V/H/S/94, the fourth entry in the found footage V/H/S series, will bake your brains. There’s always been an element of a very dark humor in this series, but V/H/S/94 has decided to lean into the horror-comedy aspects harder than any of the previous films and it works. There are five directors, listed here in order, Jennifer Reeder (Knives & Skin), Chloe Okuno (Slut), Simon Barrett (V/H/S and Seance), Timo Tjahjanto (V/H/S/2, Headshot, May The Devil Take You Too), Ryan Prows (Lowlife), and back to Jennifer Reeder for the wrap-around segment’s conclusion.
The film is based on a script by David Bruckner (The Signal, The Ritual, The Night House), who is a series veteran who wrote and directed the very memorable segment “Amateur Night” from the first V/H/S and is directing the Hellraiser film reboot currently.
One great piece of news that I wasn’t aware of is that the soundtrack for the film was composed by Greg Anderson of the legendary drone band Sunn O))) and founder of Southern Lord Records. I was wondering why the music was great and chilling and the mystery of who is responsible for it was solved for me.
Since this film is the fourth in the series, I think it’s wise of them to work from a single script that allows the individual directors to interpret each story. As I have noted more than once before, it is absolutely necessary for film series to grow and change if they are to continue. I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of V/H/S/ Viral, but I may go and give it a second watch to see if maybe I missed something. Getting a really inventive writer/director like David Bruckner to set the film up as a cohesive whole, and then letting the chaos erupt when the directors each interpret the script as directors and writers is a bold move for a series that has been doing the exact opposite for its entire run.
Aside from the elements of horror-comedy, I also noticed a strong theme of body horror running throughout the film as well as a definite nod to political and social events of the last five years. There’s a definite ACAB vibe and a pickup truck full of “patriots” who have no idea what they are doing. Another theme is men being real jerks who make everyone’s lives more difficult, but in particular, really give women a hard time. All but one of the segments have lead characters who are women or where the story is told mostly from the female character’s perspective. There are also characters that overlap from story to story, so keep your eyes peeled. Just don’t pull them out of your head, okay?
For the purpose of this review, I’m going to do a capsule review of each segment to be fair to all the good work here.
“Holy Hell” directed by Jennifer Reeder: This segment is capably directed by Reeder, who is best known for the gory and stylish neo-Giallo, Knives & Skin. Some of the scariest things in it are the little details. It’s the frame for the entire film, but without a strong frame segment – which this definitely is – an anthology film like V/H/S/94 would collapse. Watching the female members of the police squad roll their eyes at the macho pronouncements and ineptness of the male cops is wonderful to behold. Reeder allows the story to play out without overplaying her hand and you see the comedic elements right off the bat. “Hi, Gary.”
“Storm Drain” directed by Chloe Okuno: I have to admit that I was not familiar with Okuno’s work before watching this film, which I have watched about four times at the time of writing this review and I will watch it again, but the strength of this segment has made me a fan of Okuno’s work and I will seek out her full-length film. The casting of the segment is one of the real strengths of “Storm Drain”. Anna Hopkins as Holly Marciano provides the terrified and magnetic center of the segment. She’s a character that can make you believe in Raatma and her screams of terror win sympathy. Her light comedy touch is what really seals the deal and Okuno made a really wise choice with this casting. Okuno managed a jump scare that I really was not expecting and that made me scream in my apartment. It reminds me of an art piece in its composition and I love that.
“Veggie Masher: I don’t know who directed this and IMDB doesn’t appear to identify a director here. But it’s hilarious and weird and comes just at the right time. Connor Sweeney as the Veggie Masher Host is right out of the ’90s and makes this totally believable. *Chefs kiss*
“The Empty Wake” directed by Simon Barrett: It’s a very simple but eerie setup and a good use of a classic found footage premise namely having to be bored while you are doing something that you really don’t want to be doing. The first version of this premise comes from the holiest of all found footage films – The Blair Witch Project. The reason why this premise works is also the reason why some people think that it doesn’t. Watching someone be bored isn’t as exciting, however, that is the setup that leads to the audience being lulled into a sense of false security.
As the segment progresses, you get little indications that something is very wrong with a very nice, but nervous young woman trying to deal with this very strange job she has been asked to do. Overall, this is more of an eerie segment than an all-out horror segment and that eeriness starts from the very first frame. Barrett really makes great use of the music and the actress does a great job of playing a woman who is mostly by herself. Of the two projects that Barrett has in release at the moment, Seance and “The Empty Wake”, I think “The Empty Wake” is my favorite.
“The Subject” directed by Timo Tjahjanto: This segment is the centerpiece of the film and I have referred to it as a “bugfuck lament”. It’s so inventive and so horrifying. After I watched it the first time, and I am very familiar with Tjahjanto’s work, my mouth was hanging open and I was in a bit of shock about what I had just watched. Picture how a comic book character has a thought bubble with question marks and flames coming out of my ears. I have to say that the commitment of the filmmaker and the actors in the segment is phenomenal. I feel that actors in the West should be aware that actors in Asia are achieving a level of work that leaves most of the rest of the entertainment industry in the dust. The raw power of the emotion on display in “The Subject” is awe-inspiring as an actor. Also, it has great gore, kills, and is, at the same time, quite touching emotionally. I have never thought that a voice saying Hello could be this unnerving. Everything you’ve heard about it is correct and more. Timo Tjahjanto is a phenomenal talent. Just watch it.
“Terror” directed by Ryan Prows: this is the penultimate segment and it is the most overtly funny of all the segments. It’s the inside view of a bunch of so-called patriots trying to launch a terrorist attack against the government of the United States. As you can imagine, they aren’t good at it and they have somehow ended up with a monstrous weapon and a plan that is clearly not very well thought through. It has a circular narrative with a siren as the zero point and it’s another segment by another director whose work I was not familiar with. Now, I am very curious to watch Prows’ other film. A successful V/H/S/ segment is a great recommendation to film fans like me. I have to admit that it’s also somewhat satisfying to watch people who bedevil our everyday lives get what’s coming to them through paranormal power and their own incompetence.
V/H/S/94 is a great entry into this franchise and delivered a shock to the system and the concept of the series. None of the segments are bummers and each has its own special mark placed on it by a strong and talented director. Anthology films can be hit or miss, except something that has a unified concept like The Mortuary Collection, but V/H/S/94 scores with the scares, inventive stories, gore, and hilarity and picked up the idea that a unified concept can really work to an anthology film’s advantage. I have to mention that having Greg Anderson do the score was a stroke of brilliance. The music of V/H/S/94 is a very big part of making the film what it ultimately is. I read that a lot of care was taken by the filmmakers to make sure that the V/H/S grain was not only present in the images but also believable. Care was taken to film at a certain frame rate and Chloe Okuno converted her footage to tape so it could be run through over and over again to cause the tape to deteriorate. In Jennifer Reeder’s opening, I saw images or colors breakthrough in certain parts of the segment.
V/H/S/94 is hilarious, shocking, really brutal, and it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. Gore flies and humanity throbs with regret. There’s even an aspect of revenge to this entry. It’s intentionally grungy to a purpose with high concept ideas cleverly hidden within. It’s a bit of a Trojan horse, kind of like a killer videotape, which is really proof of concept and an ultimate success.
V/H/S/94 is now available to view exclusively on Shudder. Hail Raatma.
All photos courtesy of Shudder