The fourth film in a series carries with it an automatic pre-established set of expectations. The first two V/H/S films represent an epically creepy high for found footage horror, while the third (2014’s V/H/S Viral) I personally hated. This new entry, titled V/H/S/94, takes a page out of the nostalgia textbook by setting everything in the simpler era of 1994. Like many anthologies, the film as a whole is something of a mixed bag; compiling a total of four stories within (plus one wraparound segment meant to tie them all together in a way), the mixture of five different directors means varying quality, style, and tone. The first two tales are fantastic and consistent, while the latter two are overlong and not nearly as good. The last story in particular is a slog filled with despicable characters. Despite all of this, I still had a great time watching—streaming service Shudder is the perfect home for V/H/S/94.
In our wraparound segment—titled “Holy Hell”—we follow a security SWAT team dispatched to enter a compound of unspeakable horrors. Under the guise of a drug lab, all manner of footage is unearthed, along with whole rooms filled with people whose eyes have been gouged out. As a means to simply transition us into each story, the wraparound isn’t required to function in any significant way. For the majority of the runtime, “Holy Hell” fulfills its threadbare purpose. In the finale, it devolves into nonsense. It is a real shame when this angle should have helped to bring the 90s nostalgia full circle. Instead, it results in the movie closing out with a whimper in arguably the weakest portion overall.
The first story, “Storm Drain,” is directed by newcomer Chloe Okuno, and marks the best in the entire film. It chronicles a news reporter hoping to uncover the secrets behind an urban legend about the “rat man.” Allegedly, he is an animal hybrid that lives in the sewers and comes out at night. As they try to document this monster, the living conditions of the homeless are catalogued for future use in the story; the general approach to the material gave me major The Blair Witch Project vibes. The best scare of V/H/S/94 happens in these dimly-lit tunnels, with atmospheric vintage-style camera footage adding an extra layer of terrifying realism.
You’re Next, Blair Witch, and The Guest writer Simon Barrett takes the reigns for “The Empty Wake,” my second-favorite segment of the movie. Simplicity is the key here, where a woman is essentially waiting around to moderate a wake that no one attends. She begins to hear a banging from inside the casket, and when we eventually get to the reveal of what is inside, it chilled me to the bone. It takes real skill to orchestrate the level of tension and unnerving atmosphere that Barrett establishes here in such a short length of time.
The third story, “The Subject,” had big shoes to fill. Written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto, I had high hopes considering he directed the absolute masterpiece “Safe Haven” segment in V/H/S/2. The length of this one and the poor use of CGI was a definite problem, but it is decent, and only gets better as it goes along. A crazy doctor’s lab full of experiments is essentially Frankenstein creations gone wild; one woman wakes up with her brain powered by machine. We follow the live footage of her experience as the laboratory gets raided, and she must fight to survive even though physically, she is a shell of what she once was. “The Subject” is the only story that does not bother adhering to a vintage-style VHS filter. I admired the swing-for-the-fences vibe to it all, a gory, passionate attempt that hits more than misses.
“Terror” is the fourth and final tale, featuring a violent militia aiming to overthrow the government by channeling a supernatural entity. Every single character here is awful and off-putting; though this is clearly the point, it made it virtually impossible to enjoy. One of them dares another to french kiss a person they just shot in the head. Was I supposed to be laughing? The introduction of a gnarly monster late in the game is literally the only thing I enjoyed.
While closing out your anthology movie with the weakest segment (followed by the poor conclusion of the wraparound) was not exactly the wisest choice, V/H/S/94 is nevertheless host to two terrific tales, and a third which I enjoyed significantly. If the final story and the wraparound were stronger and more 90s-tinged, it could have been a complete home run. For any fan of the series, V/H/S/94 is a massive step up from V/H/S Viral. If they decide to make a fifth entry in the series, I would love to see what is in store, and what directors they bring on to helm new unique visions.
V/H/S/94 screened at 2021’s Fantastic Fest, and comes exclusively to Shudder on Wednesday, October 6th.
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