Synopsis: An ominous mixtape blends never-before-seen snuff footage with nightmarish newscasts and disturbing home videos to create a surreal, analog mashup of the forgotten 80s.
Stars: Alex Galick, Anna Hashizume, Anna Sundberg, Ari Gallegos, Chelsey Grant, Dani Deetté, Duffy McManus, Eric Pierson, Felipe de Lara, Forrest Hartl, Freddy Rodríguez, James Ransone, Jordan Belfi, Justen Jones, Marcio Moreno, Rolando Davila-Beltran, Tom Reed, Tyler Noble
Director: David Bruckner, Scott Derrickson, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Natasha Kermani, Mike Nelson
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: It’s now been a decade since the original V/H/S was released, and I can still remember watching it on, of all things, my iPad. Now gathering dust on a shelf in a closet, that iPad took forever to download a copy of the unique new blend of anthology horror that put a fresh spin on the Amicus-type delivery of multiple stories contained in a somewhat flimsy wraparound narrative. In the years following, nearly all the original crew of directors have moved on to high-profile horror (Adam Wingard/You’re Next, David Brucker/The Night House, Ti West/Pearl, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella aka Radio Silence/Ready or Not) while multiple installments of the V/H/S franchise have been assembled.
I’ve stuck around for most of the sequels (V/H/S 2 in 2013, V/H/S: Viral in 2014, V/H/S/94 in 2021) but couldn’t work up the energy to go back for 2022’s V/H/S/99. The concept seemed (Beta) maxed out, and the episodes were less cohesive with each consecutive chapter. What began as an interesting experiment to rethink how we looked at anthology horror had become another excuse for filmmakers to push the limits on good taste without answering for less-than-sharp filmmaking. When V/H/S/85 was announced as arriving imminently (these are almost always made with little fanfare), the roster of filmmakers proved too tempting to pass up.
Five directors contributed different shorts, all taking place in 1985. The tape we start out watching is OG returning director Bruckner’s wraparound tale of a news program reporting on the study of an otherworldly child fixated on television and the scientists observing his behavior. Someone has taped over pieces of this program with other stories to freak us out. In between retro commercials and occasional visits back to the boy, we get home movies about a lake visit that takes a terrifying turn…and then another, an international news broadcast that coincides with a frightening disaster, a police evidence tape documenting a gruesome killer on the loose, and a live stage performance that gets unwelcome audience participation.
As with any anthology collection, the results are a mixed bag. The wraparound segment that opens and ends the film initially gets its hooks into you but doesn’t quite balance its swiftly shifting tone in its final moments. Speaking of final moments, Natasha Kermani’s short about the performance artist goes nowhere until the finale, when it starts to whip up something nice and nasty. Scott Derrickson (The Black Phone) doesn’t do subtle in his tale of a detective hunting a killer. It’s appalling in its violence and leaves a gross feeling behind.
If you aren’t familiar yet with Gigi Saul Guerrero (Bingo Hell) as a director or actress, start paying attention because she’s quickly building up a solid body of work, even if I didn’t love the lengths to which her segment involving a live television broadcast interrupted by an earthquake that unleashes a dreadful evil, would go for a scream. The best of the bunch comes from Mike P. Nelson, who so nicely rebooted Wrong Turn back in 2021. His story of a day at the lake that turns deadly is a dandy grab bag of surprises that boomerang back later in V/H/S/85.
While it is missing that layered connective tissue that held the first two films together so nicely (apart from Nelson’s piece, which I’d say is broken up into two acts), V/H/S/85 is one of the more enjoyable sequels in the franchise yet, showing there is potential for the terror to live on…if the right people are involved. Nabbing these five established directors was critical in keeping the V/H/S films relevant to an audience that seeks more than bargain basement cheap thrills.