Before DVDs, before Video On Demand and before Netflix, there was the VHS revolution. It was a time when movie nerds would rush to the nearest Blockbuster (remember that place?) or the local mom and pop video store every weekend to grab the latest home video releases.
It was also before the Internet, so the only way you knew if a movie was good was by watching it yourself. For indie films that had limited or no theatrical distribution, you had to judge the book by its cover. Then the digital age came and took away a large chunk of the fun.
In comes Ti West ("House of the Devil" and the upcoming "The ABCs of Death"), Adam Wingard (director of the highly anticipated "You're Next" and "The ABCs of Death"), Joe Swanberg ("Uncle Kent," "Hannah Takes the Stairs"), Glenn McQuaid ("I Sell the Dead"), David Buckner ("The Signal"), Radio Silence and Simon Barrett (writer of "You're Next" and "The ABCs of Death"), a crew of movie geeks who grew up during the VHS boom and took a chance on watching more low budget films (mostly horror, obviously) during that heyday than you probably have in your entire life. It paid off and brought us the found footage anthology film, "V/H/S."
Shot in first person, "V/H/S" is made up of five complete shorts with an extra-short sixth called "Tape 56" (written by Barrett and directed by Wingard), which is broken into parts to serve as the film's intro, transitional segments and outro to bring everything full circle. It follows a couple of hoodlums running around, filming themselves as they wreck abandoned buildings with spray paint and baseball bats. After hearing about a VHS tape that's worth a lot of money, they break into the house where it's rumored to be at — perhaps the darkest of their many none-too-bright ideas, especially since it looks like Satan himself lives there.
The first complete short, "Amateur Night" (co-written and directed by Bruckner), follows three bros whose night out on the town bar hopping, looking for women and getting piss drunk ends up turning into a dude's worst nightmare when they actually do score and take a mysterious woman home with them. Oh yes, there is a penis-being-ripped-out-of-place scene. The second short, "Second Honeymoon" (co-written and directed by Ti West, whom I'm coining and complimenting as the new King of Slow Burn Horror), stars Swanberg and Sophia Takal as a young couple whose stab at taking a nice vacation is interrupted when an unknown visitor comes knocking at their motel door. The third short, "Tuesday the 17th" (written and directed by McQuaid), follows a group of college kids whose journey deep into the woods turns deadly when a blurry and static-looking killer shows up.
The fourth short, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" (written by Barrett and directed by Swanberg), takes place over the course of a few days and consists of multiple web-cam conversations between two lovers trying to figure out why something — or somethings — are going bump in the night in one of their homes. The final short, "10/31/98" (written and directed by a crew called Radio Silence), is similar to the first short, following a couple of dudes on a crusade to get drunk and laid on Halloween. All dressed up, they end up at the wrong house party and interrupt a Satanic cult trying to sacrifice a girl (presumably a virgin) and from there things turn into a new kind of Monster Mash, if you know what I mean.
"V/H/S" is a film by horror fans, for horror fans. Even though there is some CGI in one of the shorts (it's used sparingly and wisely), the whole film has the VHS look and feel, most notably by the random static that comes from tape that's been watched too much. There are also sporadic moments when completely unrelated scenes pop in, like someone has been re-using the same tape over and over.
A lot of recent found footage films contain unnecessary, painfully boring scenes, often used as a way of providing filler to reach a feature running time. This is not the case in "V/H/S," as every scene is crucial in pushing each short's narrative forward. Indeed, the filmmakers of "V/H/S" have made found footage films smart again.
And terrifying. Let's be honest; it's easy to scare a crowd (cue loud music, throw something toward the camera and presto!) but the real challenge is to strike fear in the heart of the viewer and have them remember those moments for months, possibly years down the road. "V/H/S" slices out all of the cheap scares and fills the film with truly clever scream-out-loud moments — some that are left up to the viewer's (hopefully twisted) imagination and some where the terror is right in your face. Have some tree bark or a stick handy, as you'll need something to chew through while watching this movie.
Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.