There’s very little VHS in V/H/S, a faux-found footage anthology that tasks today’s low- and no-budget filmmakers with creating horror on the cheap. Nevermind that they’re roughly 13 years too late: What’s up with the in-all-ways murky wraparound story, wherein someone pops tape after tape into a VCR, yielding footage shot by modern video cameras and characters-in one case, over video chat-and yet for some reason in the old-timey, square Academy ratio? Technofile carping aside, V/H/S subscribes to omnibus package rules: one or two decent shorts plus mediocre padding. The only difference is that even the least resonant has something going on.
Starting from the bottom, Tuesday the 13th means to send up a certain similarly-named slasher classic, with hipster campers getting graphically disemboweled for fanboy lust. But there’s a nifty, if inexplicable, visual idea: Our baddie short-circuits any video camera pointed at it, and therefore we only see him/her/it as a blob of digital vomit.
Meanwhile, 10/31/98, from the collective Radio Silence, details what happens when Halloween revelers interrupt a pagan ritual with “ironic” results. Amateur Night vies for feminism-horror: Douchebags try to drunk-fuck the wrong bar pickup, and what follows would be more Ms.-friendly minus the glaring tit shots. All three offer the patient viewer repeated opportunities to behold characters serving as shaky-cam videographers when they should put down the recording device and make like a tree. (Similarly tested will be one’s resolve for petrified heroes shouting “Shit! Shit! SHIT!” or “Oh fuck! Oh fuck! Oh FUCK!”)
It’s telling that a film boasting pretend-amateurishness peaks when helmed by established, prolific talent. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger serves as the ever-busy Joe Swanberg’s surprisingly sturdy audition tape for Paranormal Activity 5, with enough critique of the male-on-female psyche to distinguish itself. Second Honeymoon, from Ti West (The House of the Devil), is the only one to actually feel like found footage, purporting to be the recording of a thoughtless, pervy husband (Swanberg again) on the road with his wife (Sophia Takal) while stalked by a mysterious woman (Kate Lyn Sheil). Though slavishly hewing to the West format—off-the-cuff hanging out culminating in leftfield catastrophe—it is, as it happens, the one time his payoffs haven’t been a massive letdown.