Streaming Review

V/H/S/99 review – inconsistent but often inspired horror hodgepodge

The latest entry in the anthology franchise fails to capture what's great about the series, though two tales make it worthwhile for fans

The V/H/S franchise is one that has been going from strength to strength, a sentiment seemingly echoed by the vast majority of its biggest fans. The previous entry in this acclaimed anthology series, V/H/S/94, came in guns blazing, featuring four strong and frightening stories that continued to ramp up the tension with every tale. With the latest instalment, however, the offerings are more inconsistent, signalling what feels like the first dip in quality for the series to date.

The cornerstone of this series, of course, can be found in the through-line story tying the individual tape vignettes together. Instead of going the typical route for V/H/S/99, though, the movie employs stop-motion toy soldier sequences that are supposedly linked to a group of kids who show up in the film’s fourth segment. But this time round the scenes don't seem to serve the film, or even their own story, whatsoever. Since V/H/S/99 was billed as highlighting the “final punk rock analog days of VHS,” it puzzles as to why the creators didn’t string their film together with something a little more rock 'n' roll than these lacklustre – and mostly unfunny – animated shorts.

Things start out a little weakly: Maggie Levin's “Shredding,” the film's opener, tells of the making of a music video gone very wrong, though it fails to invoke terror in the same one-two punch way as V/H/S/94's  “Storm Drain” (a perfect intro if ever there was one, brilliantly setting the tone for the level of unflinching horror to come). Similarly, the fourth segment, “The Gawkers,” contributes to the overall let-down feeling of the film. Here, our leads finds themselves facing off against a horror version of a very famous mythical character, though given the creature's heavily studied place in culture, the idea never really feels that frightening. It's just too easy to conceptualise – something of a flaw when the best thing about this genre tends to be found in the unknowns we uncover.

The stronger segments, though, are clear as day. “Suicide Bid,” Johannes Roberts’ story of a girl forced by a sorority to spend a night in a coffin as part of a hazing ritual that was once enacted on a student who was left for dead, is mostly terrifying from the first beat through to the end, even when it gets a little camp in its conclusion. It helps that the story’s big bad is unique and utterly shocking, a potential horror legend in the making. Meanwhile, Flying Lotus' “Ozzy’s Dungeon” gives us one of the more ambitious pieces in V/H/S history; it’s bold, brash, and unapologetic, especially as it shifts from unsettling children’s show to trafficking torture heist to cosmic terror. The acting is superb, the effects are compelling, and the story itself is effective and raw.

V/H/S/99 is worth watching for these two segments alone, though first-timers are probably better off seeking out one of the earlier entries in this usually gnarly franchise in order to see what all the fuss is about.

V/H/S/99 is released on October 20 on Shudder.

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