Living on Netflix: VHS

VHS0

If I’m gonna spend the month of October reviewing horror movies, at some point I’ve got to talk about anthologies.  Horror is by far the most prolific genre when it comes to combining short films into a movie with classic examples like Creepshow, Three Extremes, and Trick ‘r’ Treat.  I imagine that the reason why horror is the preferred genre is that it’s probably the easiest one to still work effectively in a shorter time frame.  The fear of death or harm is easily conveyed, and an audience doesn’t need as much backstory to root for characters to survive as they would for say, a tragic romance or a story about revenge.  V/H/S has been on my radar for a while now and has generally been well received for the creative way it was able to combine several tropes of the horror genre (found footage, anthologies, etc) with a format that many fans believe was the best way to experience these kinds of films.  So does this movie actually succeed in being a throwback to a period in horror that’s fondly remembered, or is it a mishmash of poorly done short films held together by a shaky premise?  Only one way to find out, and that’s to keep on reading!!

The movie begins with some really annoying assholes who are playing with their VHS camera.  The fact that they’re using a that kind of camera (as opposed to say, a cell phone or even a digital camera) lets us know that this is supposed to take place in the late 80s or early 90s.  We’re supposed to be watching the VHS tape of their exploits which include sexually assaulting women and destroying abandoned buildings.  The movie tries to use the VHS tape gimmick by putting in blue screen and snow between cuts, as well as intercutting clips of the assholes doing stuff with what a sex tape which was originally on the VHS before they recorded over it.  The problem is that they aren’t as careful as they should be with this gimmick, and there are clearly scenes that are edited together in a way that doesn’t belie the in-camera cinematography they’re trying to portray.  For instance, during the scenes where they’re wrecking the abandoned building, there are edits to different angles and there are scenes intercut together in a way that only works if the footage was edited post filming.  The gimmick in the opening here seems a bit slapdash at points, but since this IS an anthology, there’s a good chance that the individual segments will be more careful with it.  At some point, the characters start talking which MIGHT indicate a plot, but… no.

“GOD DAMN IT!! When I say we watch Batman, WE WATCH BATMAN!!!”

“GOD DAMN IT!! When I say we watch Batman, WE WATCH BATMAN!!!”

The plot eventually does kick in when one of them reminds the rest of the crew that they have a job to do that night.  They’ve been hired to go into someone’s house and find a specific VHS tape and bring it back to them.  Simple enough premise.  You’ve got a bunch of low level wannabe tough guys who are about to get wrapped up in something they never expected, and it gives them an excuse to watch the tapes that the short films will surely be on.  As a wrap-around, it’s an okay starting point.

The punks enter the house (I think there’s five of them, two of whom have cameras) and they look around for the tape.  The house is almost completely empty (barely any furniture) which is odd and it lends itself to a bit of tension while they’re searching through it.  They eventually find a room where a guy appears to have died in his chair watching VHS tapes.

He died doing what he loved.  Watching taped episodes of ‘Who’s the Boss?’ On an endless loop.

He died doing what he loved.  Watching taped episodes of ‘Who’s the Boss?’ On an endless loop.

For some reason, four of them decide to check the basement while ordering the last guy to stay in the room and check the VHS tapes there for the one they’re looking for.  I’m still not sure what’s supposed to be on the tape they need to find, but the guy puts in the one of the tapes, and we get our first short.

Amateur Night (Directed by David Bruckner)

The short begins with three fratty dudes who are playing with their new toy which is a pair of glasses with a camera inside.  Wait, what?

“The best part is that it has an infinite battery life and endless recording space.”

“The best part is that it has an infinite battery life and endless recording space.”

Right off the bat, it’s clear that this segment takes place pretty recently as opposed to the wrap around which APPEARS to take place about two decades ago. First of all, there is no god damn way that these fucking glasses (which don’t appear to be connected to any other device) are recording this footage on a VHS tape, which means they are some sort of Google Glass knock off.  If so, who the fuck went to the trouble to convert this footage to a VHS tape instead of just keeping them on a USB stick!?  The quality of the video does indeed look like a VHS tape which is in keeping with the motif, but doesn’t this space age technology kind of uncut the whole premise of the movie?  It’s called VHS, not Freaky Found Footage Anthology!!!  It’d be like a movie about haunted beepers being set in 2014 where everyone has fucking SMART PHONES!!!  Getting past whether this fits into the movie’s premise, the basic idea is that these three guys have either invented or purchased some video glasses in order to record their night time excursions and possibly get a sex tape out of it.  The three of them have rented a hotel room ahead of time, play with the glasses a bit, do some shots, and hit the town.  More so than in the wrap around, the cinematography here is consistent with its premise of being unedited found footage.  The only time there’s an edit is when the guy wearing the glasses clearly turns the glasses off.  The camera is also very consistent with its movements being erratic and somewhat disorienting because it’s being filmed from a guy’s face.  I appreciate the effort here, but if you’re sensitive to shaky cam, it can be quite nauseating.  What WILL make you nauseas though are the unbearable characters.  I’m not a fan of frat boy culture which means I might be a bit biased here, but these dudes are loud, obnoxious, and posturing.  The leader of the bunch in particular has that mentality where he only sees women as sexual conquests, but the two guys aren’t much better for going along with him.  I mean, they’re planning on filming a sex tape without the woman’s permission!

“Dude, when we post that video, we’ll be superstars!  The whole internet will know my dick is the king!!!”

“Dude, when we post that video, we’ll be superstars!  The whole internet will know my dick is the king!!!”

I know that a lot of horror movies try to make the characters intentionally unlikable, but frankly I’m tired of it and think it’s just a cop out for not wanting to take the time to write memorable protagonists.  They start going to places and the leader of the bunch (Shane) finds a girl who’s into him, while the main guy (Clint, the one wearing the glasses) and the other guy (Patrick) aren’t having as much luck.  Fortunately, there is one lady who Clint catches the eye of and… yeah.

“I LIKE YOUR FACE.  MIND IF I LICK IT?”

“I LIKE YOUR FACE.  MIND IF I LICK IT?”

Do we all know where this is going?  Is there any doubt as what the fuck is going to happen to these dudes?  I mean, I’m PRETTY sure they did something like this in Trick ‘R’ Treat, so it’s not all that original of an idea.  If you can’t guess yet, the girl with the creepy fucking eyes is going to be the monster (maybe a succubus or maybe a psycho killer) who’s gonna kill them all when the try to sleep with her.  I’m not spoiling anything here, am I?  Anyway, the creepy girl immediately starts clinging to Clint and keeps telling him that she likes him.  Actually, that’s the only thing she says.  Ask her what she thinks about Bombing Syria.  She’ll have no opinion, but she’ll let you know that she likes you!  The gang eventually gets kicked out of the bar for some reason, but the creepy girl and the one who likes Shane go back to the hotel room with the tree amigos here.  Once they return to the hotel room, Clint continues to try to nut up and talk to the creepy girl on the bed while Shane is getting it on with the girl on the other bed.  Then again, maybe Clint isn’t talking to Creepy girl too much because SHE’S FUCKING CREEPY!!!!

“YOU’VE GOT REAL PRETTY HAIR.  CAN I LICK IT?”

“YOU’VE GOT REAL PRETTY HAIR.  CAN I LICK IT?”

Yeah, she’s laying it on pretty thick here.  Then again, she doesn’t really need to dial it back all that much if she’s still able to get victims while looking like she’s gonna eat your face off.  While Clint’s trying to figure out if he’s going to have sex with what’s most likely a she-demon, Shane’s night gets ruined by the girl he’s with passing out.  HOW RUDE OF HER!!!  Thankfully, he doesn’t just go ahead and fuck her when she’s unconscious, but instead he moves right on to creepy girl and practically shoves Clint out of the way in the process.

“I MIGHT BE FUCKING THIS GUY, BUT I’LL BE THINKING OF YOUR HAIR THE ENTIRE TIME.”

“I MIGHT BE FUCKING THIS GUY, BUT I’LL BE THINKING OF YOUR HAIR THE ENTIRE TIME.”

The girl still keeps her eyes on Clint, but she ends up getting into it and taking control of the situation.  She tries to grab Clint’s dick in the process, but the prospect of a MMF three way is too much for him to process so he runs to the bathroom.  Patrick (who’s been sitting on a nearby couch laughing his drunk ass off) has no such qualms and quickly takes Clint’s place.  A few moments later however, Patrick runs into the bathroom with a bite on wrist that he got from the creepy girl.  Clint realizes that something is wrong and tries to get Shane and the creepy girl to stop fucking, while Patrick is whining about his wrist.  Creepy girl doesn’t take it very well.

“YOU CAN HAVE HIM BACK WHEN I’M DONE WITH HIM!!!!!”

“YOU CAN HAVE HIM BACK WHEN I’M DONE WITH HIM!!!!!”

Wow, what a shocking twist.  Creepy girl is actually creepy.  Patrick and Clint run their asses back to the bathroom, leaving Shane (who’s still probably maininting a raging boner) underneath a hell demon.  There’s actually a bit of continuity error here where one second Patrick is wearing boxers and the next second he’s not, but it actually shows how seamless the edits are that it still looks like a single shot.  Shane is clearly getting ripped to pieces, but the two in the bathroom have no idea what the hell they should do.  At some point, Patrick grabs the shower curtain rod and the two of them leave the bathroom to try and make their valiant escape.

“STOP!!  WHO WOULD CROSS THIS HOTEL ROOM MUST ANSWER ME THESE QUESTIONS THREE, ERE THE OTHER SIDE THEY SEE!!”

“STOP!!  WHO WOULD CROSS THIS HOTEL ROOM MUST ANSWER ME THESE QUESTIONS THREE, ERE THE OTHER SIDE THEY SEE!!”

It goes about as well as you’d expect.  Patrick gets taken down easy and Clint uses this opportunity to escape.  He runs as fast as he can down the hallway until he reaches the stairs and runs his ass down them.  Of course, the stupid mother fucker falls down the stairs and breaks his wrist, but the fall is really phony looking.  He falls down like 4 stairs and he ROLLS his way down.  There’s no way he could fuck his wrist up the way he did by that fall.  Despite a broken wrist, his legs don’t appear to be injured which makes it harder to believe that he’d just sit there and wait for the girl instead of getting up and keep running.  Sure enough, that’s what he does and the she demon makes it to the staircase (apparently no one noticed the completely naked hell spawn walking down the hallway), who then repeats the fact that she likes him.

“YOU CAN HAVE ALL OF THIS IF YOU WANT!!”

“YOU CAN HAVE ALL OF THIS IF YOU WANT!!”

The makeup work on the girl is by far the best part of this segment, and is genuinely creepy.  However, the way the succubus is written here takes a lot of her menace away and just makes you question whether or not she’s an idiot.  To prove how much she likes him, she tries to suck him off which fails miserably because all the blood that should be going to his penis is currently spilling out onto the floor due to his horrifically broken wrist.  That and the fact that you killed his friends right in front of him.  Nevertheless, when he’s unable to get it up or her, she’s genuinely shocked and hurt by this and just ends up crying in a fetal position.  Really?  She’s smart enough to get dressed, go to a club, and follow a guy to his hotel room, but doesn’t get the fact that murdering people in front of him might be a bit of a turnoff?  For some reason, the devil lady crying in the corner somehow gives Clint the strength to get the fuck back up and run to try and get some help.  However, not far into his escape, she comes up from behind, grabs his ass by the shoulders and flies him away to god knows where.  Yeah, she’s got wings, what of it?  The actually did foreshadow this by showing some rather large bruises on her back in one of the previous scenes.  The short ends with our hero’s glasses falling off mid-flight and landing in the street for someone to apparently find, collect the footage from, and then put that footage on a VHS tape.  I don’t know, I feel like I should be kinder to this short than I’m going to be, but I really wasn’t a fan of this.  It did get a lot of things right, one of which being the cinematography which never broke the illusion that this was shot from a pair of glasses.  It was very seamless in ways that must have been difficult to record with whatever equipment they had.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they DID film it using Google Glass.  Towards the end, it does pick up and the atmosphere is solidly done, making the hotel room look horrifying once the creepy girl has taken the place over.  All this is good, but I ultimately did not like it because it’s way too predictable, the characters are pretty unlikable (draining a lot of the tension from the short), and I have a bit of an issue with the gender politics in this.  Now stick with me here, because I’m gonna go on a bit of a tangent.   It really hit me while watching this, but almost any female villain in a body count style horror film uses sex to trap their victims.  Contrast this with any male horror movie villain (Jason, Michael Myers, etc) and you see that they PUNISH people for having sex without initializing it.  At no point dos Leatherface try to seduce a lady into having sex with him as a pretense for murdering them.  No, male slashers only kill them once they have sex with someone else (which we usually see and ogle at before the killing).  When the slasher is a woman though, they aren’t punishing people for having sex, they’re tricking men WITH sex to murder them.  Is any of this making sense?  Women can only be slashers if they’re hot and willing to fuck people, while male slashers can be zombies, monsters, ugly dudes, you name it.  It’s especially true in this short where the woman spends a good portion of it completely naked.  I don’t know, it just bothers me that the short wants us to feel for the boys in some way (who are being murdered by a monster) while still giving us lingering looks at her naked body because “she’s totally hot yo!”  While that aspect of the short bothered me, it’s still decently made and made good use of the found footage format.

We cut back to the wrap-around story where the guy who presumably just finished watching this fucked up display has gone missing!  One of the other chumps comes into the room and finds the guy’s camera on the floor, so he picks it up and keeps on filming.  He heads to the basement where the rest of the guys are, and just films them as they’re looking for the specific tape.  One thing we DO learn is that whoever it was who tasked them with finding the tape didn’t TELL them what was on it or what it looked like (any specific identifying labels).  The only thing the guy told them was that “they’d know it when the see it.”  SERIOUSLY!?  Ugh… whatever.  The guy with the camera starts wandering around the basement and a naked man walks across the screen.

“Don’t mind me. I’m just getting a Popsicle.”

“Don’t mind me. I’m just getting a popsicle.”

He freaks out, but not enough to say… leave, or find the dude.  Instead, he picks one of the videos at random, goes upstairs, and then watches it.  Thus we begin our second short.

Second Honeymoon (Directed by Ti West)

I have no inclination to spend more time on this than is necessary, so this is gonna be a fucking quick one.  A couple is on their honeymoon (or maybe their second one if the title is to be taken literally) and their filming the whole thing.  It’s very standard stuff (random shops, observing local landmarks, etc) except for when they get to their hotel room.  They notice some lady going around asking for rides, but don’t think much of it.  After they go to bed though, someone enters their room (take a guess who) and uses their camera to film themselves doing random shit.  That’s about it for the setup, so let’s talk some of the specific issues with this short.  First of all, it looks way too nice to be a VHS tape.  I’m not an expert so I can’t tell you if it’s IMPOSSIBLE for a VHS tape to look this good, but it defiantly looks head and shoulders above the first short and the wrap around.

It’s the newest format!  HDVHS!!!

It’s the newest format!  HDVHS!!!

We also get a glimpse of the camera briefly and it’s clearly too small to hold a VHS tape.

It doesn’t need a tape because it’s wireless!  The VHS tape it’s recording to is back home!

It doesn’t need a tape because it’s wireless!  The VHS tape it’s recording to is back home!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole point of naming your movie VHS is because the movie is supposed to accurately portray that grittiness that can only be found on VHS tapes.  I understand that!  I can’t really explain it, but horror movies on VHS are somehow scarier than their DVD versions!  It’s a great idea for adding an extra layer of freight that has been lost to modern technology, so why the fuck are you undercutting it like this?  I will say that the characters in this are infinitely more likable than they were in the last short, but they don’t DO anything.  Like my description above, about 80% of this short is just them enjoying their vacation.  On the first night, we do get some bits of creepiness because we don’t know the intent of whoever it is running the camera, but it seems to be violent in nature.

“Left Kidney for me, right one to sell.”

“Left Kidney for me, right one to sell.”

The creeper ultimately does nothing of significance, but it has a decent amount of suspense.  The next day is the same as the first (honeymoon stuff), but the next night the stranger returns and we see what this entire short was leading up to.  The husband gets stabbed in the neck, and it turns out the stranger was actually the wife’s lover.

WHAT!?!?

“It’s so much hotter when we record ourselves making out after a murder!”

“It’s so much hotter when we record ourselves making out after a murder!”

That was it?  What’s scary about that!?  The last one had a fucking SUCCUBUS!  This isn’t a fucking short, it’s the introduction to a movie about killer lesbians on the run from the law!  Seriously, the short is 24 fucking minutes, and it doesn’t need to be that fucking long for a plot twist this mundane.  It’s completely pointless and it’s a waste of your fucking time, so definitely skip this one if you choose to watch the movie.

When we get back to the wrap-around, we see that the guy watching it is as unimpressed as I was.

“Well that was kind of lame.  I expected better from the director of Cabin Fever 2.”

“Well that was kind of lame.  I expected better from the director of Cabin Fever 2.”

For those of you paying attention, you might notice that the dead body is no longer in the chair.  We cut back to the basement where the guys down there are musing about what could be on the tape.  Then we cut to the next short.  Wait, what?  That’s it?  We don’t even get the setup of one of them WATCHING the video; we just cut to the next short?  God damn it, this wrap around is so fucking weak.

Tuesday the 17th (Directed by Glenn McQuaid)

This one is pretty standard as well (kids getting killed in the woods), but by far it’s the most interesting use of the concept and the most interesting story so far.  A woman (Wendy) drags three of her friends with her to a lake that she used to visit as a kid.  Naturally, one of the guys has a (non VHS) camera and is pissing everyone off with his antics.  The first half of this is quite annoying with the Brotastic guy with the camera (and his nerdy friend) doing stupid shit in the woods like eat bugs and talk about boning bodacious babes.

“Ha!  It looks like a penis.”

“Ha!  It looks like a penis.”

What keeps these scenes from being unwatchable is that over time, some creepy foreshadowing rears up in interesting ways.  The girl who brought them out here (Wendy) randomly says stuff like “You’re all going to die.”  Now, I don’t know why the bro doesn’t immediately GTFOs when he hears that, but it’s a decent way to build up suspense while we’re out here.  The other thing is that the camera will fuck up on occasion and show a dead body for a second before working correctly.  Again, the bro is completely oblivious, but it shows at least a bit of visual flair without breaking the found footage concept.  The group eventually makes to the lake and the bro finally decides to ask Wendy what the whole “YOU’RE ALL GONNA DIE” thing was about.  She explains that a long time ago, a killer murdered all of her friends at this very lake, and that she was the sole survivor.  Now everyone should obviously run as fast as they can to the car at this point, but Wendy starts laughing and tells them that she was just fucking around.  Relieved, the group tries to have a good time with the bro jumping into the lake and the nerd going into the woods with the other girl.  At this point, the nerd has the camera and is filming the other girl who’s gonna do a cheerleader routine for him.  However, we can see that the camera’s picture is starting to distort which might mean something bad is going to happen!  Sure enough, a knife is thrown and goes right through the other girl’s head.

“Is it noticeable?”

“Is it noticeable?”

The nerd starts freaking out and the blonde girl drops dead after a few seconds of stumbling.  He quickly looks for whoever threw the knife and we get our first look at the killer.  It’s so fucking brilliant what they do with him that it completely turns this short around from a predictable Friday the 13th knock off, into its own brilliant twist on the slasher film.

“MISSINGNO!!!!!  WHY!?!?!?”

“MISSINGNO!!!!!  WHY!?!?!?”

This was about as good a screencap as I could get, but it really can’t capture what it actually looks like seeing the effect in motion.  Basically, the killer is constantly in a state of distortion so that you never get a good look at him.  While we can pretty much guess it’s some dude in a black jacket and wearing a red mask, the fact that we don’t get to see him in full detail lets our imagination do some of the work, as well as giving the found footage gimmick a vital role in the short.  The nerd tries to run away, but the stupid fucker trips for no reason, and is summarily punished for his lack of balance.

“Seriously dude.  You should have taken some Yoga classes or something.”

“Seriously dude.  You should have taken some Yoga classes or something.”

The killer drags the nerd’s corpse away, leaving the camera where it is.  The picture’s distortion begins to fade as the killer retreats which indicates that the camera can be a useful tool in order to track the killer, similar to how the screen distorts in the Slender Man games to let you know he’s nearby.  Not long after the killer leaves, Wendy appears and picks up the camera.  It seems clear that she knew this would happen, and heads back to where the bro is drying off after his dip in the lake.  She goes right up to him and asks him if he’d like to fuck.  Okay…  The bro isn’t buying it and wants to know what’s really going on.  She explains that the story she told was real and the only reason she brought them here was to be bait for the killer so she can get her revenge.  The bro doesn’t seem to fully understand what she’s saying, but he doesn’t have long to think about it because the camera starts to distort again.  Sure enough, the killer comes up behind him and slices his neck open.

“I’m still not sure what’s going on here.”

“I’m still not sure what’s going on here.”

At this point, Wendy starts running her ass off away from the killer.  She’s desperately trying to escape, but the guy is quickly catching up to her when suddenly, he falls in a fucking hole!  That’s right!  Wendy came prepared and set up some traps for the bastard!  Now that’s what I’m talking about!!  I love it when those being hunted by a slasher fight back.  They don’t necessarily have to win, but the fact that they’re actually TRYING to live creates a real connection with the character in a way that most horror protagonists can’t hope to achieve.  You know, people talk shit about Jason Goes to Hell, and while it may be a DEEPLY flawed film, at least they finally did something that SHOULD have been done six movies before!  The first scene of that is a trap set for him by a swat team who proceed to shoot the shit out of him and then BLOW THE FUCKER UP!!  Okay, it didn’t exactly WORK, but it didn’t work for very stupid reasons (something about a knife and an unkillable soul).  This short film gets that.  She’s running around, leading the killer into the traps, to try and stop him once and for all.  However, none of them seem to be too effective, and even one’s that would kill anyone else don’t stop him for long.  This leaves Wendy is in an uphill battle and she’s quickly running out of traps and losing steam.  Now this section isn’t perfect, mostly because Wendy keeps falling down for no reason, but it’s still the most viscerally engaging part of this film so far.  Towards the end, the bro appears out of nowhere and is just walking around which makes no sense, but he eventually collapses and the killer appears.  However, the killer springs another one of her traps and it’s one that REALLY should kill him.

Makeshift Iron Maiden?  Nice!!

Makeshift Iron Maiden?  Nice!!

It obviously doesn’t kill him and he ends up knocking Wendy to the ground and beating her with the camera.  Once she’s unconscious, he opens her stomach up, starts ripping out her intestines, and leaves her for dead in the forest.  For some reason, she seems to have a seizure, but we don’t really get an explanation for that because the short ends soon after.  It took a bit for this short to get going, but god damn did it deliver!  The slasher villain, and the way he was portrayed, was very interesting, and the character of Wendy had some depth to her.  She was tormented by what had happened to her, and it drove her to lead others to the same fate.  She then used that opportunity to try and get rid of the monster forever.  She’s despicable for getting those people killed, but it comes from a place of deep trauma.  Best short so far and I hope the movie keeps up this momentum!

When we cut back to the wrap-around, we’re no longer in the basement but upstairs in the main viewing room where the guy who WAS there is gone, but the dead guy is back in his chair.  I think there are only two of the asshole robbers left, and one of them is going to watch the next tape while the other is going to look for the rest of the crew.

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (Directed by Joe Swanberg)

So right off the bat, I have to call some fucking bullshit on this short.

Oh yeah.  When I see SKYPE I immediately think about a video format that was popular in the 80s and 90s.

Oh yeah.  When I see SKYPE I immediately think about a video format that was popular in the 80s and 90s.

Not only does it kind of destroy the whole VHS motif that it was barely able to hold together up to this point, but it also plays out almost exactly like a Paranormal Activity movie.  There’s really nothing unique here until the end, and even that is underwhelming.  The story is basically about this woman (Emily) who’s boyfriend (James) is out of town on business so they have been skyping to keep in touch.  Unfortunately, Emily has a history of being unstable and is starting to think that something is in the apartment at night.  James doesn’t really believe her (or he doesn’t fucking care, the acting is terrible), but as evidence starts to appear on the screen, it becomes apparent that something is in fact going on.

You plan on maybe TELLING HER there’s something behind her?  Maybe have some sort of reaction at least?  No?  Just gonna sit there while a monster sneaks up behind her?

You plan on maybe TELLING HER there’s something behind her?  Maybe have some sort of reaction at least?  No?  Just gonna sit there while a monster sneaks up behind her?

Aside from the clichéd story and the annoying skype gimmick, the thing that really sinks this completely is the actor playing James.  His gormless mug is on screen the entire time and at no point does he have a fucking expression.  He sees a little girl run across the screen, nothing.  A little girl screeches at his girlfriend in a threatening manner, nothing.  THE GIRLFRIEND IS LOSING HER MIND AND DECIDES TO CUT A HUGE FUCKING CHUNK OUT OF HER ARM, nothing.

“Uh… you probably shouldn’t do that.”

“Uh… you probably shouldn’t do that.”

This goes on for a few nights with the ghosts escalating their appearances, until finally they make their move.  They do… something and Emily is left on the floor passed out.  This leads us to the twist of the short which is… I don’t know really.  Okay, it turns out that James wasn’t actually out of town, but was in the apartment next door.  We know this because as soon as Emily falls, he leaves his laptop and appears moments later in the apartment.  So the guy was able to be THAT fucking close to her without her at any point finding out.  He never left his apartment?  She never left hers?  The only thing I can figure out about this twist is that he was working with the ghosts in some capacity.  He proceeds to cut a huge hole in her midsection (without her waking up from the pain) and pulls out a fetus.  I think it’s a demon baby, but I’m not sure.

This is what Republicans think Obamacare will lead to.

This is what Republicans think Obamacare will lead to.

James gives the baby to the ghosts for some reason (I don’t know what the fuck is going on) and we cut to sometime later where Emily has since been to the hospital and a therapist.

“I must be crazy.”     “Of course you are.  I mean, it’s not like someone you know is doing things to you behind your back.  That would be crazy AND paranoid.”

“I must be crazy.”     “Of course you are.  I mean, it’s not like someone you know is doing things to you behind your back.  That would be crazy AND paranoid.”

So, I might have been able to go with the short if it ended there.  He’s trying to help her in some way by appeasing the ghosts that haunt her (that, or he doesn’t want to pony up the cash for an abortion).  What REALLY makes this completely incomprehensible is that we cut from Emily talking to James, to some OTHER lady talking to James.

“You hear about that crazy bitch who opened her own stomach up?”     “Yeah, she must have a chemical imbalance or something.”

“You hear about that crazy bitch who opened her own stomach up?”     “Yeah, she must have a chemical imbalance or something.”

I guess the implication is that he does this to multiple women, but why?  Are the ghosts actually after him and he has to cut fetuses out of women to appease them?  Well okay, but earlier scenes in the short made it clear that James been dating Emily since around High School, so it’s not like he goes around using women for these fucked up rituals and then moving on to the next one.  I don’t know, this whole short was a big disappointment.  We’ve seen everything this short does done better in movies like Paranormal Activity, and I’m not even a fan of those films.  The twist at the end is original I guess, but it’s incomprehensible and just kinda stupid.

We go back to the wrap-around where the guy watching the video is now gone and so is the dead guy in the chair.  The last remaining dude shows up saying he hasn’t found anyone and finds that the room is empty.  He grabs the camera and proceeds to look around again for anyone in the house.  He finds that one of his friends has been decapitated, and the one who did it was the dead guy in the chair.  Naturally, the dude starts running down the stairs and falls on his ass, leaving him wide open for an attack from the not-dead dead guy.  For a split second you see the not-dead guy’s fake as hell looking demon face, and then it just cuts to the camera sitting on the floor looking at nothing in particular.

This is what happens when you don’t floss every day!

This is what happens when you don’t floss every day!

And that’s it.  The wrap-around story is done so that means the movie is over, right?  NO!!!!  There’s STILL one more short that closes out the movie.  Seriously, it just starts for no fucking reason (EVERYONE IS DEAD SO NO ONE COULD BE WATCHING IT) and after it’s over it just cuts to the credits.  I’ve heard that the reason for this is that the filmmakers knew that the last short was stronger than the wrap-around story, so they though it would end on a better note this way.  Well fine, but I’m still docking points for not having a decent fucking wrap-around story.  If you’re anthology is going to have a wrap-around that connects all the shorts together, it should actually WRAP-AROUND THE MOVIE!!  If your wrap-around wasn’t strong enough to end the movie on, then get a better fucking wrap-around!  Oh yeah, since it’s over I’m just going to say that IT SUCKS!!!  Nothing in these in between bits makes sense (who the fuck was the naked guy in the basement?) and none of the characters are the least bit likeable which means I really don’t give a shit about how it all turns out.  They’re all dead, WHO CARES!?  Well, let’s take a look at the final short then.

10/31/98 (Directed by Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella))

The short begins with a barbeque to introduce us to the characters.  It’s nothing special.  They’re sort of bros, but more like ones who’ve grown up a bit which makes them probably the strongest protagonists in the movie so far.  We cut from the barbeque to Halloween night of 1998 where one of them is dressing up as a nanny cam (i.e. a giant teddy bear with a camera in the head) which gives us the short’s excuse to be found footage.  He hopes in the car with his three other friends (a pirate, a commando, and a dude in a hoodie) who are headed for a Halloween party in some house they’ve never been to before.  When they get to the house (or they arrive at the wrong house), they find that it’s empty and think it’s some sort of haunted house set up.  Sure enough, some creepy stuff starts to happen while they’re exploring but they believe it’s all part of some elaborate spook house.

“Oh shit!  Is that a face in the cabinet!?  What is that, some sort of rear projection?  AWESOME!!”

“Oh shit!  Is that a face in the cabinet!?  What is that, some sort of rear projection?  AWESOME!!”

It’s a fantastic twist on the haunted house trope that provides a realistic reason why the character holding the camera doesn’t bolt out of the house immediately.  Their exploration leads them to the top floor where they start hearing some voices in the attic.  They head up there to find that some religious nutjobs (oh look!  ANOTHER EVIL CULT!!!!) who are about to sacrifice some woman.  The guys think this is part of the show and start cheering the cultists on which shocks the hell out of the religious nuts.

“WOO!!  Burn the witch or whatever!”     “What the hell!?  THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A PRIVATE CEREMONY!!!”

“WOO!!  Burn the witch or whatever!”     “What the hell!?  THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A PRIVATE CEREMONY!!!”

I absolutely love it.  When the cultists realize they’re being watched, they have a brief moment of sobriety where their fire and brimstone rhetoric just goes down the drain and they start look confused and sheepish.  The cult guys start yelling at the bros to get out, but when one of them slaps the women, the bros realize that some serious shit is going on and try to help her.  At that moment though, whatever is going bump in the night decides that now is the time to start escalating shit, and a few of the cult members get flung to the ceiling due to some unknown force.  The camera starts to glitch out and by the time it goes back online, the guys are already running down the stairs and out of the house.  The one in the bear suit though has a crisis of conscience and goes back up to save girl.  Fortunately for him, his friends follow suit and they start beating up cultist assholes!  Bear suit guy gets knocked down quickly and is getting chocked out, but the unknown force strike again and sucks the cultist dude off of bear guy and into the forbidden zone (or something like that).

“Despite the fact that I’m probably being dragged to hell, this is still kind of fun!”

“Despite the fact that I’m probably being dragged to hell, this is still kind of fun!”

The bros successfully grab the girl and try to escape from the house which is going completely ape shit at this point.  Arms are coming out of the walls, things are floating in midair, loud roars, disappearing doors, all that good stuff; and believe me, it’s GOOD!

“GIVE ME A HUG!!!”

“GIVE ME A HUG!!!”

The special effects are seamlessly integrated into the scenes, and the cinematography is frantic enough to convince us that it’s from the point of view of someone trying to escape, while still giving the effects just enough screen time to shine and be effective.  The group eventually makes it out of the house and they proceed to pile into the car and drive off as fast as possible.  The guys in the front seats are trying to read a map to find a hospital, while the guys in the back are trying to take care of the woman who is slowly bleeding out.  Of course, the spookiness isn’t over quite yet because the car completely stalls out for no reason.  Then the camera goes nuts again and once it goes back to a clear picture, the woman is outside the car.  At this point, the bros realize that car has stalled out on a railroad track, and that the doors to the car won’t open.  It just so happens that a train is coming, and the boys try in vain to either get the car started or get out of the damn car.  The short (as well as the movie) ends as the train collides with the car.

“WHY THE FUCK ISN’T THE TRAIN STOPPING!?  IT’S NOT LIKE THEY DON’T HAVE FUCKING BRAKES!!!”

“WHY THE FUCK ISN’T THE TRAIN STOPPING!?  IT’S NOT LIKE THEY DON’T HAVE FUCKING BRAKES!!!”

Fantastic short right here.  The effects are great, the story is simple enough to be told completely in its short running time, and the characters are likable.  THIS is how you create likable protagonist in a short amount of time.  We don’t need a whole lot of backstory, and they don’t have to be fucking saints for us to go with them on this story.  They show us that they’re good people THROUGH THEIR ACTIONS!!!  When they go back up to save the girl, it shows us (without having to tell us) that these are people worth rooting for.  Great effects, good characters, and it packed a lot into its short running time.  While it doesn’t have the insanely creative use of the found footage format that Tuesday the 17th had, it’s still the best short (though it as pretty neck and neck).

So that was VHS.  The good thing about anthologies is that if certain parts are problematic or outright awful, you can easily skip over them without losing anything from the better parts.  For this collection, I’d say that two are genuinely good (Tuesday the 17th and 10/31/98) while another one is okay (Amateur Night).  The rest though?  Complete crap.  Second Honeymoon is just pointless buildup to an incredibly unimpressive twist, and The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger was uninspired with a twist that was completely unintelligible.  The wrap around (Tape 56) was directed by Adam Wingard which makes this part of the movie even MORE disappointing considering the guy also directed You’re Next.  I wasn’t CRAZY about that movie, but it’s head and shoulders above whatever the hell he was trying to do here.  Like I said, only about half of the movie is watchable, but luckily you’re able to skip to those scenes and enjoy them on their own.  I highly recommend seeing Tuesday the 17th and 10/31/98, but the rest range from mostly forgettable to outright crap.  Enjoy those parts, but skip the rest.

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