The odds aren’t good for “V/H/S” – meaning the even-numbered entries in this all-encompassing horror franchise are the best yet. As No. 5, “V/H/S/99” unfortunately maintains that pattern, providing an uninspiring extension to the streak that rebounded after seven years of lull with “V/H/S/94” last fall.
This batch was usually uneven, but the better portions were great. Here, nothing stands out: the best episodes are good enough, the worst are just plain boring. However, this brand has proven to be an eye-catcher for the Shudder-type streaming platform, as it should do well when it launches in different regions on October 20. It is unlikely that the film will be the last episode of the series.
If this “V/H/S” has any binding subject, it appears to be bullying. All but the last story involve cruel pranks, usually perpetrated by ruthless young men who eventually suffer severe punishment for the acts they faithfully recorded on videotape.
Maggie Levine’s “Shredding” begins with RACK, a Blink-182 pop-punk band of rookie skaters and renegades who portray their antics to theoretical viewers online. Their latest stunt is storming the ruins of an underground collective/performance art space. It closed after being devoured by a “strange fire” three years ago that killed the Bitch Cat, another punk band.
Others scoff at cute drummer Angkor (Kianush Tafrisi)’s fears of desecrating a de facto cemetery, but they don’t laugh when angry rockers take revenge. Levine has both music and video roots, effectively recreating the aesthetics of the late ’90s. Like most weddings filmed in horror and rock cinema, this one ends up being ridiculous rather than scary.
The most successful is the movie “Suicide Bid” directed by veteran Johannes Roberts (from the latest sequels to “Resident Evil” and “The Strangers”). Needy freshman Lily (Ally Ioannides) is inexplicably desperate to be accepted into the worst “mean girl” sorority on campus. Thus she undergoes the “test” of being buried alive in a coffin, which is too bad without adding a frightening local legend. This tale holds some surprises, but it’s powerful enough to rank best in class here.
Fans of rapper DJ-producer Flying Lotus (Stephen Ellison) and his directorial debut in 2017 “Kuso” (which drew attention at Sundance due to crowd strikes) might instead hand this award to its category. It is possible that anyone else will have the opposite reaction. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is the name of a Nickelodeon-style game show where kids run a lousy, sticky, and very unhealthy “obstacle course” in order to make their wish come true.
After contestant Donna (Amelia Ann) is permanently injured on camera, her family (led by Sonia’s mother Eddy) kidnaps smarmy host (Stephen Oge) and subjects him to a more sadistic “contest”. Ellison’s sensibility is all too present, with a heavy focus on bodily fluids amidst a somewhat malicious general mix of cartoonish and oddly adorable. As in “Kuso,” its original soundtrack offers an invention of the sort that’s fairly easy to take in.
We’re back at skaters trying to make like Jackass in Tyler McIntyre’s “The Gawkers,” where a quartet of suburban teenage boys take a break from videotaping themselves to spy on people too hot to believe. The New Next Door Neighbor (Emily Sweet). Unfortunately, she has a secret that will prove a great ordeal to uncover. This miniature is not lacking in energy, but it does offer something memorable in terms of concept or incident.
Probably the most ambitious sequel is the last sequel, “To Hell and Back” from Vanessa and Joseph Winter, who made their double-debut debut earlier this year with an above-average found horror movie “Deadstream.” In similar comic style, he enlists this squabbling friends Nate (Archilaus Chrysanto) and Troy (Joseph’s assistant assistant) to film a mysterious ritual of some neighbors on the eve of the year 2000. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat successful, as they are sucked into an “other world” that sounds a lot like A smaller circle than Hades. There, they run around screaming and fleeing from various bloody dangers, aided by an unfriendly and semi-demon ghost named Mabel (Melani Stone). It’s a game that suffices a mixture of the lousy and the weird. But there’s not much narrative thrust in just having our heroes stumble across one hideous creature after another so they can go to “Arrgh!”
Perhaps the best thing about “V/H/S/99” is the twisting sequences, which are entertaining stop-motion animations of puppet soldiers. Ostensibly made by the bullied little brother (Ethan Pogue) of one of “The Gawkers” before the camera was taken away from him, and McIntyre also directs it from this clip, it’s unrelated to the main stories, but still offers moments of weird magic.
Prosthetics, makeup, CGI and other effects elements are appropriate in a film whose other major contributions to the design are somewhat limited by having to visualize a handheld camcorder.
As modest as it is, the entry into this franchise is still several cuts above Glenn Danzig’s famous “Verotika” (also on Shudder) regarding the horror anthology. However, that doesn’t in the least diminish the fun of listening to Danzig’s old track “Long Way Back From Hell” under the closing credits.