VHYES, directed by Jack Henry Robbins, is a weirdo, split-mind comedy film about a boy who records videos over the VHS tape of his parent’s wedding. The entire film was shot on VHS and Beta. VHS and Betamax were competitors in the videotape format war in the early 80s and though Beta was superior, it was rubbed out of the business by VHS, who ended up dominating the market. Before streaming existed, VHS was how people watched movies, we went to Blockbuster and rented tapes and inserted them into thick, black VCRs to watch them in the home center of our living rooms. VHYES is a flashback.
12-year-old Ralph (Mason McNulty) receives a camcorder as a gift on December 25, 1987, he records clips of his life as well as TV shows and everyone knows that the best shows on TV are the weird, random stuff they play at midnight. Ralph records shows with his camcorder that are actually sketch parodies of porn, commercials, 80s sitcoms, murder shows, and the home shopping network. And yes, it’s as odd as you’d imagine. It’s Tim and Eric, it’s Jam, it’s early Adult Swim, it’s 80s kitsch – with a cast of comedy veterans like Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney, Charlyne Yi, and John Gemberling.
It’s a Twilight Zone door opening to another dimension as visioned with a camcorder and we end up flipping through Ralph’s life as he flips through the channels. He records stuff that he likes over his parent’s wedding and sometimes he records himself. The tape transitions from sketch to real-life to sketch to his parent’s wedding back to sketch again so at times, it feels as if we are in some sort of bizarre infinite reality. And yet, we’re analog! Or are we simulated analog? In digital?
But it’s not weird for the sake of being weird or boring absurdism. There’s a reason why other people’s dreams are boring. No, what makes VHYES great is that it’s weird but original. The original takes are what makes it weird. It’s the point-of-view first not the intent to do something weird. Making something so weird that it’s weird isn’t groundbreaking. It’s much harder to come up with an original idea, which is what makes VHYES particularly interesting – the premise isn’t just a hook but a genuine way of looking at simulated reality.
Some of the sketches reminded me stylistically of the British horror-comedy sketch show Jam, created by Chris Morris. In one, a woman has a creepy monologue about narcissism and VCRs, saying that in the future, everyone will carry a tiny VCR in their pocket just like a cell phone. I rewatched that scene a couple of times because the actress was phenomenal. I don’t like it (in general) when performers dress up as old people for video shorts, I think it’s much more powerful and funny to see older actors performing the roles because older actors get pushed aside as they age. Because of that, we don’t see many wonderful character actors in their 60’s and 70’s, and why not? Why aren’t we using them for our indie projects? For certain, they are far better actors than a 25-year old in a wig.
Some of the sketches have titles that are just as funny and interesting as the sketches. Blood Files: Witch of West Covina; The Kindly, The Cowboy Show; Sexy Swedish Mega Aliens From Space XXX; Boyd & Jules: The Last Will and Testament of Sir Roger Handley III, starring Tim Robbins, the director’s father; and finally, the 1982 classic, Hot Winter, a porn parody that was introduced as if it was Tennesse Williams by a serious thespian with a straight face. The straight face is what sold it.
Hot Winter is a really funny porn parody that combines porn and climate change. Most porn parodies have the same tired dick jokes but Hot Winter is so much funnier than that. It’s not just porn, it’s porn about global warming! Anyway, we just recovered from Hot Girl Summer, who knew Hot Winter was around the corner?
My second favorite late-night moment was Live from Studio, an 80s aerobic parody that featured John Gemberling dancing in the background. The first time I saw Gemberling perform live was at a comedy show back in 2010. He has a beautiful singing voice. He’s always fun to watch because he’s a great actor and he’s funny. I’ll always remember him as the computer programmer in Adult Swim’s Fat Guy Stuck in Internet, a sci-fi/fantasy comedy that was canceled much too soon.
As much as I want to review every sketch in the movie, I probably should stop and write about how much I enjoyed the film overall, particularly the trek through the haunted sorority house. They don’t make many comedy movies like this. It’s a rare experimental film that’s actually good and not just interesting because it’s an experiment. If you’re a comedy nerd, it’s going to be a real treat. If you’re a cinephile, you’ll love the retro format. VHYES is being released in cinemas nationwide on January 17th, 2020.