Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: ‘V/H/S/94’ Brings More Fun On Tape

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the latest entry in the V/H/S horror anthology series, V/H/S/94, which had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2021.
User Rating: 6

A horror anthology has clearly remained an intriguing prospect over the decades. From Dead of Night to Trilogy of Terror to The ABCs of Death, the idea of seeing several horror shorts in one fell swoop tends to be a delightful proposition to horror fans looking to either get a quick fix through smaller stories or the chance to see multiple variations on the genre through unique voices. V/H/S has been no different, despite the unifying theme of these shorts being presented in a ‘found footage’ format. It’s also similar to other horror anthologies by featuring some hits and some misses in each entry. V/H/S/94 is a bit more consistent than the original film and V/H/S: Viral, but it still can’t quite compete with the delightful madness of V/H/S/2.

This time around, there are films from directors Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Ryan Prows, and Timo Tjahjanto, with Jennifer Reeder directing the wraparound segments to help guide along with the overall narrative. Sadly, but also par for the course, the bookending segments (and bits in between the shorts) aren’t very good. They involve a SWAT team raiding a supposed drug lab in 1994, only to realize they’ve entered the domain of a sinister cult that has a collection of tapes and dead bodies littering the floors. It ultimately amounts to little beyond featuring some of the worst acting of any of the segments shown.

Fortunately, the actual tapes start off well with Okuno’s. The premise involves a reporter and her cameraman searching for an urban legend known as Rat Man in a storm drain. Given the brevity of each of these shorts, “Storm Drain” has to push a lot to the side to justify the journey, but it matters little given the effective use of tension highlighted by the amount of light afforded to this scenario, and seeing things appear all of a sudden based on the tracking of the camera. The ultimate reveal is also quite worthwhile, with a final bit that packs a fun punch.

The next segment is “The Empty Wake” from Barrett. Formerly a writer of some of the segments, this is Barrett’s first V/H/S short he has directed, and it does a fine job establishing mood. The focus here is on a woman monitoring the recordings of an overnight wake, only to realize the person inside the coffin may not be as dead as suggested (I hate it when that happens). It’s a solid premise, and having a locked-in set of angles by way of the camcorders recording the wake allows for good tension. Things eventually kick into high gear, which is also pretty fun. However, I’m not sure the final moments really pull off what “The Empty Wake” is going for as effectively as it could.

Next up is “The Subject” from Tjahjanto, who is responsible for co-directing “Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2, still the best segment of this entire series. That segment was a visceral thrill ride, while “The Subject” plays a bit differently. It focuses on a mad scientist who is caught building biomechanical creatures out of kidnapped victims. We follow one of these creatures, which attempts to shield itself from police, while a much more violent creature goes on a rampage. This is a high concept full of gore and action. It’s not so much a scary feature, but the relentless nature of it, along with the high level of violence, certainly fits the bill for Tjanjanto and feels like the most crowd-pleasing entry.

Finally, we have “Terror” from Prows, who throws a bit of a curveball by presenting a white militia with particular objectives of how to cleanse America, only to reveal something entirely different in the scheme of things. However, even once we understand the nature of their perceived threat, the film still doesn’t try to win you over to the side of the gun-toting men. Despite being aware of how the subversion was supposed to work, I couldn’t help my eyebrow being raised through a good portion of this segment. That said, it’s well made and delivers a critical surprise that sets up a lot of where the rest of the short will go, which ends up being quite effective.

For all of these shorts, I tend to be amused at thinking of how creative these filmmakers need to be in handling their low budgets and purposefully going for a level of crudeness that fits the idea of those shooting this found footage be amateur filmmakers at best. With that in mind, there’s clearly a comfortable level of funding to deliver on some strange practical and digital effects.

I only wish some of the writing was stronger, particularly in the wraparound bits, as it never elevates above being a not-so-clever way to stitch everything together. With that said, I do appreciate having these distinct filmmakers all add their flavor to this particular concept. With no outright duds presented, there’s plenty of fun to be had and reasons for any viewer to hope they stay on the good side of any of the monsters who show up. Long live Rat Man!

V/H/S/94 will be released exclusively on Shudder on October 6.

6
Fair
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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