Fall 2022: All Things Spooky
V/H/S 99 (2022)
1 hr. 49 mins.
1 hr. 49 mins.
The fifth installment of the V/H/S horror anthology series, V/H/S 99 is a loving homage to late 90’s culture. The film is a series of five visually striking and wonderfully constructed tales. Unlike the previous entries, V/H/S 99 does not have a traditional framing device, one where someone comes across a pile of ominous VHS tapes in a spooky location. Instead, we are treated to a true-to-form mis-mash of scattered images and narratives, much like one would find on a VHS that has been taped over multiple times. This makes for a captivating viewing experience, as you’re never quite sure what you’re about to see next.
As is true of most anthology series, the quality of the stories vary wildly, with each one being directed by different people. If you have any interest in watching the film, which I highly recommend you do, this is where you should stop reading and allow yourself the joy of a spoiler-free viewing experience. Otherwise, let’s talk about the segments point by point.
Shredding (Directed by Maggie Levin). This is, by far, the most aggressively 90’s of the bunch. The camera follows the escapades of R.A.C.K, a punk rock band consisting of three extremely unlikable jerks and one “friend” who gets ruthlessly pranked, mocked, and subjected to some terribly racist remarks. The group heads into an underground location, the former venue of Bitch Cat, another punk rock band, who were trampled to death when an electrical fire broke out during a show. This segment is rather tiresome, mostly because the members of R.A.C.K are the absolute worst, not in a “they’re mean, so I hope they die” way, but a “what sort of awful anti-bullying PSA did these kids crawl out of?” way. At one point, they re-enact the deaths of Bitch Cat by filling sex dolls with red jelly and stomp on them…and then dry humping the remaining bits. Mercifully, the zombified members of Bitch Cat rise, rip R.A.C.K to pieces and put on one hell of a final show. The ending is a visual treat, with the creature effects being a welcome reward for suffering through the teen’s escapades.
Suicide Bid (Directed by Johannes Roberts). Easily the most terrifying tale, Suicide Bid continues the theme of god-awful people by introducing us to Beta Sigma Eta, a sorority that puts a would-be initiate through nightmarish hazing ritual. They tell their bright-eyed initiate the story of Giltine, a similarly trusting freshman, who was forced to spend the night in a coffin by the sorority but never found. And wouldn’t you know it, the new initiate, Lily, is asked to do the very same thing. The POV shots from inside the coffin are deliciously tense, very reminiscent of Heather’s close-up confession in The Blair Witch Project (1999). Before you know it, there’s banging sounds on the coffin, spiders crawling over Lily’s face, and muddy water seeping in from above. Honestly, the entire segment works well enough without any supernatural elements, as the situation is already frightening enough. But then Giltine herself shows up, looking like a prop you could find at Spirit Halloween, and that takes away some of the tension. It's still a great segment, with a really delightful twist ending, but could have benefited from a little restraint (which is asking a lot from this series).
Ozzy’s Dungeon (Directed by Flying Lotus). Nickelodeon’s Legend of the Hidden Temple meets Saw (2004), with a hint of The Void (2016) sprinkled in. This was all over the place, definitely one that keeps you guessing. The thing is, Ozzy’s Dungeon is far too funny to be scary. The dialogue is a tour-de-force and delivered masterfully by the wonderful Sonya Eddy. Anyone who can spit out the lines “you showbiz, LA motherfuckers make my goddamn pussy is drier than the ‘sahary’ desert” and “didn’t I tell you I’d get you a Dreamcast if you did what I told you to do” with a straight face is definitely a master of her craft. Ozzy’s Dungeon is pure joy, with a healthy dose of dreamlike weirdness thrown in. Highly recommended.
The Gawkers (Directed by Tyler MacIntyre). A bunch of 90’s radical bro’s use their camera to voyeuristically gawk at the hottie next door. One of the kids is called Boner. Whoo... Each time they did something stupid or goofy, I would shout “Bo-ner!” at the screen just to add in a bit of 90’s sitcom vibes. One of the guys breaks his arm skateboarding? Bo-ner! The boys get caught trying to peak up a girl’s skirt? Uh oh, Bo-ner! The girl next door ends up being a fucking gorgon and turns them all to stone? You know that’s a Bo-ner!
This one is slow, a bit unpleasant, and has a rather weak twist. Although the camera operator’s dorky brother, who has been creating stop motion mini movies between the segments, is a welcome breath of humanity. The Gawkers misses the mark for me, although it isn’t as aggressively unlikable as Shredding. The tradeoff is, sadly, that it isn’t the least bit scary or exciting. The dialogue is amusing, but nothing approaching the glory of Ozzy’s Dungeon. It’s okay. Not much else to say really.
To Hell and Back (Directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter). What. A. Masterpiece! To Hell and Back does what it says on the tin, it throws us into Hell itself and boy, could I watch a whole movie based on this premise. On New Year's Eve, 1999, a coven of witches attempts to summon a demon and accidentally traps their film crew, Nate and Troy, in Hell. The environment, creature effects, lighting, and props are all top notch. It is a chaotic jumble that displays a fantastical imagination. The bickering between Nate and Troy is almost as amazing as Hell itself, with the two jumping between darkly amusing quips, like “do you got to Hell for an isolated shoplifting incident” to an outright goofy moment where Troy grabs a tiny pitchfork from a sleeping baby demon and whispers “snatch!” in the same way you would take the last donut at a work party.
If you were only going to watch one segment, this is the one. It may very well be the best tale of the entire VHS series, because what other story has a giggling gremlin-goblin woman called Mabel, The Skull Biter? She just makes you smile every time she’s on camera, with her welcoming demeanor and gravelly voice granting her a unique presence. If I were to pick one image to sum up this movie, it would be of Nate—blood streaked, holding a pitchfork made of gore, and still wearing his colorful party hat that reads “2000!”—charging towards a demon that his friend has mistakenly called “Qui-Gon” and “Pokémon” (its name is Ukabon, oops!). You just don’t get much better than that.
— Jarred White
California State University, Stanislaus