Directors: Maggie Levin, Johannes Roberts, Flying Lotus, Tyler MacIntyre, Vanessa & Joseph Winter
The V/H/S franchise has been the launching point for a slew of careers, in some degree or another. While the series hit a low with the relatively sluggish third entry, V/H/S: Viral, when Shudder brought it back it was a welcome sight to see. And the overall success of the previous entry, V/H/S/94, was a stark reminder of why this found footage horror anthology could be a haven for fun and creative tidbits of tongue-in-cheek terror.
The announcement of the newest entry, V/H/S/99 proved it as such and, while the fifth entry into this series does not quite find the highs of its predecessor, there are enough fun and punchy horror moments to satiate most fans. It runs the gamut from being silly to downright terrifying and that’s what a great anthology can do, even if this one finds the mix to be a little less effective at it with tons of build and only quick payoffs.
For those familiar with the series, V/H/S/99 will not be straying far enough away to be considered deviant to the rest - but there is one big aspect to it that does feel missing and that is the wrap-around story that acts as the egg carton for all of the deviled eggs inside. While there is “technically” a kind of repeated series of vignettes that feature stop-motion comedy and action from little green toy army men, it never builds the mystery of the VHS tapes like previous entries did. It’s a missed opportunity for V/H/S/99 to pull off something fun.
From there though, V/H/S/99 hits its stride in balancing fun, silly comedy with tidbits of horror. The big aspect of this one in its tone is that each of the stories, sans perhaps one - more on that in a second - takes a lot of time setting up its gimmick or payoff. The opening tale, “Shredding,” takes quite a bit of time to introduce the audience to some annoying teens looking to break into a venue that famously had a band killed years prior. The bounce back to the 90s style “behind the music” montage of the previous band is fun, but with the story being told - feels wholly unnecessary.
The same goes for Flying Lotus’ portion, “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” which spends most of its time reminding us of the silliness of Nickelodeon shows like Legends of the Hidden Temple and not nearly enough time in selling off its big reveal - which is ludicrous in some of the best ways.
Truthfully, the two best segments, Robert Johannes’ “Suicide Bid” and Vanessa & Joseph Winter’s “To Hell and Back,” are the best because they move at a pace that gets the audience to the big hook. The former features a young sorority pledge being buried alive and the latter has a documentary crew being transported to a hellish landscape where they only have minutes to escape. These stories work because the hook is simple, but the final moments reveal a cliffhanger of horror. What is worse than being buried alive? How about being buried alive where something is on the outside and it’s trying to get in?
As with many anthologies, the performances and writing will vary from story to story, but the overall standard is fun and entertaining. The visual gimmick of VHS quality is used well by various filmmakers and some are having a lot of fun with the time frame like in Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers” which features a quick scene of a teen prepping for Y2K. The humor seems far more prevalent in some of these stories than in previous entries, but most of it works and there are some surprisingly effective moments of gore and horror to balance it all out for the fans. It’s always a win when a couple of stories feature some undead antagonists and they pull off the look and feel of those moments.
Compared to the other entries of the V/H/S series, V/H/S/99 is one of the lesser ones ultimately, due to the pacing of the tales and the lacking of a strong wrap-around story, but it is still highly entertaining and the “Suicide Bid” tale might be one of my favorites from the entire franchise. Bring on the next entry (already announced) as even with its trips and missteps V/H/S/99 is an easy, breezy watch and a fantastic addition to the Halloween season.