“V/H/S” … It Could’ve Been Better

Sorry I’ve been away for a bit. A few posts back I think I mentioned that I have night terrors on occasion and am regularly plagued by nightmares; turns out this week was time for the cycle to come round again. If I can, one that is now apparently recurring has a horrible…thing…I want to sketch out and share with you fine folk. (But I don’t know, I’m kind of superstitious about bringing it into my waking life.)

*******

Moving on! If you’re on the streaming ‘flix plan, then you may notice that last year’s V/H/S is now available to view at our leisure. It’s a title that I researched and was looking forward to running across. (If I haven’t said it before now, it bears mentioning that I am a broke-ass woman, so I really have to choose which titles to buy. That’s why I’m so dreadfully all over the map.)

This American horror anthology isn’t bad, I mean, it’s not terrible, but my overall reaction is underwhelmed. [Maybe my dreamlife lately is skewing perception, who knows?] With six cinema verite shorts by six different directors, it was risky business from the start. Several reviews agreed that the works as a whole were “unbalanced”, but I didn’t think so. They all obviously catered to different tropes of our beloved sub-genres and–weighed against each other–held ground equally.

The framing short (indeed NOT a wrap-around; it essentially ends before the last short and is remixed for the credits) is “Tape 56” directed by Adam Wingard. He plays “Brad” in this short, by the by. Of all the stories, this one really unsettled me. So much so that thinking back on many reviews that glossed it over, dismissing it as a brief device of some “hooligans” kind of pisses me off. Alone, or as a feature length, it would have leaned toward the disgusting nihilism of films like The Snowtown Murders. But without the possibility of any likable protagonists. Within the first minute and a half, this group of four degenerate fucks (uh, yup!) are sexually assaulting (again, word choice accurate) a young woman by accosting her and her boyfriend and forcibly exposing her breasts so that they can film it.

[Listen real quick: the types of people who comment on videos made by women on literally any subject but the sexiness of said woman by leaving a comment hollering “tits or gtfo” or “show me your tits” are one virtually verbal step away from this kind of humiliating action. Cut that shit out. It’s not a compliment (and you damn well know it), it’s not on topic, it’s not even a smidgen respectful, and other people are disgusted by it too. Yeah, I know Cracked did a video on it. This is my tie in. Good day to you.]

Anyway, our destructive gang of scumbums wants to make mo’ money by being even more deplorable, so they take a “job” to get a specific tape from some guy’s house. When they show up, sorpresa! Here there be many video tapes and a dead guy. Unaware that karma is a bitch, they split up to root around the house, leaving one alone in the t.v. room to launch into the other shorts.

“Amateur Night” (David Bruckner) was pretty cool, in the way that I think all girls-as-monsters are pretty cool. The set-up was stale and the three main fellows came off wa-a-ay too archetypal as the drunken party doodz with one shy, virginal pal. But props to character Patrick, who drunkenly manages to deter his coked up buddy Shane not to bang a girl who has passed out. Because that’s a gross thing to do. Patrick also proves to be hella resourceful even in the nude. The effects were decent and the acting by Hannah Fierman (Lily the lady monster) was A-Okay.

We are then briefly back to the Awful Boyz Club to find out that Brad kind of disappeared, that there are many tapes in the basement, and also what seems to be a Quarantine-esque creepy old man. Inevitably, another idiot is left alone with the body and the tapes, so on we get.

“Second Honeymoon” (Ti West) started off well but didn’t end to my expectations. The couple–Sam and Stephanie–were very realistic in dialogue and this was the most convincing contrivance for “found footage”. The twist was genuinely surprising, but wasn’t very good. The up-close shot of the “switchblade popping open” in the dark was silly, and I just kept thinking how the hell did that girl even get in the room?! I saw the door get locked. I SAW IT. And I streamed back to see it again. So plot hole there, unless it was so subtle I missed it twice. All in all, I’d like to see more of these two actors.

Sigh, and we’re back to the Fool Squad. And the second guy is now gone. And the body seems to be gone. But don’t worry, it’s back being dead next time we see this room. Oh, another tape, for me?

“Tuesday the 17th” (Glenn McQuaid) I’m not even a big fan of slasher films, but this was a tie for favorite out of the six shorts. It was witty (being freaked out on drugs = now forever known as “The Fear”), cut to the chase with no fuss, was self-referential (“Why can’t I FILM YOU?!”) but was also dedicated to the storyline. Essentially, this is a short about the most balls-out PTSD anyone can imagine, and I dug it.

Hey, dead guy’s back! So’s the guy who tried to trick his girlfriend into having sex on tape! Was wondering when he’d get his chance to disappear.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (Joe Swanberg) The title is long and sort of sums up this short, I suppose. Many reviewers counted this as their favorite in story, film device, and scares so I was looking forward to it; unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the group. I didn’t buy the acting from Daniel Kaufman as James, either before or after I knew the reveal. Helen Rogers as Emily, however, was a delight. If the haunting angle had been played out as firmly as it framed the first few frights, this would have been a good one, but the twist only showed me the budget of the makeup department, an expository “dialogue” of the truth(?), and honestly cheapened the short as a whole. However, I think if this was a feature-length that had more time for nuance and character development, it would be much more promising.

Alright, mustache “hooligan” Gary, you feel up to getting killed? …yes. Okay, good. Onto the final film, which had an extended ending in the home release that sounds as thought it would tie the whole bundle up really nicely but is NOT part of the Netflix version.

“10/31/98” (Radio Silence) is the other half of the tie for favorite here. It had the only group of men (Sam doesn’t count) who were, like, just regular dudes with balanced silliness and ethical behavior. It also had the coolest effects (though somewhat spoiled for me because I saw this video on the YouTubes before catching this anthology.) I feel a little dense that I didn’t realize the situation in the attic was an exorcism (methinks it was a sacrifice) and if I hadn’t had the subtitles on, the volume would have been way too cranked, but overall I think this short was a great end.

That’s it, basically. The credits, as I mentioned, are a remix of the Original Douches exploits, and I had to turn them off. I wish this could have been more, BUT you guys, I’m happy that this kind of collaboration could happen and realistically work where it has fallen apart with egos and tropes before (here’s looking at you, ABC’s of Death.)

Cross Over, Children, All Are Welcome: The Early Days of Horror

This is a bio-oriented post re: the start of my obsessive companionship with the world of horror entertainment. Read only if you want a structure or reason behind what some–many, even–would regard as a waste of time at best and nearly degenerate at worst. It may be a dense post…I’ve never looked back with any objective analysis and will have to write it in detail to gain truth to my hypothesis.

Perks of Frank Parenting

From the beginning, my parents dealt with me as though I were an adult. In a fabulous way; no sternly stark household rife with unattainable expectations. Instead, they offered engaging dialogue with no boundaries on vocabulary or subject (John Wilkes Booth became a fascinating figure around my third birthday, and a lively debate was captured on tape concerning the percentage of success were I to ask Santa for a live chicken and a pack of cigarettes at age four. The outcome was, regretfully, not in my favor.)

That’s not to say that I was allowed unabridged exposure to all the world offers. General parental censorship held strong on issues of violence, depravity, intolerance, etc., but when such a subject came into my path, there was usually a period of pondering by myself followed by a frank Q&A with my mother for perspective. Strangely, where the usual canon would dictate discretion or lighter alternative, the subject matter of scary movies and literature was unbridled and un-adjudicated until around age 14 (for reasons that had nothing to do with the content of the movies but the grim deadlock of Teenage Girl vs. Mom.)

T.V. People and a Cranberry Chair

My eternal conversion as a follower of the macabre, the heebie-jeebies, and sweaty bedtime terror was born when I found Poltergeist on VHS. I was no more than four at the time and was my father’s charge by day. He encouraged my cinematic horizons; I happily obliged. Afternoons were open for me to raid the movie closet with no compass while he tended the gardens or carpentered projects in the work shed. One of those afternoons put a tape in my hand with a scribbled label reading “P-Geist/Scanners*” and I settled in as usual to view my finding.

What I vividly recall is spinning our cranberry recliner in wild circles during the the scene where Marty–trippin’ maggots–shreds his face off of his skull into the bathroom sink. The tree snatching had already ensured a few years of arboreal distrust, but that bathroom scene was the first film gore I’d experienced. I had no idea what to do with the crawling revulsion my body felt, (wouldn’t even stumble on the subject of “body horror” for some 18 years yet,) so I spun around and watched the scene over and over. That ‘duck and review’ compulsion remains my top film viewing technique to date.

Two more films had similarly jarring impact in those pivotal years : John Carpenter’s The Thing and Tremors.

I Think It Rips Through Your Clothes When It Takes You (So Naked Is Safer)

I came upon our copy of The Thing by chance some time in the next two years. How I overlooked it for so long is a mystery; after Poltergeist, I treated our tapes with reverence and spent what time I could trying to find another movie with the same impact. My mom is no fan of horror beyond the wacky B-rated lampoons behind MST3K, and my dad is  chill Midwestern folk who enjoys all genres but avidly collects none, so pickin’s were slim. **Notable exception being the ironclad Star Wars fan-dom that sprang to life when I unearthed the original three one weekend.**

The Thing was of poor quality and so dark that the most grotesque details were obscured. DIDN’T MATTER; terrified me right up the wall and across the ceiling. The family cats, dogs, and newts had to work a long time after to regain my trust. I still get squidgy around other people’s blood; not because bloods squeams me out, but because I spent so long not trusting most bodily fluids to not invade me. Thus begun my mortal fear/fascination with relentless parasites.

I can’t reconcile the Thing monster as an “alien”, though it was obviously so. It didn’t–and still doesn’t–strike the same chords of other alien-horror movies for me. It made me distrustful of my reality in a way that no fundamental “growing up” lesson had done so far. When I was 9 or 10 and able to use my allowance to rent videos from my uncle Arnie’s rental store in town, I tracked down a better copy and it was like watching a new movie. Since, I have watched The Thing an easy 30-35 times and still find something I never noticed every now and then.

Then Graboids Got Me

Not sure when Tremors ended up on my radar, but it was before my seventh birthday. (For reference, I’m consulting the time I broke my arm at recess. Had a gaudy, itchy hell-cast on during that birthday, and Tremors had already entered my lexicon by then.) One of my parents actually brought it to me, and I remember my mom remarking that it was like a scary movie, but was mostly funny. Let me tell you, folks: that shit was NOT funny until many years later.

I guess it’s the fear of the Unseen Danger that got me, if we need to paste a trope on it. Above all other evocatively scary –film or otherwise–encounters I’d had, the animal terror of being stalked by a Graboid threw me into serious hyper-vigilance for a good few months. The absurdity of the creature lurking under the foothills of Appalachia, or at all, wilted when I was playing alone in the woods, or the only one walking on a floor at any given time. I spent a lot of panicky hours shimmied up climbing trees after tripping my fear breaker beyond point of reason. That was the first time the horror genre took my control away from me, and I hated it. But by then I was hooked deep, and have since learned so much about the human experience by embracing the non-cognitive trip that is horror.

*I still haven’t seen Scanners all the way through; maybe Poltergeist will forever eclipse my interest.

“Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don’t give it any help, it knows too much already.” Tangina, Poltergeist