I have a short attention span, so naturally I love anthology films. “Bored with a story? Don’t worry there’s another on the way!” That’s my motto. I’m also a defender of Found Footage films. Some people say found footage is cheap and nauseating. Which are both valid complaints. Though I appreciate the art form as a storytelling technique. Would a film like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity be as effective if they weren’t found footage? No. Found Footage works because it takes the fantastic and grounds it in reality.
The V/H/S Franchise combines these two artforms that I love with a revolving door of talented genre directors all operating around a central theme. Well, not so much the first two installments. The third film, V/H/S: Viral was based around stories about characters who want to become viral stars. V/H/S/94 took on the aesthetic of the grungy 90s and this latest installment, V/H/S/99 explores ideas like the rise of Jackass-style DIY videos, webcams, and the new Millennium. The Results? A fun (if not a little uneven) collection of goopy and glitchy creature features.
The first installment to not feature a wraparound story, V/H/S/99 instead includes a teenager making comedic stop-motion shorts with his army men. I think the idea is that these shorts, along with the film’s primary story, somehow all ended up on one very peculiar mixtape. The choice to ditch the wraparound story gives this installment a better sense of urgency. After all, it was the go-go nineties, who had time for wraparounds?
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The first story is about a punk rock band named R.A.C.K who spends their days filming themselves pulling pranks. The show Jackass started in 2000, so this feels like a tribute of sorts to that lo-fi punk aesthetic. For their latest video, the band decides to break into an old venue where a famous up and coming band, “Bitch Cat” died in a fire.
We get a cutaway to an older promotional video of Bitch Cat being interviewed and explaining their “Play or Die” mentality. Cut ahead to R.A.C.K playing at the now abandoned venue and the members of Bitch Cat are brought back from the dead as killer zombies. The makeup effects are fantastic. Let me tell ya, I love a good skeleton-style zombie.
The band members are killed off and eventually possessed by Bitch Cat who take to the stage to play their old tunes. There’s nothing too surprising or shocking in the story but it delivers enough punch to get this anthology goin’.
In this segment, a college freshman named Lily records a video into her webcam pledging that she wants to join the Beta Sigma Eta sorority and only that sorority. Lily’s roommate shows up and we learn that if you only pledge to one sorority (and don’t get in) you are banned from joining any sororities. This decision is therefore called: “A Suicide Bid.”
Lily meets with the sorority in a cemetery where she is told that she can join only if she agrees to be buried alive for 24-hours. The sisters reveal that the tradition stems from an urban legend where a prior sister named Gilitine took on the task only to be forgotten. A week later the coffin was discovered and Gilitine’s body was missing. Spooky!
So Lily is buried alive with a camera in her coffin as she endures scary noises, spiders crawling into her coffin, and a full on claustrophobic nightmare. It’s a great setup though I do find it hard to justify this segment being found footage. Why would the sisters make a record of something that could very well get them expelled from school?
After only a few hours, a heavy rainstorm breaks out. The girls ready themselves to dig out Lily only for the cops to show up. The sisters scatter and Lily is left behind in a coffin as it fills with water. Right before Lily meets her demise, the zombie corpse of Gilitine breaks into the coffin and attacks Lily. Really, another zombie story?
The sisters come back the next morning to the flooded grave and what do they find when they open Lily’s coffin? Nothing. The group then decides to never speak of the event again and move on with their lives. We cut ahead and uh oh! All the sisters wake up in coffins with cameras. Lily appears as a zombie and reveals she has made a deal with Gilitine. In exchange for her soul, Lily will offer Gilitine the four sisters. All four are then attacked and presumably killed.
I love the buried alive angle but again I don’t see how the story necessitates found footage. It doesn’t help that it follows another story with the same zombie-revenge angle, but I will say I think the story is a step above the first narratively. Hazing is one of those things that’s scary even without adding a tinge of the supernatural so it mostly works. A solid entry.
I’ve never seen Flying Lotus’ infamous film Kuso. If you’re not familiar with Kuso, let me inform you that it does contain a scene where a singing boil performs fellatio. With that in mind, I figured Ozzy’s Dungeon would be a real barf bag segment. To my surprise, the segment is more character-driven than puke-driven.
Steven Ogg (Trevor from GTA V) plays the host of a kid’s game show much in the vein of the 90s show Legends of the Hidden Temple. The prize for winning the competition is a supposed wish from Ozzy himself. The only problem is that the game is incredibly dangerous. As we see when a preteen girl named Donna is permanently crippled crawling out of a makeshift tube.
The camera then pans out to Donna’s family watching the game show sometime after where they have kidnapped the Host and plan on torturing him with their own homemade games. Why are they recording him? Because it’s a found footage movie. I don’t see any reasonable justification. Eventually, the Host breaks and tells the family that even though the show has been canceled they can still meet Otto and have him grant their wish.
The Host sneaks the family through the back of the studio lot. They all head underground where we see a severely pregnant woman with a giant Lovecraftian creature living inside of her, “Otto.” The reveal is fantastic and made even better when Donna makes her wish. Instead of gifting her family with riches, she wishes for them all to be melted alive (Host included) for putting her through the whole ordeal to begin with.
Ozzy’s Dungeon has my favorite creature and climax in the anthology but I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t put more emphasis on the gameshow. Had the whole segment taken place on the show, the story would have functioned better as a found footage and felt tighter. I don’t know why the family would make a record of them torturing someone. It feels like this idea is close to being something really special. Instead it feels middle of the pack with the exception of a killer ending.
One detail a lot of these segments overlook is the 1999 place setting. I feel like you could have a lot of fun with segments based around AOL, or fads like Beanie Babies, the rise of boybands. I’m just spit-balling here. Fortunately, “The Gawkers” feels at home with a play on the teen sex comedies of the late 90s. Like American Pie but with more murder.
It’s in this segment that it is revealed that the maker of the stop motion videos is a teen boy named Brady. Bullied by his older brother Dylan and Dylan’s friends, all the boys become distracted by the new neighbor girl, Sandra. Brady befriends Sandra and is convinced by his brother and his horny friends to install a spycam into Sandra’s webcam in her room. Brady reluctantly agrees and all the boys watch as Sandra undresses and turns into…. A gorgon!
A gorgon. You know, like Medusa? I appreciate that we get a far less represented monster on screen but the CGI is questionable. Sandra comes over and kills the boys, she turns some into stone, it’s cool, just rushed. Honestly, all I think this segment needs is a slower, more deliberate pace after Sandra’s reveal. Otherwise it does a good job of portraying its time period and gives us a fairly original creature.
Another segment that at least acknowledges the 99 time period is To Hell and Back, which is centered around a couple of filmmakers, Nate and Troy, as they film a cult ritual at a New Year’s Eve Party. The cultists plan to bring a demon into our world through a female volunteer but cannot carry through with the ritual until the stroke of midnight.
Before the cultists can complete their ritual, a demon escapes seeps into our plain and drags Nate and Troy to Hell. What follows is Nate and Hell traversing a rocky, desert terrain as cannibalistic barbarians eat and fight each other to survive. Along the way, they are also guided by a barbarian named Mabel who helps them in turn that they keep her name alive back on Earth.
To Hell and Back is a fun romp that climaxes with Troy and Hell sneaking back into Earth right before midnight. Though Nate accidentally finds himself in the female volunteers body and is killed by the cult. Troy is killed quickly after but not before scribbling “Mabel” into the cultist’s book.
And those are all the segments! Really my only significant complaint is “If you’re gonna make a found footage story, write the idea with the camera as a character in mind.” Some of these segments feel more like horror shorts that just happen to be found footage, just cuz. The stories are far more successful when they integrate the artform. Got to grab the attention of those moviegoers with a millisecond attention span. Like me.