Credit: Radio Silence Productions / Bloody Disgusting Films / Shudder
Found footage has a spotlight on it at Fantastic Fest 2021 with a new entry into the V/H/S franchise with V/H/S/94. The first film since 2014’s V/H/S/: Viral comes a new set of 4 stories and a red thread of guts and gore to tie them all together. ‘The Found Footage Phenomenon’ documentary is also screening at this years fest so there is plenty to love if you dig this horror sub-genre.
Something that makes found footage so endearing is it can be as low-fi and low budget as you want as long as the story is compelling and intriguing. V/H/S/94 has a combination of fun narrative storytelling mixed in with more heavy special FX like those in Timo Tjahjanto’s segment. The film was shot entirely during the pandemic which found footage can also lends itself to an advantage to shoot in more isolated sets and smaller crews.
The premise for V/H/S/94 starts out with a SWAT team unit that raids a supposed drug lab only to find a sinister cult compound whose collection of pre-recorded material uncovers a nightmarish conspiracy. Upon searching, they find multiple horrifying tapes. Let’s dig into the segments starting with Chole Okuno’s, Storm Drain.
STORM DRAIN – CHOLE OKUNO Okuno directs the misadventures of a reporter and her cameraman as they investigate a local legend in the sewers. ‘Storm Drain’ plays out like a child took some acid after watching an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and shit goes sideways from there and I am here for it. An April O’Neil type reporter, named Holly, is out doing a field report about the local legend of a Ratman that may be the cause of recent disappearances in the area. Deciding to get a little to brave she and her cameraman venture into the near by storm drain in search of their Splinter. The reveal is satisfying with a gnarly practical effect Ratman but the ending back in the newsroom is what will leave you wanting more.
THE EMPTY WAKE – SIMON BARRETT
Returning to the series is Simon Barrett. Whose entry focuses on an overnight wake at a funeral home. A simple one location setting that builds on tension and has a twist ending that I’m not sure I recall having seen in a horror film other than perhaps Patrick Rea’s ‘Nailbiter.’ But both are entirely different films and approaches. If you can effectively pull off a slow burn in a short film Simon Barrett knocks it out of the park with this one combing simplistic elements that ramp up the scare factor with a surprise ending that will blow the roof off.
THE SUBJECT – TIMO TJAHJANTO Timo Tjahjanto once again delivers batshit insanity with a mad scientist tale titled, ‘The Subject.’ This cyborg madman wet dream is really the most ambitious films of the anthology and executes with each passing frame one of the best and maybe bizarre shorts in the entire franchise. With inventive camera shots we see the entire thing unfold through the point of view of one of “the subject’s” in the lab. Each person in the lab, who has now become a full on experiment to see if they can be transformed into half man(or woman)/ half machine, has been reported missing by the police and the scientist’s time is about to run out. When the cops show up to the party things get turned up to 11. Social commentary is mixed into the short with a socially conscious cop. When our main cyborg heroine starts to realize her former self her emotions run high as she is hell bent on making it out alive at all costs and her newfound mechanical body might help her do just that. This is a slice of satisfying VHS pie that I will be sure to rewind and watch again and again.
RYAN PROWS – TERROR
You know what is a real pain in the ass these days? Militia groups — and director Ryan Prows gives us an inside look at their training videos, shady back door deals and torture tactics that go horribly wrong. Prows knocked it out of the park with his feature film ‘Lowlife.’ Which was largely a melting pot of interesting characters that had great depth. Each one was so unique that it created a wonderful weird world of characters. His short ‘Terror’ has more of a one track mind and that track is on the train to assholeville. None of these characters are likable or endearing like his previous film, nor should they be because they are a god damn militia. A film that truly lives up to the stereotype of wanting to see certain people die in a movie — and it might be even more satisfying than the final girl crawling out of the rumble at the end of a camp slasher. Terror has a direct social commentary that still resonates today, even though it is set in 1994. That is scary.
JENNIFER REEDER – HOLY HELL
The red thread tying this whole anthology together with a long thick girth set of bloody guts is ‘Holy Hell.’ We only get small segments of this film in between the other shorts as it sets the stage for each one. A Swat team is sent in to a warehouse for a drug bust but what they find is way more than they bargained for. Each room has a new grisly discovery and a television set playing a new VHS tape. This Video Nasty experiment gives us a great way to wrap up what I would consider to be the best installment of the V/H/S franchise.
‘V/H/S/94’ will premiere exclusively on Shudder starting October 6, 2021