It’s been a few years since the last installment but the “V/H/S” series has returned with a more retro aesthetic which injects some new life into this uneven series of anthology films. Each entry in the franchise has featured a couple of standout segments, but the newly released “V/H/S/94” might feature the most consistent set of shorts in the franchise which are helmed by a few series regulars (Simon Barrett and Timo Tjahjanto) as well as a couple of series newcomers in Jennifer Reeder, Chloe Okuno and Ryan Prows.
It’s clear from the opening frame that the production team fully committed to the 1994 aesthetic (in which all of the shorts and framing stories take place) through the use of old school cameras, muddy visuals and everything else you’d expect from an amateur video from that time period. This might turn off some people but it really helps solidify the found footage style and gives them all a sense of cohesion that is sometimes lost when it comes to anthology films.
The movie opens with the general framing story which has a SWAT team raiding what they believe to be a drug compound, but of course things aren’t what they seem. The framing story this time around is the weakest element and I didn’t find myself all that interested in what was going on it, but I do appreciate how quickly it comes and go between each segment. After the initial setup is done it jumps immediately into the first segment (entitled “Storm Drain” and directed by Chloe Okuno) that opens with a news report on a supposed ratman that is roaming the sewers before shifting to a news reporter and her camera men who are investigating the claims firsthand. I really enjoyed the commitment to making it feel like a news report and it also surprised me with their findings once entering the storm drain that I won’t spoil here. There’s also some light comedy involved in this segment and the ending in particular is sure to get some great reactions from people who aren’t expecting what’s to come.
All the fun of the first segment is immediately stripped away on the next segment as it’s about a woman, Hayley, who is overseeing an overnight wake and this is the most traditionally horror segment out of the four. Simon Barrett takes helm on this one and imbues the segment with a suitably uneasy atmosphere as seemingly nobody is showing up much to the surprise of Hayley. It’s a closed casket wake and she is concerned that something unusual is going on with the casket, the body or just the entire funeral home in general and her suspicions come to life in expected but also well done ways. There’s some really good effects work in this segment and that’s a running theme throughout these as well as they feature plenty of gore, practical effects and batshit insanity.
Speaking of batshit insanity this brings me to the highlight segment of the show “The Subject” which sees series favorite Timo Tjahjanto returning to showcase his insane vision of a mad scientist cybernetically altering humans with new parts. This segment dominates the middle chunk of this movie with a runtime twice as long as all the other segments and for good reason. It opens with the scientist (played by Budi Ross) experimenting on a pair of humans he kidnapped. The scientist is suitably insane as you’d expect and once a news report is shown on a tv in the lab that reveals they know who he is and what he’s done you know his time is limited and sure enough a military team busts through the doors which sets the stage for the rest of the segment that features the scientists creations coming to life to fight back against the military unit.
The second half of the segment is the real showstopper here and features plenty of insane practical effect monsters, gore, and creative directing. Some of it is shot through the eyes of one of his creations (through first person POV) and her arc throughout this segment really captivated me and it’s hard not to get “Harcore Henry” meets cyberpunk vibes from this entire sequence as it’s packed with intense action, shifting POVs and crazy creations. Some of the gun effects look a bit weak but the sheer amount of creativity put into this segment makes it easy to overlook. It’s hard to expect every segment to have this level of technical expertise, creativity and WTF moments but it sure is a nice surprise whenever an anthology features a segment like this.
Filled with the tough task of following that up is Ryan Prows “Terror” which features a militia group who are planning a terrorist attack on a US federal building. There’s more at play here than meets the eye but it’s hard to get all that surprised when it turns into complete madness after three segments that all did exactly that. That’s of no fault to Prows who does an admirable job at waiting for the right time to reveal what’s actually going on, but after the previous segment it’s a tough spot to be in.
All four segments in “V/HS/94” are solid additions to the franchise and even though the framing story didn’t captivate me it’s brevity and final scene definitely left me with an overall positive impression of it. It’s clear that each of these filmmakers really embraced the 1994 thematic at play and had a lot of fun coming up with their creature designs and stories to unleash them. Great practical effects, gore and commitment to the time period make this my favorite entry in the franchise and leaves me excited to see what they do next.
Score: 4 out of 5