Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Brooklyn Horror ‘22/Shudder: V/H/S/99

VHS won its format war in 1980 and it remained the dominant media until DVDs finally started outselling tapes in 2002. Frankly, it probably had a better run than DVDs, which have already become an old fogey medium. That means people were definitely still using VHS in 1999, right around the time of Y2K. It is a fitting time for horror, but the found footage is a bit spotty this time around in V/H/S/99, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder, after screening at the 2022 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Sometimes the punk rock attitude is its own worst enemy, as is true for the awful teen garage band, in “Shredding,” written and directed by Maggie Levin. They hatch a scheme to jam and essentially desecrate the site where a promising punk band (sort of like the Go-Go’s before they went pop) was trampled to death by their own fans. This is a bad idea for the characters and nothing new in terms of film.

Johannes Roberts’ “Suicide Bid” is a vast improvement. The title refers to freshmen who only apply to a single Greek house. In this case, the sisters of a particularly nasty sorority haze poor Lily by forcing her to spend the night sealed in a coffin. You would think they had learned their lesson, since there is a creepy campus legend about the vengeful spirit of a pledge the sisters hazed to death several years ago. Regardless, Roberts quite cleverly combines the confined-space horror of
Buried with good old fashioned supernatural horror.

Sadly, it is followed by the nearly unwatchable “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” from Flying Lotus, who previously helmed visual assault that was
Kuso. This mean-spirited segment drags on interminably, even turning sympathetic characters into creepy psychopaths. Weirdly (and unintentionally) the sleazy host of a rigged Nickelodeon-style game show for kids becomes the most interesting character, as the “victim” of the deranged mother, whose daughter was permanently disfigured while appearing on the show. This is just a complete misfire.

Given how bad “Dungeon” is, Tyler McIntyre’s “The Gawkers” inevitably represents a big step up in quality. It is a fairly straightforward yarn wherein voyeurism is violently punished. It is very similar in tone to the “Amateur Night” segment in the original
V/H/S, but the girl the teen boys lust after is never fleshed out to any extent, unlike “Lily the Demon,” who got her own movie, SiREN.

By far, Vanessa & Joseph Winter’s “To Hell and Back” is the best of the ’99 edition. The Millennium is about to turn, which makes it the perfect time for a satanic cult to summon its patron demon. Nate and Troy are there to record it for reality TV, because that kind of thing seemed like a good idea in 1999. However, when a minor demon crashes the party, they are both inadvertently swept up in its banishment back to Hell.

This might just be the most convincing depiction of Hell (or whatever) since
Jigoku. Yet, the Winters also milk the situation for [pitch-black] humor. Archelaus Crisanto and Joseph Winter are terrific bickering and freaking out as the reality TV sad sacks. Plus, Melanie Stone is a showstopper as the demon Mabel.

“To Hell and Back” might have just barely carried
V/H/S/99, but it has the worst interstitial material of any of the films in the series. It mostly involves unfunny comedy bits featuring the stop-motion misadventures of plastic soldiers, intended to satirize the military, by someone who obviously never served a day in their life. There is a good reason these animated bits are not clearly credited. They are not funny. They simply reflect kneejerk prejudices, which undermine an already uneven film.

This is undeniably the worst of the
V/H/S franchise. Honestly, the unfairly maligned third film, V/H/S: Viral was considerably better than this. If you are going to stream 99, fast forward to the contributions from Roberts and the Winters. Not recommended as a film in its own entirety, V/H/S/99 starts streaming tomorrow (10/20) on Shudder.