A punk band awakens evil spirits in a condemned music venue. A sorority initiation goes horribly wrong. An exploitative gameshow host is kidnapped and tortured by a devastated mother. Sex-obsessed teenagers uncover a terrifying secret about the girl next door. Two cameramen get sucked into Hell as they film a coven of witches.
These are the five narratives which compose V/H/S/99. And despite the eclectic arcs offered by its six directors, this found-footage anthology impressively stitches its parts together like a grotesque mixtape.
The common denominator across all five segments is ‘90s nostalgia. Maggie Levin’s chapter “Shredding” is an ode to the era’s MTV skater and grunge culture. Johannes Roberts’ “Suicide Bid” is a love letter to the teen horrors which arguably defined the decade. Flying Lotus (who directed the remarkably bizarre Kuso) creates a twisted reimagining of Pat Sharp’s Fun House in “Ozzy’s Dungeon”. Tyler MacIntyre’s “Gawkers” highlights the facets of the period we’re less comfortable remembering (namely the misogynistic overtones which crept into many of its coming-of-age plotlines). And Vanessa and Joseph Winter’s magnificent “To Hell and Back” is reminiscent of the hellscapes in the era’s most notorious first-person shooters, Doom and Quake.
But it’s not just the individual parts that make V/H/S/99 so impressive. It’s also how the directors are given the creative breathing space to make their contribution unique, yet the anthology still retains a holistic synergy with its lo-fi, handheld videocam aesthetic. It’s like Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror or Guillermo del Toro’s recent Cabinet of Curiosities, minus the polish. The most fitting comparison, perhaps, would be Stephen King’s collection Night Shift: a cast of pulpy horror stories where the author isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of genre. Instead, he’s having fun with it, copying, pasting and revamping with the glee of Victor Frankenstein.
While some segments have a bigger impact than others — “The Gawkers” is indisputably the weakest — V/H/S/99 is a gritty, bitty car crash into memory lane. Everything, from Hole and Limp Bizkit, to Pokémon and Macintosh, gets a namedrop. But even more importantly, the directors know the true allure of nostalgia. As Lisa Taddeo reminds us in Animal: “There is nothing in the world better than the past.”
DIGITAL, DVD & BLU-RAY
27 March 2023