Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An actually good full-length anthology film is a rarity, let alone one that defies all expectations to become a long-running franchise. Ever the outlier, V/H/S delivers another stellar entry with V/H/S/99. Y2K mania and consistent genre filmmaking come to a beautiful meeting, raining the audience in buckets of blood and spooky delights. The great thing about these films is that they are easily accessible, and require no prior knowledge to fully enjoy them. Following along in the nostalgic precedent set by previous entry, V/H/S/94, 99 wisely excises a wraparound segment to hone in on DIY creepiness. This makes for the most memorable entry in the series since V/H/S/2.

This iteration of V/H/S tells five distinct stories recorded over one VHS tape, intercut with random ads, toll free numbers, shoddy home videos, and neurosurgery interludes. As with all anthologies, the quality between segments varies—each one has been crafted by a different genre filmmaker, then edited into the larger whole. Thankfully, the tonal swings are not quite as glaring as in the past. Directors compiled for the fifth (!) V/H/S are Maggie Levin (Into the Dark: My Valentine), Johannes Roberts (The Strangers: Prey At Night, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City), Flying Lotus (Kuso), Tyler MacIntyre (Tragedy Girls, Into the Dark: Good Boy), and filmmaking team Joseph and Vanessa Winter (Deadstream).

Our first story, entitled “Shredding,” focuses on the grungy skater vibes of the late 90s. Think: Harmony Korine’s Kids, with characters just as unlikable. A group of band rejects head for an allegedly haunted concert venue, the Colony Underground, where they proceed to disrespect the band that died there during a freak electrical fire accident. A focus on zombie carnage elevates this above a somewhat annoying opening introduction. Disturbing for sure, but we have definitely seen this type of short before.

“Suicide Bid” is probably my favorite of the five new tales. Centering on sorority sisters and a creepy urban legend, it is difficult not to be affected by the unnerving imagery and icky premise. How far would one go to be accepted at the sorority of your dreams? Lilly is willing to spend the night buried in a coffin to get her wish, but is there something else there with her? Johannes Roberts frames the action with closeups to provide maximum scares when they finally arrive. Also worth adding—for those squeamish about spiders, be warned. You couldn’t pay me enough money to do this on my own.

“Ozzy’s Dungeon” will excite childhood watchers of shows like Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple. Perhaps the most fully realized story of the five, a deranged host forces children to pop balloons, catch chicken wings, retrieve hidden flags, and crawl through twisty fake intestines to make it to the end, where they will be granted one wish. The only problem is that no one has ever been able to complete the gauntlet to finally gain access into Ozzy’s Dungeon. An unhinged parent of a child that was disgustingly wounded on set before the show’s abrupt cancellation kidnaps the host, forcing him to unwillingly participate in an obstacle course all his own. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is gory and bizarre, perfectly encapsulating the vibe of those aforementioned shows.

Perhaps the most underwhelming entry for me was “The Gawkers.” Following a group of horny teens who draw dicks on each other’s faces and play tricks with firecrackers and shaving cream, is it any surprise that their primary source of entertainment is spying on the new hot chick that moved in across the street? Naturally, they film their exploits, and push the cameraman’s brother into setting up hidden cameras to spy on the hottie. What they discover is nothing like what they expected to happen, nor is it anything like I would have wished. The hard-left turn “The Gawkers” makes kind of ruined it completely for me, and it moves so abruptly once they discover the neighbor’s secret that one barely has time to revel in the mystery.

Closing out on a strong note, “To Hell and Back” is surprisingly great, especially considering that I did not care for the previous effort of these directors, Deadstream. A documentary film crew is recording a New Year’s Eve ceremony wherein a demon will be called into “the vessel,” a willing sacrifice. The duo is literally transported to Hell itself during the ritual. Struggling to find a way out, we get a glimpse into a vast bizarro hellscape singular in style and vision. Evil Dead 2 humor and dream logic color this entry, and manage to close out the film at large in memorably manic fashion.

Stitched together by brief segments with shoddy homemade stop-motion and tormented toy soldiers, V/H/S/99 rights some of the wrongs of its predecessors by letting each story have minimal amounts of breathing room. We jump from one to the next without time for frustration or reflection, and the best segments zing with creepy images. Next up, the franchise is rewinding back a ways to V/H/S/85—if that one can continue the newfound creative hot streak, we are in for more seriously epic found footage horror!

V/H/S/99 screened at 2022’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, and lumbers to Shudder on Thursday, October 20th.

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