Viva la película de terror antología!
Is that right? After five years of Spanish throughout high school, I still just went to Google Translate for that shit. But anyway, for those who don’t understand my (probably gibberish) Spanish, it (most likely doesn’t) means “Long live the horror anthology!” Why am I so excited? Well, partially because I didn’t think this craze would actually stay strong in today’s horror world, and partially because V/H/S/2 proves the concept is only producing better and better content. V/H/S and The ABCs Of Death tested the waters, wetted viewers whistles, but V/H/S/2 took the concept to extremely more brutal places knowing the market for over-the-top horror is salivating over original content these days – something I pray the newly announced sequel to The ABCs Of Death tackles even more ferociously.
I was elated to see that V/H/S/2 learned a lesson or two from its predecessor in terms of delivery, tightening up the segments by choosing four longer, more in-depth short films instead of five smaller entries which could have benefited from a little additional time, as well as keeping out some of the senseless nudity that made our filmmakers look like immature teenagers who just discovered voyeurism for the first time. Sure, we’re granted with a view of some perky, luscious, chesticles in the first few minutes of viewing, but afterwards our filmmakers put a much stronger emphasis on horror storytelling over gratuitous exploitation of cheap, R-rated nudity just for shits and giggles. Instead, our directors exploited good ol’ fashioned, repugnant gore – you know, like good little horror directors!
For those unfamiliar with the concept behind V/H/S, and now V/H/S/2, our filmmakers were challenged to create a found footage tale of terror recorded on means typically not utilized in cinema, but in that respect our directors don’t take as many creative liberties as the ones before. This time around we get a bionic eye camera, a mountain biker’s GoPro camera, a documentary filmmaking team with the help of a button-cam, and man’s best cameraman – that’s right, we get a poochie-cam! That would be a GoPro attached to the back of a dog. Compared to the original which saw iChat, a camera phone, and straight up spy-tech hidden camera glasses, a little originality was lost in delivery, but this also meant an increase in video quality which swapped grainier footage for crisper ghastly shots – yeah, I’ll approve.
When ranking the filmmaker’s segments though, there was a definitive order in my mind. Like a four serving meal, let’s run through them all worst to best, shall we? Always start with the nasty brussel sprouts, get them out of the way, and end with the deliciously decadent helping of Chocolate Lava Cake, washing away the weaker, less palatable flavors of before.
In V/H/S/2, Jason Eisener’s (Hobo With A Shotgun) “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” unfortunately plays the role of the those scarcely adored brussel sprouts, despite the fact that his The ABCs Of Death entry “Y is for Youngbuck” remains one of my favorites among that bloody alphabet. But that’s not V/H/S/2, and this time around I didn’t get as much of Eisener’s distinct style. While I admit he does a great job creating some campy 80s creature-feature vibe complete with horribly fake prosthetic suits you can practically see the actors wearing, in the best of ways of course, there also wasn’t a single scare throughout the whole short. I belted some good laughs, and I absolutely fell in love with Tank’s kinetic camera work (complete with his furry coat entering the shot), but more static-filled moments of old-school camcorder recording made it a little hard to make out all the visuals on-screen at times. Yes, Eisener wanted this so you couldn’t truly make out the physical attributes of the aliens, but all these elements made me feel like I’d been anally probed just for the hell of it – which is weird because I still found passable levels of fun. Did I just say that out loud?
Next up is Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s (The Blair Witch Project) “A Ride In The Park,” which I personally enjoyed as on openly adamant zombie fan. Again, terror isn’t really found in this short either, but how many times do we actually get to see the beginning of a zombie apocalypse through the eyes of one of the earliest zombies?! Not many times, but we’re fortunate enough to enjoy the view from a biker’s GoPro helmet attachment as what starts as a leisurely ride turns into a killer outdoorsman adventure.
Our biker, Mike, stops off to help a woman who appears hurt, he encounters a few zombies shambling his way, and just as he turns to run, the woman lurches forward and wrestles Mike to the ground – managing one clean bite. Mike runs for his life, but slowly the transformation starts overtaking him, finally making Mike collapse into a true death pose. Two other bikers approach Mike, call for help, but then Mike starts showing signs of life – you know where this is going. What follows is undead Mike’s journey for entrails, chaos, and ultimate brain-munching, as Mike and his newly turned friends stumble upon a child’s birthday part at one of the BBQ pits. Overly gory, disgustingly brutal, and giving an up-close view of the carnage, gorehounds are going to love this entry. Hell, I even dug the ending. Remember that statement after you see V/H/S/2 and you’ll understand. Some of you will agree, most of you probably won’t – to each their own.
Coming in at number two is Adam Wingard’s (You’re Next) “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” the tale of Herman Middleton (Wingard) and a brand new bionic eye which restores his full vision after a horrific car crash. Of course, just like in any good horror movie, Herman also gains the power to see dead people, and the more he interacts with them, the more danger he puts himself in. Even with the help of Clarissa (Hannah Hughes), a woman with a bionic ear who has been hearing dead people on her own, Herman reacts like any one of us would – freaks the f@ck out, interacts with the ghosts every chance he gets, and fights for his life against a haunted house full of evilness. A simple plot, yes, but it’s made horribly terrifying by ghosts with a real knack for jump-scares and creepy poses, while Wingard’s performance keeps a sense of light-hearted comedy and realistic reactions. He’s got these great little one-liners as the ghosts are messing with him, trying to calm himself while a bloodied little child stalks his every move. Being the most scare-filled segment out of the bunch, it’s a shame V/H/S/2 put “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” first, as the true atmospheric horror never reached these levels again.
But here comes that amazing, astounding, scrumtrulescent Chocolate Lava Cake in the form of Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto’s (Macabre) horror short of the year, “Safe Haven.” I mean I heard the hype surround this little beauty before I even saw V/H/S/2, so I was afraid I’d be let down by raised expectations, but I can happily say that this sadistic cultist clusterbomb of horror awesomeness had me going from zero to midnight in record time. By that I mean these two mad scientist directors crafted a beautiful explosion of devil-worshipping terror as a documentary film crew picks the worst possible time to interview the People Of Paradise Gate, who are led by a figure known only as “Father.”
Worst possible time you say? But why? Oh, you know, only because Father is summoning the spawn of Satan, inciting mass murders, housing creepy children, birthing gigantic beasts, bridging the gap between Hell and Earth – shit really hits the proverbial fan, and our team luckily catches every bloody, entertainment-soaked second. “Safe Have” is some of the best horror content you will see in 2013, contains ingeniously applaud-worthy originality which just oozes elements horror fans of any genre will love, and ends on such a wildly perfect note, Evans and Tjahjanto can be easily crowned “Belles of the V/H/S/2 Ball” with no contest.
Let’s not forget Adam Wingard’s writing buddy Simon Barrett though, who directs the interlocking story of “Tape 49″ which makes all these other segment viewings possible. Sufficiently creepy, just like the original’s story about wicked VHS tapes, each filler segment had me on the edge of my seat, looking for any possible background movement, until finally we’re hit with V/H/S/2‘s final act of shrieking terror, showing Barrett just as adept a filmmaker as penmaster. Is there any saying about the camera being mightier than the keyboard?
V/H/S/2 is an absolutely improved upon sequel for a conceptual franchise I only hope lives to see another day, as proper execution can keep this series living for many years. Sure, every segment might not be a complete winner, but unlike other remakes and sequels, the V/H/S namesake pushes original, boundary-leaping, water-testing ideas instead of another tasteless Leatherface adventure (for example). Filmmakers love a challenge, and while not all rise to the occasion like we’d hope, the ones that do make these films brilliantly worthwhile. Do I wish every segment had the balls, craftsmanship, and mindf$ckery of “Safe Haven?” Yes, this would have been a five star movie then. Do I still respect what every filmmaker put forward? Absolutely. There’s a formula here that’s ripe for prolonged success, I just can’t wait to see which filmmakers are up for Brad Miska’s found-footage challenge next.