Dir. Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder and Timo Tjahjanto
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
First things first, you see the star review and think this review is going in hard on a film that's meant to be a light dose of horror shorts to be enjoyed not for their depth but just for bringing small nuggets of horror to an audience who perhaps want something a little less drawn out than a 90-120 minute long movie. Let me be the first to say, of all people who wanted this to succeed, I was high on that list.
Unfortunately, with the exception of one good short, the film just about fails at everything it set out to do. In summary, V/H/S/94 is a compilation of 5 shorts with a wraparound. All original concepts from their respective directors, the film shares the same plot device as it's predecessors.
Where V/H/S/94 fails is an overall appetite to share a fizzy filter to overlay on some (purposefully may we add) distractingly bad acting and overall a collection of shorts that build up in tension yet fail at their ultimate executions.
Directed by Chloe Okuno, the opening segment sets off on a good start, 90s news broadcast and a BLAIR WITCH style homage of news reporting sees it's lead and cameraman scour the sewers looking for a ratman creature that has seen by the locals. As they go deeper into the sewers they see remnants of life and moving forward they are met by a cult of people who harbour the ratman creature. The film grabs attention and is a genuinely sinister short until the film then cuts to her escape from the tunnels and back on prime time news only to now be a part of the cult which turns a very sinister plot into something more comedic, without intention. This is the biggest disappointment as it tags along so well until the moment she escapes and as such just doesn't fit the same tone, and it doesn't centre around the ratman creature who is glimpsed at for only seconds with contradicting abilities despite some interesting design and effects to it. There's more depth needed which was wasted in an ending that just has you wishing the rats would surface and swallow you whole.
The Veggie Masher
It's just a dumb 90s TV advert, did I miss something? Why would someone garner a directing credit for this dross?
Following on from the initial shock of the first short comes something more familiar to horror fans, a funeral. Set in a late night wake a lone employee must watch over a coffin in the anticipation of some guests are expected to visit. The film slowly grows until the inevitable happens and it's a shocking and chilling sight to unravel. The visual effects are outstanding in Simon Barrett's piece and his tenure in the genre begins to show as the corpse wanders the room in search of it's victim. The movie is one of the most well set in the series and works well as a short but it's purpose, message and weight are lost in an event that happens and then asks... "so what?". There are so many questions to ask, why a late night service? why diminish all responsibility from the care home to one person? surely there was a window for the wake not ALL NIGHT? Ok, now my head's starting to hurt that it's detracting from the genuine elements of shock. It's also really badly written with dialogue contradicting itself within seconds (nobody showed up, then somebody showed up and no I don't feel so bad?) and why is there a SILENT HILL alarm when the room is unsettled yet no issue when the wake keeper is roaming around? It actually draws away from the tension and it's on the reveal that V/H/S/94 now begins to lose the 90s aesthetic.
Yes, the grainy overlay is still present, the blur on the lens, the fashion, but the effects are far too good. There's no cultural reference to suggest this is in the 90s other than some old cameras and while nostalgia plays key here, I certainly do not remember CGI or prosthetics being so good as to show a decapitated man running across a room being this "real". Again, Empty Wake suffers in it's conclusion as it all amounts to little more than a brief attack and an escape that makes you brush your shoulders off and await the next piece.
Timo Tjahjanto is another V/H/S veteran and his piece for V/H/S/2 was a masterpiece in short cinema. So it's no surprise that The Subject is the standout piece here. From the outset the awful CGI is reminiscent of THE LAWNMOWER MAN, the robotic/human hybrid is reminiscent of TETSUO and the violence is under the counter level violent. But again, even though this is the most satisfying short, it betrays the 90s and instead is a repeat of the gonzo madness we got in the much better V/H/S/2 which feels more in tone with the brief than this mechanical action fest. The creature design is more in line with FRANKENSTEINS ARMY and as a result, feels great but not in line with the thematics that '94 has set out.
Instantly the most politically present of any V/H/S short but at the same time the most authentic 90s segment, The Terror sees a group of rednecks set on unleashing a demonic presence in a terrorist plot only for it to backfire. The build up is a comedy of errors despite some brutal executions and ultimately the reckoning is underwhelming when it has been built up to for so long.
The wraparound piece is the most promising of the shorts and really leaves you wanting more, unfortunately, it wastes far too much in getting to the video cult piece that by the time it reveals its true existence, it all is far too late. There are some interesting character choices that feel far too hammered ("we don't need more tech, we need a graaaaaaaave diggers") to be accidentally bad. As a result there is a macho feel to the developments that feel authentic to the 90s and probably best left there which at least makes the reveal and a single line of dialogue worthwhile, however at which point the real interesting elements of the short are glossed over.
A film set around a cult who make their followers watch snuff films is much more interesting than a police unit sent in to see bodies of victims with their eyes gauged out. It becomes less of a following with a meaning and instead more of a cultish murder family set on garnering more victims. The messaging is lost in its development and it could have been executed better if instead it was its own segment and instead is cut up into plot building teases until the end reveal.
V/H/S/94 simply forgets its main audience have already indulged in 90s shorts, heck who used VHS tapes post much further than the 90s anyway. Many of the series best segments feel more authentic to the era and instead really shows that all '94 has to offer is a filter and bad storytelling that focuses too much on the so-bad-its-good films of the era instead of the times when the decade got it so right. In a year where 90s nostalgia is everywhere (here's looking at you FEAR STREET, as well as the return of franchises CANDYMAN and SCREAM) V/H/S/94 may as well drop it's title and call itself INSTAGRAM FILTER
We had SCREAM, CANDYMAN, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the best this film can come up with is an acid spitting news presenter. With so much promise, it's hard to see where V/H/S/94 went so wrong but rest assured, there will be no rewinding of this cassette when it's returned to the video store.