Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

The anthology horror movie gets a very modern updating in V/H/S, which places five short tales of killers, feral monsters and the supernatural within the framework of one surrounding story. Personally, I've never found compendium horror movies to be as effective as their literary counterparts, with Dead Of Night, Creepshow, The Twilight Zone and Three Extremes being the highlights of an otherwise only fitfully interesting sub-genre. Similarly, TV shows such as The Outer Limits and Tales Of The Unexpected have always struck me as being more successful in the short, sharp shock stakes than their feature length siblings, and V/H/S, while containing some inspired moments of genuine creepiness and graphic horror, won't be changing my opinions on the matter. The major obvious difference is that the short story or TV show is a singular, self contained narrative that can be consumed en masse (especially now we have the option of watching TV series' via box sets etc) or enjoyed individually. With the feature length movie we are there for the duration, and the chilly thrills and immediate scares of the short are much harder to sustain over one 90 minute plus sitting when tacked together by one linking narrative.

Bringing the horror anthology movie bang into the 21st century while referencing a format in which the horror movie thrived in the past, V/H/S is a first person, found footage entry that has as many cons as it does pros. Bringing together numerous genre directors and writers, including Ti West, Glenn McQuaid and Adam Wingard, the movie hits some nasty sweet spots but also falls foul of numerous genre cliches, both old and new. The linking story, Tape 56 (Wingard), sees a gang of petty criminals breaking into a rundown house to steal a prized, rare VHS tape for an unnamed third party. Through this connecting story five other tales, all bar one shot first-person, do their best to scare, excite and unsettle. Some work better than others, as is usually the case, with the final segment, 10/31/98 (Radio Silence) being the pick of the bunch. Where The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield benefited from first person or direct to camera shots, V/H/S suffers in comparison. The lo-fi immediacy becomes irritatingly repetitive, as the directors all largely repeat its stylings, with excessively shaky action sequences, muffled audio, glimpsed horrors and fragmented snapshots being the predominant visual aesthetic on show.

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Whether done as an ironic reference to the horror genre's trashier past entries or as a sign and symptom of the profundity of nudity that abounds in the internet age, there's a worrying predilection for the exposing of female flesh in V/H/S. Women are at the heart of the horror in the movie, either as victims or perpetrators, with not one strong, well balanced female character to be found in any of the six stories. The underlying theme of V/H/S in gender terms seems to be that women are sluts, monsters or helpless victims, academics could have a field day with it. It's a failing that none of the directors, including the talented West, escapes from, and an issue that has affected the genre as a whole from its earliest days.

As for the scares, chills and bloody moments, V/H/S does have an oppressive, unsettling edge to it throughout, and delivers the goods in numerous instances. What it cries out for, though, is one slower, more insidious short to play off against the frantic tales that dominate. West's Second Honeymoon and Joe Swanberg's The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger at least attempt something of a more studied air, though with only partial success in both cases. An intriguing if only sporadically on-the-money addition to one of horror's less satisfying sub-genres.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2012
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V/H/S packshot
A horror anthology based around the theft of an old video tape.
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Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

Writer: Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence

Starring: Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil

Year: 2012

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

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