New from Jeff York on The Establishing Shot: LOOKING FOR NASTY HALLOWEEN FUN? CATCH THE GRISLY “V/H/S/94”

In 2012, Brad Miska, the founder of the horror website BloodyDisgusting.com, had a clever idea to take advantage of the “found footage” trend pulsing through the horror genre. He hired a handful of talented horrormeisters to tell multiple stories in an anthology all dealing with found footage VHS tapes. The result was a film entitled, surprise surprise, V/H/S. It was a lot of fun, albeit a mixed bag with some segments being more accomplished than others. Nonetheless, the good and the okay were all short films woven into an over-arching narration of VHS tapes found in a creepy old house. As the intruders discovered what was on the tapes, so did we in the audience. It was meta when meta was just starting to become a term.

The success of that independent feature yielded sequels V/H/S/2 and V/H/S: VIRAL, not to mention a spin-off film entitled SIREN, and even a miniseries on Snapchat’s entitled SNAP ORIGINALS. Now, here we are in 2021, and a new sequel film is available just in time during this whole month of Halloween. It’s called V/H/S/94 and stands as the most accomplished in the series. V/H/S/94 is as scary and gonzo as its predecessors, but each short is tighter, punchier, and has a genuine beginning, middle, and end. The material is gross as hell, and a lot of it doesn’t aim higher than to make you jump in your seat, but all the shorts contained here do both very well.

When horror fans catch it on Shudder.com, and through Amazon Prime as well, they’ll discover four unnerving shorts with a couple of video extras tossed in to entertain us even more. It starts with the framing device entitled “Holy Hell.” Written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, her piece follows a 1994 SWAT team bursting into an abandoned warehouse. They’ve received a tip that some sort of criminal ring is operating from there, and once inside they discover some very disturbing elements. Rooms are set up like church sanctuaries, with mannequins filling various chairs in the congregation. In other rooms, chairs sit in front of TVs that are showing lurid videos. (Naturally, these are the stories that we’ll watch along with those cops.)

As the police investigate, they discover a few corpses amongst the “flock.” Their eyes have been gouged out, for God knows what reason, but a woman’s voice on the intercom playing throughout the warehouse talks of salvation and welcoming all sinners. Reeder knows that heaven and hell are both sides of a coin and mixes them here devilishly. It’s not only a clever device to show the tapes, but the SWAT team could be in danger from an unseen foe lurking in the shadows. Reeder pays it off in the end and it’s a doozie.

But first, there are four videos within to watch. “Storm Drain” is a tense riff on TV news reporters as it follows the ambitious Holly Marciano (Anna Hopkins) and her cameraman trying to prove that rumors of a mysterious rat-man living in the sewers are more than just speculation. Hopkins captures all the brio and sass of those ‘muckraking’ types who see an Emmy in every expose, and she makes the character’s vanity a hoot. Written and directed by Chloe Okuno, this short is terrifying, cheeky, and even contains a funny commercial parody called “The Veggie Masher” sandwiched into a newscast. That one comes from writer/director Steve Kostanski, and he does Ron Popeil proud.

Writer/director Simon Barrett is up next with “The Empty Wake,” a tale of a dead body that may not be quite dead. The short takes place in a funeral parlor as Hayley (Kyal Legend) holds vigil over an empty wake thwarted by a gathering storm outside. As she fights flickering lights, strange noises all about, and the eeriness of an empty parlor, she discovers the coffin askew on its mantel. Is it moving when she’s not looking? Seemingly so, and it all makes for one single setting, self-contained nail-biter.

“The Subject,” written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto, is the most elaborate and moneyed of the shorts as it follows another SWAT team investigating a different warehouse in the past. In this short, a mad scientist named Dr. Suhendra (Budi Ross) has gone all Victor Frankenstein on the public, performing experiments on live human beings by combining them with machinery. The tale is as accomplished in its special effects, of which there are many, as in its grisliness depicting these human/machine hybrids. Bloody disgusting, indeed.

The final short contained in the piece is “Terror,” written and directed by Ryan Prows. It’s almost a better satire than it is a frightener, as it pimps Michigan militias, white nationalists, and the MAGA types of today. It’s still got a lot of good scares, for sure, but the laughs it wrings out of its portrayal of bellicose white men full of bravado until something starts picking them off one by one is an absolute stitch.

God knows what Prows and the other accomplished writers and directors here could do with the ‘Karen’s,’ January 6th rioters, and anti-vaxxers of today if they wanted to lambast some worthy targets. For now, 1994’s religious types, info-news folk, and armed mobs get the best of their bile. Still, I’m curious to know if what Miska started couldn’t be brought into the modern world and pimp our contemporary sins directly. Perhaps a new sequel entitled MP4/2022?

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