Monday, April 25, 2016

Guys, You Know They Invented DVDs, Right?

Horror anthologies in the 21st century have, for the most part, been a strange and mean disappointment. With a few key exceptions--well, Trick 'r Treat--it just seems like whenever (usually) young filmmakers of this age tackle the short story format, we as an audience end up with something far from scary and entertaining and close to mean and for whatever reason, oddly misogynist.

I pretty much hated V/H/S, though I hated V/H/S 2 a little bit less. When I learned about the third entry, I was planning to finally cut the cord of grumble watching in a way I've only ever succeeded at with American Horror Story (that's right: I slogged through Sons of Anarchy and I'm a little less of a person because of it). Then I learned that some of the directors involved had made films that I genuinely liked (Deadgirl, Dance of the Dead, Resolution, Spring) and realized, damnit, I have to just get on that elliptical machine and watch this movie while burning some calories.

I am nothing if not a multitasker.

Quick Plot(s): Story by story, here we go:

Our wraparound, Vicious Circles, is helmed by Deadgirl co-director Marcel Sarmiento. It follows a slacker named Kevin who, hold onto your butts, REALLY LIKES VIDEOTAPING STUFF. Most of that “stuff” includes his girlfriend Iris. One night, a high-speed police chase involving a wayward ice cream truck flashes by his own window, prompting Kevin to grab his camera and get in on the action. Iris is somehow abducted by the speeding truck, but she manages to send Kevin video phone messages helping him track her. Meanwhile, other bystanders who witness the chase circling them seem to fall into fits of violent madness.

I’ll say this about Vicious Circles: it’s gallons better than any of the wraparounds in the other two V/H/S films. Unfortunately, that’s kind of like saying having your cavity filled is gallons better than experiencing a root canal, or that the characters on The Walking Dead are more consistent than Fear the Walking Dead. For whatever reason, the framing segments in this series just can’t seem to click into place in a way that works. As a huge fan of the underrated Deadgirl, Vicious Circle is a letdown but could have been worse.

The first full segment is Dante the Great, written and directed by Gregg Bishop of the surprisingly delightful zombie comedy Dance of the Dead. Dante is a wildly successful magician whose tricks baffle and excite the world. His success, however, is actually due to the possession of a powerful and evil cloak that craves fresh bodies.

Dante the Great is kind of the perfect story for this kind of anthology. It’s a simple setup that probably wouldn’t warrant a 90 minute feature, but it’s a fun and unique concept that also gives you something new in its brief running time. It’s also refreshing that the story is told more documentary-style than handheld found footage. I can’t say that I’ll think of Dante the Great ever again, but it entertained me just fine while I watched it.

Up next is Nacho Timecrimes Vigalondo’s Parallel Monsters, which follows an amateur scientist who creates a portal into a side universe where his own double has seemingly done the same thing. As our lead explores his counterpart’s home, he discovers some key differences that just might involve genital monsters.

I’ve yet to see the well-received Timecrimes, in part because I’m still trying to get to the point where I don’t remember the details of what’s known to be the very similar in nature and details Triangle. Like the first segment, Parallel Monsters is good, if not great. I enjoyed how it never had to come out and explain its alternate devil (or something) worshiping religion. It drops enough clues to know something is very, very wrong, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a solid short story, which is what I like to see in anthologies.

The final segment is titled Bonestorm and is directed by the promising team behind Resolution and Spring, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead. In the typical V/H/S tradition, Bonestorm is about a group of awful teenage boys. Thankfully, it’s much better than most of the previous shaky cam dudefests found in the other films.

The youths in this case are a group of skateboarding brats who head across the Mexican border to get some video footage of extreme moves. As they flip around an abandoned skate park with some ominous ritual symbols, one of them sheds some blood and accidentally summons a cult of undead skeleton zombie killer things. Shot primarily via Go Pro cameras, it certainly has the expected “what am I actually seeing?” effect, but the chaos is handled well enough that the almost video game-esque feel keeps the material watchable.

Due to their format, anthologies are rarely the most exciting type of film to write (and I assume, read) about. Oddly enough, I could never manage to put together my thoughts on the first V/H/S film because every time I tried, I felt like I was writing from a soapbox stuffed with estrogen. It felt mean and misogynist, and I just couldn't vocalize it in a way that satisfied where I stood. I covered the sequel on my podcast, The Feminine Critique  (Episode 43), because, well, sometimes it's just easier to stumble through spoken words than written ones.

I don't particularly want to see more V/H/S entries, but if considering they're on a (rather slow) upward track, I guess I won't complain. It's encouraging to see newer genre filmmakers taking some chances. Let's just hope they stay somewhat interesting.

Lessons Learned
Sigh. The usual. If you have boobs, a V/H/S camera will ogle them. If you have a vagina, you won't be allowed to do anything behind the camera. If you have motion sickness, a V/H/S camera will jam its fingers down your throat and vomit you. You get it.

Stray Observations
V/H/S: Viral might be the odd case of a film that works better when viewed on a cell phone than a larger television screen, where the shaky cam effect can be overwhelming

My expectations were pretty darn low for V/H/S: Viral, so a mild endorsement might be worthy of video box art. That being said, I found this one more...tolerable than the first two. The stories all bring something mildly new to the format, and none overstay their welcome in terms of length. It's on Instant Watch and at just 80 minutes, it won't hurt your brain to watch. It won't do much to improve it, but things could be worse. 


  1. I've heard 'misogynist' aimed at these movies before, but if anything, to me, they're mighty dependent on portraying the awful behavior of young men. Maybe because of the moralist demand of most horror films that the victims somewhat 'deserve' what they get. I mean, the movies are really NOT complimentary about men either.
    Strangely, I'd forgotten I'd watched this one till I read your synopsis. I pretty much liked it, the same way you like a handful of potato chips but would feel like crap if you ate the whole bag.
    I've liked the series as a whole, but then I'm a guy, a guy who doesn't mind watching camera-obsessed dude bros get trounced.
    Hey, maybe the next one will be all women directors! I'd definitely be in to see that.

  2. You're definitely right about how awful the men come off, but the movies have to treat women so awfully before they can make their point about the dudes getting what's coming to them (and along the way, linger on boobs). Each has improved on this aspect, but there's just such a sense of "DUDE" about the whole thing that still makes give the side eye. Then when I think, "why not just make sure they include a female director," I find myself getting even more angry. I may be wrong on this, but I think that between two ABCs of Death movies, we get 3.5 out of 52 segments directed by women. There's something wrong with that. I know the filmmakers behind the first film acknowledged that there were some women issues, but then why not actively address that in your next installments?

    On a funner note, there is apparently a female-directed horror anthology in the works with Karyn Kusama, Jennifer Lynch, and a few others behind the camera. So that's something!

  3. Maybe I'll give the first one another watch, just to look at it with that lens. I'm so used to horror films tossing in T&A and slut-shaming women, perhaps I've grown inured to it (though I'll usually happily notice when such formula stuff is absent).

  4. Amusing review. Like your style!