I admit to being a little hesitant about jumping into the horror anthology feature “V/H/S/94”. This new Shudder Original Film is actually the fourth movie in the “V/H/S” series. I had heard of the modestly budgeted horror franchise but have never actually sat down and watched one of the films. But good reviews can do wonders and Shudder’s announcement that “V/H/S/94” is the biggest movie premiere in the streaming platform’s six year history was enough for me to give it a go.
Called a reboot by those who know, “V/H/S/94” basically follows the same structure of its predecessors. It takes four distinct found-footage shorts films, each written and directed by different creatives, and sets them within a wraparound story that holds them all together. It’s a framing device that seemingly has worked in the past. But here the frame story (titled “Holy Hell” from Jennifer Reeder) turns out to be the film’s biggest weakness. It has an interesting enough premise, but it’s far too messy and confusing in its execution.
The film opens with an Ohio SWAT team storming a gated warehouse. But instead of drug runners they find a labyrinthine network of hallways leading to an assortment of rooms decorated in the macabre and grotesque. In each room they find dead bodies with their eyes gouged out and a different VHS tape playing on a screen. And on those tapes are the four video nasties that make up the bulk of the anthology. They’re also what end up saving the movie. Of course some are better than others, but all four have their own twisted flavor.
The first short “Storm Drain” is by Chloe Okuno and follows an ambitious local TV news reporter (Anna Hopkins) and her cameraman (Christian Potenza) as they investigate rumors of a “Rat Man” living in the sewers. It’s the weakest of the four but it ends with a gruesome splash. The second is “The Empty Wake” by Simon Barrett, part haunted house and part zombie horror. It follows a young woman (Kyal Legend) sitting up during an evening wake at a small funeral home. Needless to say, it isn’t a quiet night.
From there the shorts get a little longer and crazier. The third is easily the most batty and unabashedly gory of the bunch. It’s titled “The Subject” and it comes from Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto. It’s a mad scientist story about a brilliant yet unquestionably unhinged doctor (Budi Ross) who kidnaps unwilling subjects for his gruesome experiments. Things get even bloodier when a military squad invades the lab and makes some grisly discoveries.
The fourth and final short “Terror” comes from Ryan Prows. It’s a rough-around-the-edges yet entertaining swirl of creature horror and dark comedy that follows a radical militia group called the First Patriots Movement Militia. Set mostly within their remote compound on the outskirts of Detroit, the story sees the group planning to “redeem the soul of the USA” by bombing a federal building. Their weapon? – the blood of a vampire-like creature they keep caged in a barn. Things really get nuts in the final ten minutes as the dimwitted hicks blow their plan to oblivion.
On their own merits, each of the four shorts have things worth applauding. But unfortunately after each, we’re forced to come back to the framing story. And aside from some gnarly imagery, nothing in it comes close to the quality of the shorts. It’s use of the found-footage style seems mostly contrived, the actors are abrasive and over-the-top, and the ending packs no punch whatsoever. So we’re left thinking back on the four individual tales and wishing there was something better to connect them all together. “V/H/S/94” is now streaming on Shudder.