By Steph Cannon
Capitalizing on the success of Shudder’s V/H/S 94, which premiered to record-setting numbers, the found footage horror anthology is back with its most nostalgia-laden installment yet inV/H/S 99.
Ever since the release of V/H/S in 2012, the franchise has become a cult fan favorite, spawning multiple sequels, a spin-off, and even a Snapchat miniseries. Demand for subsequent films has remained high, and after the positive feedback of 2021’s movie, it was a no-brainer to continue on the hype train.
V/H/S 99 uses the same formula as previous films in that it features five different tales all set in the same time period, but diverges slightly in that there is no overarching cohesive main story to tie them all together. Instead, we’re given shorts featuring stop-motion animation of one of the characters from the movie playing with toy soldiers to act as divisions between the segments. They serve no real purpose other than to offer amusing palette-cleansers to separate each story, but given the fact that the titles aren’t shown until the end of the film, they do become a helpful aid in discerning where one ends and another begins.
“Shredding” starts things off with the most ‘90’s heavy overlay of the bunch. Written and directed by Maggie Levin, it follows a young punk-rock band as they break into an abandoned building that once served as a music venue. Years prior, a group that was performing was tragically trampled, and subsequently all members were killed, and rumors now run rampant over the location’s supposed haunting. Armed with a video camera to capture what they find, they venture inside to investigate, where the situation quickly goes awry. The camera work is dizzying, and it’s difficult to follow what’s transpiring, but that’s also the point. While it’s not the most outstanding of the five stories, it’s well placed as the first entry simply from a thematic standpoint. From the clothing, to the music, to the slang, it perfectly sets the pace for the end of the 1990’s feel.
Arguably the strongest and most phobia-inducing of the five is “Suicide Bid”, written and directed by Johannes Roberts. It follows Lily (Ally Ionannides), a wannabe Sorority girl who is willing to do anything in order to get accepted into her desired house. Unfortunately, the girls involved in accepting her are ruthless and deplorable, and take advantage of her devotion in terrifying and sickening ways, with dire results. If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces and insects, let’s just say you’re going to have a difficult time watching this one. The effects and pacing are a highlight, though, especially considering the budget.
Up next is “Ozzy’s Dungeon”, directed by Flying Lotus, which easily ranks as the strangest and most stomach-churning watch. Paying homage to the messy obstacle game shows of the ‘90s such as Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, it stars Amelia Ann as young Donna, a contestant on the show who is treated unfairly, much to her mother’s (Sonya Eddy) disdain. To say she takes matters into her own hands to exact revenge is an understatement. Despite “Ozzy’s Dungeon”’s descent into the ultra-weird, Eddy delivers one of the standout performances, taking the term mama bear to a whole new level.
“The Gawkers”, directed by Tyler MacIntyre, follows a group of debauched, voyeuristic teens as they go to extremes to spy on their new, attractive neighbor (Emily Sweet). Their desperation to catch unwelcomed glimpses of her backfires when they discover she isn’t quite the girl next door they imagined her to be. This one takes a while to really get going, subjecting the audience to clip after clip of the boys behaving like, well, teenage boys. By the time it finally gets interesting, it’s already near the end, but the payoff is solid regardless.
Rounding things out is “To Hell and Back”, written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter. Two filmmakers (Archelaus Cristano and Joseph WInter) attend an unusual New Year’s Eve party that includes a demonic summoning ceremony, only to (as the title suggests) find themselves transported to, and trapped in hell. The dreadfulness of the underworld is portrayed with entertaining and chaotic cinematography, offering the audience a staggering and fast-paced trip. It’s a wise choice to have as the finale, where you’ll find yourself still catching your breath by the time the credits roll.
As compared to the previous sequels, V/H/S 99 shows that it can hold its own in delivering five unique, but strange stories. What it really has going for it are the performances of nearly every single cast member, who all seem to be firing on all cylinders and giving it everything they’ve got. This helps to keep the authenticity of the found footage style, as it truly feels as though you’re watching these peoples’ home videos. The practical effects are also exceptional, and each “creature” that is seen on screen is completely different, and more horrifying, than the next.
These two elements give V/H/S 99 the ability to stand next to its predecessors and not be completely overshadowed. All in all, this is an enjoyable, frenzied, well produced entry into a franchise that’s proving to have staying power.