It’s nice to have an ongoing horror anthology one can count on. V/H/S started on shaky ground back in 2012, as it had a tonally grimy element that wasn’t sitting well. However, the 2013 sequel delivered some of the best horror shorts I’ve seen in the modern era. A few entries later, we’ve arrived at V/H/S/99, which has an obvious throughline but still functions similarly to the others. The results lead to short horror flicks that vary in quality. However, there’s a good balance of the craziness we’re seeing, allowing a distinctness to shine through. There’s a lot to like between the undead, cults, demons, and other violent forces, and it’s not even bogged down by an interstitial storyline this time around.
Given the nature of these films, it’s easy enough to breakdown individually, although, as mentioned, there is no overarching narrative in V/H/S/99, which is honestly refreshing. I’ve never found that element to be something that added much, as I just don’t need a reason to understand why a series of V/H/S tapes are being played somewhere. Instead, following a bit of stop-motion animation clarified later, Shredding is the first film to come up. Sadly, it’s also the weakest. Director/writer Maggie Levin clearly had an image in mind regarding the big punchline for this installment involving a punk band getting more than they bargained for when exploring the death of another band. With that in mind, while capturing a spirit of skateboard kids acting wild to prank each other, even as a short, I felt the time as far as building up to what remained.
Not unique to this series, but there does tend to be a mean streak running through the V/H/S films, resulting from multiple unlikable characters. That leads me to the second short in this collection, Suicide Bid, which happens to be the best of the bunch. I’m not sure if part of the appeal comes from having a lead character that is actually likable, but director/writer Johannes Roberts gets a lot of mileage out of a sorority prank gone wrong. This one involves being buried alive, and the steps taken to increase the tension, along with providing something genuinely scary based on design, really helped this portion of the film take off in the right ways. It’s certainly a killer way to examine the nature of urban legends.
Next up is Ozzy’s Dungeon, which felt like a rollercoaster. It started off as a dark comedy involving a dangerous kid-focused TV show, only to morph into a twisted bit of torture, then turning in an entirely new direction to close things off. Honestly, I felt I was hating much of the middle of this until I began understanding what co-writer/director Flying Lotus was aiming for. As the only short to focus on a black family, it’s not so much that race informs the short, but one can see differences emerging thanks to the kind of work that is on display to highlight why we are following these characters. There’s an extreme nature to the actions that follow, and a very game Steven Ogg as the gameshow host, to build an offbeat throughline. I’d also argue this short features a creepier smile than any of the ones seen in the recent hit film, Smile.
Providing some explanation for the brief interludes seen briefly between the shorts, The Gawkers answers this question before turning into its own story. Director Tyler MacIntyre reinforces the sense of fun V/H/S/99 wants to have compared to some of the more serious entries, as it involves a few teens spying on the girl next door. They devise an elaborate plan to see more of her, but naturally, they get more than they bargained for. Given the kids involved, compared to the generally older cast members, there is something to be said for the way it balances the more youthful energy here with the eventual arrival of horror violence. It’s a shame the visuals needed to represent the twist of this story don’t quite live up to what that reveal is supposed to be, but this short still mostly works.
Finally, the film ends on To Hell And Back, which is a real trip. These movies tend to end on shorts with a wider scope than all the previous ones, or at least a more manic energy. Thanks to writers/directors Vanessa & Joseph Winter, that’s what we get here. Taking the Y2K thing to heart, a ritual goes wrong, and two friends are transported to…well, you can guess. What follows is a wild use of a location and some elaborate sets to convey the underworld. Making this all the more offbeat is the attitude of the two friends, who have some hilarious responses to all the craziness around them. The level of gore only adds to his bogus journey, making for a pretty killer finale.
With all of these shorts, it’s an opportunity for genre filmmakers to show off what they can do with limited means. V/H/S/99 does plenty with what it has and keeps from wearing out its welcome. It may start off a little weak, but that’s also my takeaway. Horror is always funny that way, as a part of the joy with anthologies is knowing everyone will have their favorites. Whatever the case, there are still ways to delight in the short story carnage on display as far as what this series has offered.