Monday, January 7, 2013

52 Weeks of Horror Movies - V/H/S

I’d been planning to watch this back in October and ran into scheduling/budget issues. It was recently released on DVD so I put it in the Netflix queue.

It’s a found-footage horror anthology. The framing sequence involves a group of criminal douchebags whose primary means of employment seems to be assaulting random women, pulling up their tops and selling the resulting footage as ‘reality porn.’ I pretty much hated all of them from the first couple of seconds and only hung in through the initial segments because I hoped someone would murder the whole group of proto-rapists as horribly as possible.

That whole opening sequence was so awful and annoying I seriously wondered if I could stomach the whole movie. And I mean annoying in a number of ways - crap characters, jumpy editing, slow pacing and why the hell are they even shooting on VHS in the first place?

One of their number talks them into breaking into a house and stealing a VHS tape for an undisclosed third party. Of course they agree, because, as I mentioned, criminal douchebags. At the house they find the body of an old man in a chair in front of several tvs. They split up with one group going to check the basement (where they find a stack of video tapes) and one staying behind to review the handful of tapes already there (in at least on VCR).

The remaining segments are all (presumably – though the last segment takes place AFTER the framing sequence is over) from tapes that are viewed.  In between each segment we come back to the room where the tvs are and see that a) the dead man has disappeared or returned behind whichever jackass is in the room at the moment and b) a new guy comes in, finds the previous guy gone and proceeds to watch the next tape. 

I guess they all did get horribly murdered – but most of it happens off-screen.

 “Amateur Night”
The first segment follows three friends who set about trying to bed some women and tape it with some trick glasses for an amateur porn video.

This is where I really started to worry that I was going to have to sit through a couple of hours of rapey awfulness. 

This segment is pretty uneven and the female protagonist is really over the top with the creepy from minute one. None of this segment scared me or even gave me the creeps (except for the basic premise of ‘let’s lure a girl back to our hotel room and tape her’). The acting is okay and the effects are fairly good, but the pacing and atmosphere just didn’t gel. I’m easily jumped and even when things are telegraphed well ahead of time (hello Halloween II) I’ll still jump out of reflex. Not the case for this segment – I was almost bored.

“Second Honeymoon”
In general I liked this segment better and, as it didn’t feature obvious assholes doing obvious asshole things, I enjoyed watching it a bit more. It follows a young couple on a trip out West. Guy has a little douchebag in him, but compared to the guys in the previous segments he’s a sweetheart. There were some nice creepy moments, I appreciated the ‘Remember the movie Big?’ moment in the Wild West town and the first moment when you realize that neither of the protagonists is the one using the video camera in the hotel room that night.

All in all I think it falls apart in the end, though. The ‘fortune’ notwithstanding, the ending isn’t really built up to and it comes as a shock in a bad way. It feels forced and not sustained by the previous action. It completely ruined any goodwill the piece had previously built up.

“Tuesday the 17th”
Wendy brings a group of friends to serve as bait so she can confront and kill a serial murderer that took another group of her friends the previous year.  I didn’t hate this piece – and I liked some of the cinematography and ideas – but the story was bad and the acting was not very good either.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”
This movie is just full of guys who are terrible to women.

This was the first segment I actually liked. It’s full of pretty standard found-footage ghost fare, but the video chat aspect and acting elevated it a notch and the twist was well done. Nothing was creepier to me than when Emily raised her arm to show how she was trying to get the ‘bump’ out of it, though. Yeesh.

This was far and away my favorite of the bunch. Likeable characters, well shot, acted and edited. The house reminded me of the house in House of the Devil and I like to imagine that it’s the same edifice, just ten years later.

Four friends head to a Halloween party (the found footage is provided by the person dressed in a teddy bear costume as a ‘nanny-cam’). When they get to the house (although it’s possible they’ve got the directions messed up) they find it empty. Some strange things happen and they begin to believe that their friends have set it up as a haunted house. I loved this conceit of having none of the creepy stuff really work on them or simply engender a grudging admiration.

They stumble on a exorcism/summoning ritual (I wasn’t clear which) and join in the chanting as they think this is part of the experience.

This doesn’t go well.

For me, this was the only story firing on all cylinders and a strong finish to mixed bag of stories. 

In general I thought things didn’t work as well as they could have. I’d totally watch “10/31/98” again – but I think that’s the only segment I truly enjoyed.

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