The horror anthology has long been a staple of sleepover parties—the modern-day equivalent of sitting around a campfire listening to people tell eerie stories. Trouble is, some stories simply suck. We've heard all about the hook hanging from the rearview window. Even the genre's finest entries—Creepshow, Trick-R-Treat, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie—are inconsistent at best.
Along with bloat, V/H/S, the new six-parter launched by horror site Bloody Disgusting, also struggles because it utilizes six largely untested directors. The fact is, some kids are just better at telling scary stories than others. The framework is the tale of a group of thugs hired to break into an old house to find a videotape. Inevitably, they discover a body sitting next to a pile of cassettes. Instead of throwing them in a bag and, you know, getting the fuck out of there, they each decide to sit alone with a decomposing corpse and watch TV. We watch what they do. It isn't pretty.
While united by the tired found-footage trope, the stories presented are of incredibly disparate quality. House of the Devil director Ti West unsurprisingly steals the show with a slow-burner about a couple on a second honeymoon stalked by a knife-brandishing intruder. The series closer, film collective Radio Silence's "10/31/98," creatively uses one dude's costume as a nanny cam (a teddy bear with a camera on its head) to document a satanic-panic nightmare in a house crawling with evil.
"Second Honeymoon" and "10/31/98," though, are diamonds in a very rough sea of motion sickness and contrivance. The most egregious offenders are the Skype-based medical-conspiracy dud "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young" and the nearly unwatchable "Tuesday the 17th," the story of dipshit teens stalked by a digitalized murderer and featuring the worst found-footage performances since One Night in Paris.
V/H/S is admirable in its ambition, but it can't escape its amateurish execution and considerable mean-spiritedness. Worse, unlike its predecessors, the "tape" that binds it all together is simply another contrivance that leads nowhere. In no way are these stories related, except by the fact they were cobbled together by the same editors. It's a series of campfire stories told by children who are waiting for their turn to talk, rather than working together to weave a collective nightmare. R.
Critic's Grade: C-
SEE IT: V/H/S opens Friday at Hollywood Theatre.