When people watch V/H/S: Viral, there will undoubtably be some who question the short runtime, while there will be others scoffing at the Go-Pro cameras, iPhone videos, and other technologically advanced recorders that have nothing to do with VHS tapes, which is understandable. To provide a little backstory, Todd Lincoln (The Apparition) was supposed to have a segment in this third installment, but either the short was subsequently cut after a few test screenings or he submitted an unfinished product – whoever you choose to listen to – which doesn’t surprise me in the least after sitting through The Apparition. And to the haters who will never silence their gripes about authenticity and VHS quality, throwing their hands in the air at the first signs of crisp quality and crystal-clear focusing? Eh, we’ll never stop the haters from hating, and it’s their loss because V/H/S: Viral is an infectious riot on par with the franchise’s best work.
As continuity builds and the world of V/H/S begins to take over, V/H/S: Viral marks a massive outbreak of deadly videos with the power to kill their viewers. We’ve seen this happen on a smaller scale in each previous movie, but it’s writer/director Marcel Sarmiento’s job to turn a pile of VHS tapes into a global epidemic. In Sarmiento’s connecting segments, we watch a young boy in hot pursuit of a renegade ice cream truck that’s holding his girlfriend captive. One minute she’s watching a video, the next she’s vanished and screaming for help on her boyfriend’s iPhone screen. As the chase carries on and people continue watching the videos, Sarmiento’s hero witnesses a string of gruesome murders that happen all within shouting distance of the ice cream truck, eventually building to a socially relatable ending about America’s disgusting viral obsession.
Sarmiento is tasked with a weighty objective, and while his kill sequences compare favorably with other memorable slayings, an overall message of what YouTubers are willing to do for views gets lost in a haze of spastic cutting and interwoven sequences outside of the chilling chase. While attempting to show a city savagely transforming into a bloody hell, helplessly watching as the virus ferociously claims souls who just can’t look away, the social message becomes buried under a heap of detached limbs.
Running through the other shorts, not a single effort disappoints to entertain, but the only real factor worth noting is a serious lack of scare-worthy horror, as the V/H/S franchise has turned into a balls-to-the-wall sideshow of sorts that favors obscurity over fear – which is not to be confused as criticism. Look back on V/H/S: 2 and you’ve got three shorts that care only about shock value and horrific fun, but Wingard’s opening segment offers a much straighter, unnerving horror vibe. We don’t get that change of pace here, as each segment builds upon hilarity in their own unique way. V/H/S: Viral is a f#cking blast from start to finish, but for those genre purists who favor atmospheric scares over mutated genitalia, well, these are not the droids you’re looking for.
Gregg Bishop (Dance Of The Dead) gets things going with “Dante The Great,” a True Crime inspired story about a magician’s dark, murderous secret. Dante (Justin Welborn) finds a magical cloak said to have been discard by Houdini himself, possessing powers any magician could find overnight success with if harnessed correctly. Dante masters teleportation, fire conjuring, and a slew of other tricks, but learns that the cloak can only perform when being continually fed – and that’s when Bishop starts exploring levitating camera tricks. The filmmaker becomes a magician in his own right, turning Dante into a puppeteering madman who defies gravity, incinerates foes, breaks bones with the flick of his wrist, and battles opponents with a whole host of magician-themed attacks. Bishop’s segment is every bit as wild as you can imagine, never revealing his tricks until the act is over.
Nacho Vigalondo decides to explore alternate realities in his segment titled “Parallel Monsters,” a seemingly tame idea that rapidly unfolds in the most Nacho-like of fashions. We meet an inventor who uses his machine to connect parallel realities, making friends with his mirroring counterpart, but after the two doppelgängers decide a quick exploration of the other’s lifestyle should be in order, it’s not long before we realize these realities are more alternate than parallel. Around every corner Nacho dives deeper into an obscure universe where people sit around a bleeding sack of guts while wearing orgy attire, horns blare cultish sayings, and light beams from people’s bodily openings. Then, only then, does Nacho reveal a sick, twisted delight that elevates “Parallel Monsters” into horrific realms that Japanese exploitation films have only dared traversing, kicking off an adrenaline-packed finale ripe with even more juicy surprises. “Parallel Monsters” is a delicious Gobstopper, constantly unleashing a brand-new flavor that somehow becomes even more delectable than the last, which is a testament to Nacho’s unmatched creative process that’s never content with letting the same idea stagnate. “Parallel Monsters” is always moving, pleasurably shocking, and quite possibly some of Nacho’s best work to date!
The pièce de résistance of V/H/S: Viral is saved for last, coming from Resolution/Spring creators Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. They call their segment “Bonestorm,” I call it “Skater Punk Call Of Duty,” but whatever you call it, their segment is a monstrously fun hack-and-slash adventure with all the tenacity of a button-mashing video game captured in real time. The setup is so simple – put some ambitious skateboarders in Tijuana while they’re trying to record a “Sponsor Me” video – and then have a cult of hooded Dia-De-Los-Muertos-lookin’ goons carry out a ritual that involves slaughtering the lot of them. Good thing the boys are gatted up and ready for a fight, as they start skateboarding around in a cyclone of exploding heads, vicious skeletons, spurting blood, and what could possibly be the greatest skateboarding demo ever established. “Bonestorm” rivals “Safe Haven” based simply on the constant assault of skull-bashin’ awesomeness, captured and choreographed without missing a single gleefully gruesome beat. Benson and Moorhead are the bright future of modern-day horror, as “Bonestorm” will absolutely go down in V/H/S infamy – no matter how many sequels there are.
V/H/S 2 was an admirable sequel, lifting the franchise from the dregs of “fratboy horror,” and V/H/S: Viral finds that same brutal rhythm once again. Despite the connecting story going for broke and coming up a bit short, these are the strongest collection of tapes assembled yet, none of which make us reach for the fast-forward button. The duo of Benson and Moorhead walk away with top honors, but Nacho and Gregg all have segments worth bragging about, and even Marcel – each oozes such a unique style and there’s never a bland repetition while jumping about from one demented story to the next. Get down with the sickness kiddies, because V/H/S: Viral is a vicious freakshow that’s worth going to the looney bin over.
Grab on for dear life and expect a freakish, wild, and seriously f#cked up ride from start to finish - which, of course, is every horror fan's dream.