Last night, with nothing productive to do I decided to pick a random horror flick to watch and picked out V/H/S.
****************** Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! ******************
It is an anthology flick… a collection of 5 short stories with a 6th main arc. All of the stories including the main arc have been shot with handycams of the late 90s or early 2000s… so don’t expect HD video! As the name indicates, the footage is of VHS quality with all the video artefacts and shaky camera angles seen in videos of yore.
The main story arc is ‘Tape 56’ – The story revolves around ‘found footage’ in several VHS tapes. And all this is framed within the parent video footage which also seems to be ‘found footage’. 😀
Tape 56 is about a bunch of hooligans who’ve been sent by someone (not shown or heard, only spoken about) to pick up a tape from a large, seemingly empty house. One of the gang films their whole break-in on a video-cam During the break-in they find an old man, dead and stinking, in front of a bank of telly screens and loads of VHS tapes in the basement. While searching for a particular tape, the guys watch some tapes on the VCR in the room with the dead man. The other stories are all the different tapes they watch.
The first one is ‘Amateur Night’
This one centers on the immature need of some guys to film their sexual conquests… making amateur porn. It has the usual elements involved… 2 guys high on stupidity and alcohol, a third nerdy guy who tries to fit in, late night pub hopping, drunk girls, the usual drug snorting and a cheap motel / hotel room. The nerdy guy is made to wear glasses fitted with a spy-cam which then films their whole ‘adventure’… which is simply picking up a wasted girl or two from a pub, taking them to the room in the hope of some wasted sex and filming all of it. They land up at a pub and get friendly with a girl… and we see the whole thing through the spy-eyes of the nerd. Amidst getting sloshed, a very creepy looking girl comes up to our ‘spy’ and tries to get acquainted… in an even creepier way, with a whispered (almost hissed) ‘I like you’. From here this story is easily predictable… to most viewers it would be easy to see that the whole story is hinged on the creepiness of the said girl. And the story hardly surprises you when it turns out that she is some Species like monster who then proceeds to kill/eat the guys… except our spy who she seems to like.
After the tape ends, we are back in the room of Tape-56 and the cameraman guy watching the tape is missing, the video camera is on the floor… hooligan No. 2 takes his place to watch another tape. The rest of the guys, except the missing one, are all over the basement trying to find the tape they were supposed to get. No one seems to care much that the original cameraman has just gone missing! Weird.
Second tape – ‘Second Honeymoon’
Road trip – check, married couple – check, motel – check, stalker – check, some weird incident that raises suspicion – check. The only twist in the still predictable tale is that… no seriously… there is no twist. Once you suspect one thing the other details fall in place.
Back to Tape-56… The hooligans find a bunch of tapes in the basement and the leader asks hooligan 2 who now wields the camera to watch the tapes to find the one they need, while he finally decides to look for the original cameraman who went missing.
Cut to tape three – ‘Tuesday the 17th’
Once again… a road trip… this time to the woods. 4 friends… 2 guys and 2 girls are on a weekend trip to some woods. One of the girls has arranged the trip and roped in her friends with some luring and fibs. The tricky girl’s boyfriend is filming the trip… mostly. Though at times, weirdly you feel that the director forgot that the 4 of them cannot be in the same frame. Again… usual joint smoking, naughty talk, flirting ensue. The characters are typical… cute girl, hot bored girl, cute girl’s jock boyfriend, the 2nd nerdy fellow who balances the quartet. In the otherwise calm woods, they see some dead animal that’s been disembowelled… this is meant to set the tone for the viewers… a tone of suspense. Really? A dead animal in the woods? Anyway… the cute girl asks her boyfriend to film certain locations to ‘humor her’ as she has some memories associated with them. The viewer is shown fleeting noisy-static filled glimpses of gory images of corpses at the locations the girl points out… over what is being recorded or as if the current recording is over an old tape with the gory imagery. Of course, the kids don’t see it as it would only appear in the tape when viewed later.
By now most viewers are already expecting a) monster stalking the woods b) serial-killer c) some rabid wild animal.
The cute girls acts a little weird and that seems to hint her involvement at some level. She tells them of some incident in the past about some murders in the forest and how she’d escaped. When the others get worried she laughs it off as a joke. The group splits… nerd and hot blonde go off in to the woods, leaving cutey and jock by the lakeside and are promptly killed by something that looks like a video-static filled human. Oh… by the way, the nerd has taken the camera along… conveniently… so it is able to film their deaths. The cutey finds the cam on the forest floor but no bodies and it hardly seems to concern her that her friends are missing… confirming what you have already suspected that she is well in on this. Soon she confesses to her boyfriend that she used them as bait to get to the killer, from her story, who was never caught after the murder of her former friends. The jock gets killed in the process and the cutey escapes with the camera… she has already set booby traps around to catch the killer and even leaves a warning for anyone who might later find the footage to stay clear of the woods… which seals her fate, at least, in the minds of viewers. Predictably, she comes close enough to catching the killer and then promptly dies at his hands… all the while the camera merrily films everything.
Tape 4 – ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’
This story is completely in the form of webcam video-chat recordings. Emily chats with her doctor-to-be boyfriend about a weird bump on her arm that reminds her of some childhood incident concerning her leg… and about how she believes her house is haunted because of weird incidents that keep happening around her. Her boyfriend does not believe that her house is haunted but plays along… and during the chat sessions, some incidents do get recorded. The viewers’ suspicions are raised when Emily specifically asks her boyfriend if he has been recording the incidents and he denies doing it when clearly he has…or we wouldn’t be watching the footage. It is possible that Emily has been recording the same… but the chat windows suggest otherwise. The ghost as the viewers can see is a small kid. Emily tries to figure out from her landlord if any kid could have died in the house earlier, which he denies. She asks her boyfriend to help her out via video-chat in contacting the ghost to find out what it wants. The boyfriend reluctantly agrees… Emily tries to confront the ghost(s) with her eyes closed so that she wont freak out at their sight… with her boyfriend guiding her by voice as he watches through her webcam. The ghostly kids attack and she faints… and voila… her boyfriend who is supposed to be miles away shows up the next minute and is obviously not deterred by the ghost kids or spirit children or whatever… he then operates on the unconscious Emily and extracts a weird fetus like thing from her body….all the while talking to the spirit children. He seems concerned about Emily… and hints that the fetus is something that grows inside Emily every now and then and has been removed earlier too. Also, the bump on her arm turns out to be some sort of tracking device. The webcam has been filming all of it. He then makes it appear as if Emily has been in an accident…and in the next video-chat with him, she tells him her doc (who he has recommended) has told her that she is schizophrenic and the ghosts are her imagination.
Cut to a different video chat… same guy… different girl… same bump on her arm. Another chance to show boobies!
This story was weird… and not predictable in the conventional sense… This one just raised a hell lot of unanswered questions.
Tape ends and we are again in the main story arc where the leader having not found the missing cameraman stumbles in to the video-room only to find both the dead body and his second tape-watching friend missing. He then sets out looking for them and finds the decapitated body of one of his friends. He is attacked by the dead old man (or his reanimated corpse)… and presumably killed. Back in the video-room the last VHS tape whirs into play…
Tape Five – ‘10/31/98’
So, it’s Halloween night of 1998 and four friends, all guys, dressed up in costumes are off to a party at some strange house they have no previous knowledge about. The huge house seems to be set up like a haunted attraction. The friends do not find anyone in it and assume they are early for the party. They stumble through the somewhat eerily decorated rooms of the house filming away with a video-cam looking for the party. Somewhere in the upper stories of the house they hear loud voices and what seem like chants…and following the noises they find themselves in an attic where a group of men seem to be attacking a bound woman. The four friends try to play hero and rescue the girl when weird things happen around them… the same stuff seen in most ghost movies / exorcism scenes. The guys somehow manage to rescue the girl and escape from the haunted house. They drag the girl to the car and get on the way to take her to the hospital.
Now, any viewer who has seen horror movies or read horror stories would know what happens next… they just rescued the ‘ghost’ from an exorcism and now she is going to harm them. This story even provides a hint earlier on in the movie about how the guys would die as they make a short stop near a railway track crossing, before they reach the haunted house. You can easily predict the rest.
And that ends what was one of the most predictable horror movies I have seen till date… with a collection of clichés and expected twists. The whole VHS tape effect gets on the nerves after a while. The shaky filming is normally a good cause for headache… coupled with the blurry filming of the video-tape era, it isn’t the best of experiences. I felt there was at least one sub-story too many in the film. There are better films in this genre and I am not talking about The Blair Witch Project which I did not find scary or impressive… except that it was different in its time.
I would rate this movie a 2 out of 5!
© Surya Murali