The incomparable anthology sub-genre has sparked a righteous resurgence over the last decade. What was once an insufferable framing device sporadically attempted in horror, now seems to be back in full swing, churning out a fair amount of successful outings that have not only brought back the nostalgia of Creepshow (2019) or Twilight Zone (2019), but crafted makeshift modern masterpieces like Trick of Treat (2007), Three Extremes (2004), and the criminally underrated Southbound (2015). All highly recommended by the way.
The sub-genre is also often critical proof as well, meaning if creators are able to build success in one or two of its segments per film, the entire project can skate by as serviceable or even successful. Yet, if there’s the example of an entire anthology film bringing out consistent scares, violent moments, pulsating fear, and exceptionality from every segment, then what you have is an undeniable gem.
On the other side of the spectrum there’s something about the sub-genre of found footage horror that shakes, stirs, and rocks the core of your soul. Or it does for me anyway. Whether you call it that or not, there’s an in-your-face, immersive style that brings the terror as close to you as humanly possible. It’s tough to deny or argue it possesses an unmitigated power that, again when done correctly, can create semi or complete masterpieces of the modern age that breathes right into your personal space with impunity.
When it comes to theses sub-genres, no series meshes both of them into a collective instrument of visceral, rampant horror better than the V/H/S series. Since the first film in 2012 it’s been the go-to franchise for mini-doses of terror, providing a variety of tales for fans and casual viewers to get a kick out of. Thanks in part to grabbing up multiple talented directors over the years to put their stories and spins on these segments. And since it’s been years since the franchise’s last outing, V/H/S: Viral (2014) was released, now is as good a time as any for another collection of shorts to return. With that, comes the next installment called V/H/S 94 (2021). A semi-cohesive journey into the realm of death, brutality, misfortune, and magnetic tape. One that caught this humble schmoe completely off guard on how relentless, twisty, and freaking sensational it is. A lean, mean yet insurmountably vile collage of mayhem and a downright fantastical time to boot.
Returning directors Simon Barrett and Timo Tjahjanto, in addition to newcomers Jennifer Reeder, Ryan Prows and Chloe Okuno lend their talents to each of their own distinct segments that features a dependable cast, a handheld camera aesthetic, multiple optical views, tons of practical effects, and all that betamax goodness. The whole project producing a bonafide treat for the senses yet one that stays continuously intense as well as visually arresting. So, let’s take a quick peek at each individual segment shall we?
Acting as the framing narrative of the entire film we have “Hotel Hell,” written and directed by Jennifer Reeder. A SWAT team gets more than they bargained while executing a drug raid in a mysterious warehouse. Once inside, they encounter a crimson filled massacre of body parts, mannequins, and dead people with their eyes gouged out. And as each officer surveys and searches throughout the building, they come across various TVs that end up showcasing each segment of this film. While I appreciated the creativity of this connecting device, it honestly wasn’t needed considering it’s just a brief intermission before we get to each short tale. Ironically enough this is the weakest part in the film. However, I’ll praise it for introducing us to that 90s tone swimmingly. Complete with tracking static, grainy filters, and overuses of the word fuck as if the word was just discovered. I mean come on, this is the 90s, where’s the slang people? Ugh, Whatever! As if!
Next up in “Storm Drain,” written and directed by Chloe Okuno, we have an annoyed news reporting duo investigating a local legend in the “Rat Man.” After interviewing witnesses to the creature, they decide to search the storm drain where the sightings took place. Needless to say this doesn’t go extremely well for the duo. While this one was unbearably stupid in regards to our character’s decisions, it still featured strong, claustrophobic scares, and a pretty fun ending. And I dare say this segment sets the overlaying tone and execution of the entire film far better than “Hotel Hell” and really accomplishes the task of settling you as a viewer into this presentation with its ideas. Good stuff.
Next up in “The Empty Wake,” written and directed by returning director Simon Barrett, an extremely unfortunate assistant must contend with a storm outside of a funeral home where she works as well as a not-so-deceased client during a wake she’s hosting. This segment was immensely spooktacular and nerve shivering as an already iffy situation is upped to 100 on the creepy scale. And proof it’s just better to NOT have these types of jobs. A slow burn, cautionary bed time story to warn little kids to NEVER check the damn casket either, in any regard. Scary stuff.
In “The Subject,” written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto, a sadistic scientist delights in experimenting on helpless victims and embedding them with mechanical parts to create the perfect human-cyborg hybrid, with grotesque results. Soon he must not only contend with a vengeful police force but his experiments holding onto their humanity and trying to escape the upcoming onslaught. Definitely the strongest entry in the entire film as this was a descent into unyielding madness, grinding flesh, and rustic metal. Definitely almost on par with “Safe Haven” when it comes to blood, carnage, and impact. Which shouldn’t be surprising as this was the same director who put that brilliant piece together in V/H/S 2 (2013). This was a worthy follow-up that shocked as well as enthralled with its tragedy, body horror, and frenzied energy. Sensational.
And lastly in “Terror,” written and directed by Ryan Prows, a bunch of ignorant white supremacists decide to use a supernatural force to commit domestic terrorism. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for the slack jawed yokels. I must admit this was by far the most hilarious and exuberant entry, as I got a special kick out of watching these hateful nimrods suffer the consequences of their rousingly ignorant decisions. Bloody, graphic, and reeking of banjo, right-wing inspirations, this was a great segment for all the obvious reasons. Maybe it’s me but it’s just hilarious to watch supremacists get what’s coming to them, and they certainly do here. So awesome.
And there you have it! A taut, riveting, encompassing, and rampantly bloody experience that keeps the surprises rampant throughout its runtime. A jolting reminder why V/H/S as a series is one of the stronger anthology/found footage franchises out today. It’s a diamond in the rough that will continue to shine in the gory blackness it permeates for itself. This installment is something everyone should witness, especially if they’re fans of the series and the growing, improving anthology sub-genre. Whether you believe they’re hit-or-miss or consistent in quality, you can’t go wrong with this wild ride into handheld decimation and 90s sensibilities. It’s all that and a bag of chips! Or as I used to say – It’s all that and a bag of chips with some dip and a coke on the side with a candy bar!
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go return some videotapes.
Review written by Marcus Wilturner