experiencing it firsthand. Fans of the found footage horror WNUF will find a lot to like about this segment.
The second in the anthology is The Empty Wake (dir. Simon Barrett, Seance), a decidedly slower segment that tries to eke out a quieter terror, making you look in every nook and cranny for a figure, a shadow, anything to clue you in on what the hell is happening here. A woman starting a job at a funeral home is tasked with hosting a wake by herself, the deceased in a closed casket due to a horrific accident that ultimately led them here. At 16 minutes the short feels longer as the waiting gets dull a little too quickly. The climax sports some great effects work but there truly isn’t much beyond the premise of the segment to go anywhere with it.
The third and longest short by far is The Subject (dir. Timo Tjahjanto, The Night Comes For Us), a short that is as much an homage to cyberpunk body horror as it is robust in originality. The pacing and length seem to be the Achilles heel of the thing here but I can’t recall a single moment I didn’t enjoy within the duration. Despite its lengthy yarn this could arguably be the best segment of the film due to its emotional scope and impressive action choreography (something Tjahjanto is known for and for good reason).
The final segment, Terror (dir. Ryan Prows, Lowlife), is the most visually authentic to the time period and makes a point to show how far we think we’ve come since the rise of white supremacist militias and gangs taking up arms. We follow the militaristic routines of a group that looks and operates like a pack of survivalists, armed to the teeth. They concern themselves with a single prisoner that the members of the group seem to take pleasure in killing but no one else happens to be there against their will. The mystery surrounding their high-profile prisoner begins to unfold and as things become more clear during some weapons testing off-site, the implications do too. It’s an extremely unique take on the source the short draws from and has some genuinely terrifying moments, yet ultimately cathartic as every character save for the prisoner is at the very least despicable.
Terror is a fun cap to the series of segments that came before, if only a little dour in the face of the balls-to-the-wall, happy-go-lucky, splatter-positive horror, but is the best one to lead into the conclusion of the wraparound. What V/H/S/94 misses is a truly unifying aspect of the whole thing, but such is the territory for horror anthologies. It’s the best case the series can make about the sum of its parts being greater than the whole.
V/H/S/94 is available on Shudder’s streaming platform on Wednesday, October 6.