Monday, September 23, 2019

Fantastic Fest ’19: VHYes

The 1980s were not just a great decade for pop music, horror movies, and U.S. Presidents. It was also an era when our relationship to media substantially changed. We no longer had to wait for movies to be broadcast on television. We could rent them ourselves on VHS or better yet tape them for our collections. Twelve-year-old Ralph does a lot of taping, both off television and with the family camcorder. Awkwardly, he has been using the tape that recorded his parents’ wedding for posterity (remember popping those safety tabs—well, they didn’t). As a result, reality for Ralph and his family is about to get mashed-up and blended with all sorts of cheesy ephemeral programming from the Morning-in-America decade in Jack Henry Robbins’ VHYes, which premiered at this year’s Fantastic Festival.

There is an old cowboy hosting a kid’s show, home shopping hosts pitching ad nauseum, a corny cop show, TV listings, and of course porn. Plus, there is a collectibles appraisal show, even though PBS’s Antiques Roadshow first debuted in 1997. Maybe that sound like nit-picking, but it is pretty clear this ode to the Eighties was written by folks who do not really know the era or have much affection for it. As a result, we get lectures on global warming and immigration in the satirical X-rated movies, duly edited for cable TV (by the way, Reagan was very much in favor of increased immigration).

Essentially, VHYes is like the dusty VHS tape equivalent of Amazon Women on the Moon and Kentucky Fried Movie, but with far less naughty bits. Robbins (son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, who appear in hard-to-spot cameos) incorporates two of his Sundance selected shorts, Hot Winter, a vintage skin flick that was supposedly was of the earliest global warming propaganda films, and Painting with Joan, an amusing (for a while) send-up of the heavily memed The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

Somewhat ironically, sequences spoofing true crime programming initially fall flat, but they set up the film’s third act conversion into an outright horror movie that works surprisingly well. Throughout it all, Rahm Braslaw is refreshingly earnest and charismatic as Ralph’s best bud, Josh. Christian Drerup also has some really effective scenes as Ralph’s mother.

The humor is all pretty scattershot and hit-or-miss, but the out-of-left-field ending goes a long way towards redeeming the film. It is good for a few laughs and a few raised eyebrows, but it would have been a stronger film if there were real love for, or at least greater familiarity with 1980s cable programming it sets out to lampoon. Earning mixed feelings and a mixed review, VHYes screens again tonight (9/23), during the 2019 Fantastic Fest.