Anthology films are often a mixed bag, but the V/H/S series has found a special place in the horror community. With four films already in the franchise, and legitimately spectacular filmmakers contributing, contributing to these omnibus features has helped launch careers. With alumni including Adam Wingard, Ti West, Chloe Okuno, and Radio Silence, horror fans hope to catch a glimpse at emerging talents. The latest entry, V/H/S/99, offers some genuinely great scares but comes up short when it’s time to wrap up some tales.
Shredding follows a punk band looking to explore a stage that burned to the ground. As they dig deeper into the venue, the band begins to fracture. Pranks temp the spirits, and a simple example of urban exploration turns deadly. The sequence, directed by Maggie Levin, features some genuinely astounding makeup and editing. Levin creates a mixtape that creates the aesthetic of a band that records over the same tape over and over again. This actually fits the prank-based antics of a band with no money. The actual band within the short is astounding period accurate, showing shades of Blink-182, NOFX, and Anti-Flag. This is probably the most purely enjoyable sequence, solely because of its aesthetics and silliness.
The world of sororities and fraternities features some complicated social dynamics best known to those within the culture. Director Johannes Roberts pushes up against the idea of hazing, our need for acceptance, and the horror trope of hiding the murder your friends have committed. Roberts puts the camera in truly unique spaces, which adds to the frightening effects of the short. However, the story has long been present in pop horror (I Know What You Did Last Summer), making this feel like something of a retred. If anything, this short feels like it carries too much of the 2022 perspective toward hazing and sorority culture rather than embracing the debauchery that often existed before social media. Even so, this might be the most purely scary and upsetting sequence in the film, making it a must-watch.
For a minute, Ozzy’s Dungeon seems like it’s trending toward the best parody of the batch. It pokes fun at the Nickelodeon game show era of Legends of the Hidden Temple and Double Dare. However, when the short changes, it becomes a harrowing experience. Directed by Flying Lotus, Ozzy’s Dungeon features the most purely upsetting visuals of the collection. With a shocking conclusion, Ozzy’s Dungeon delivers a high-concept horror feature with a shocking conclusion. Count us in for whatever Flying Lotus makes next.
Sprinkled throughout V/H/S/99 are bits recorded by teenagers using army men. When we reach The Gawkers, it becomes clear they are the ones filming these sequences. Despite bringing to life a creature this critic has never actually seen in a horror film, this one lacks the momentum of the other shorts. Director Tyler MacIntyre delivers the pieces to help us see where the story is going, and its clear he’s a detail-oriented filmmaker. The subject matter or characters may have been the issue because the scares are real, and the monster is frightening.
The last short comes from Vanessa & Joseph Winter, the recent directors of Deadstream on Shudder. In To Hell and Back, a group gathers for the Y2K celebration. The Winters never hide the ball on this one, openly acknowledging the witch cult/coven in the opening sequences of the story. However, where the film goes is surprising. This is perhaps the most disorienting short, in part because its the one that embraces the found footage aspects the most. Closer in style to something like Blair Witch, the Winters transport us with creature design and amazing settings.
Overall, this entry in the V/H/S series provides plenty of fun moments. None of these shorts necessarily scream, “this is our next great filmmaker,” but the group shows plenty of promise. With more diversity in the ranks, V/H/S/99 nails its late 90’s perspective and should find common ground with its viewers. The arrow continues to point up for the V/H/S series, and becoming a part of the Shudder original content apparatus should benefit the franchise immensely.