Wednesday, October 06, 2021

V/H/S/94, on Shudder

Never take collectors lightly, because they know how to get what they want. That is especially true of old school VHS collectors. Indeed, the framing device truly puts the “cult” in cult film fanatics when the V/H/S franchise returns with V/H/S/94, which premieres today on Shudder.

In Jennifer Reeder’s wrap-arounds, “Holy Hell,” a SWAT team thinks they are executing a search warrant on a drug den, but the industrial warehouse actually houses what appears to be the video-head equivalent of the Heaven’s Gate cult. There are lots of dead bodies seated in front of video monitors, where naturally, we will watch the constituent stories unfold.

Chloe Okuno’s “Storm Drain” consists of the footage shot by Holly Marciano, a local Ohio TV reporter, and her cameraman, when they ventured down into the titular sewer in search of a weird rat creature. It is pretty straightforward, but nicely executed and it ends on an amusing kicker. Also, Anna Hopkins probably delivers the film’s most memorable performance as the shallow, soon-to-be freaked out Marciano.

Arguably, Simon Barrett’s “The Empty Wake” is the most effective and economical installment, in which, per a grieving family’s odd request, a mortuary worker must record an overnight wake, even though nobody comes to mourn—almost no one. It really is creepy, because it is so grounded in the lonely, late-night setting.

If you have the opportunity to see
V/H/S/94 on a big-screen with audience, “The Subject” (directed by Timo Tjahjanto, one half of the Mo Brothers), might turn out to be the highlight instead, because it is so deliriously gory and unhinged. In this case an Indonesian SWAT (this is not a great film to elite squad cop in) raid a mad scientist’s lair in search of a kidnapped woman. What they find is a bit disturbing. Tjahjanto does his thing, but it plays better in a group. On your own, you might notice the thinness of the story, but the over-the-top splatter effects do their best to compensate.

Ryan Prow’s “Terror” turns out to be an inventive twist on some favorite supernatural lore. However, he takes a long time emphasizing the unsavoriness of his militia characters, without ever really giving them personality traits, per se, at the expense of fully establishing his monster Macguffin. Seriously, just have them toss around the word “patriot” a few times and the audience will understand the filmmaker probably wants us to think they are irredeemable. Still, that fresh wrinkle is pretty clever.

Reeder’s framing narrative “Holy Hell” represents a considerable improvement over her over-hyped and nearly unwatchable
Knives and Skin. Nevertheless, V/H/S/94 definitely stands as the least consistent film of the franchise, even more so than the under-rated V/H/S: Viral, which was really quite strong. Still, the new re-launch has its moments. Not as good as the first three films, V/H/S/94 is recommended for franchise fans, especially those who can relate to the mid-1990s analog setting. It starts streaming today (10/6) on Shudder.