With the release of V/H/S/99 upon us and a sixth film announced for 2023, it’s safe to say this franchise is alive and kicking. I’ve long been a big supporter of these movies and will shout said support from the rooftops to anyone willing to listen to my incoherent shouting (just ask my co-hosts).
For those unfamiliar, the idea for V/H/S and its sequels was conjured up by our friends over at Bloody Disgusting.
These films, which are mostly small in scope but massive in personality, originality, scares & gore, follow a similar format wherein different filmmakers are tasked with creating anthology segments that are, shall we say, delightfully nostalgic in tone.
Oftentimes, the ideas for the individual segments are conjured by up and coming names in the horror genre before they really hit it big. For example, 3 of the segments in 2012's V/H/S were written & directed by David Bruckner, Ti West & Radio Silence, who are responsible for 3 of the biggest horror films to grace the big screen in 2022 (Hellraiser, X & Scream, respectively).
With the latest Shudder exclusive film quickly becoming my favorite horror film of the year, I felt it appropriate to revisit the entire catalog, film by film. What follows is my personal ranking of these segments (aside from the “frame narratives" because it's my list, fuck you). I don’t think there are any outright bad segments, just varying levels of quality, starting off with:
The (Somewhat) Interesting
Dante The Great (V/H/S: Viral)
Unfortunately, V/H/S: Viral is the weakest film of the bunch, and this list will reflect as such. Again, while I don’t think the movie sucks by any means, I can see why there was a 7-year hiatus between Viral & ‘94.
A novel concept, but ultimately lands last on my list because it doesn’t fit within the framework of every other segment in the franchise, as the found footage element is nearly nonexistent. However, the gore & fight scenes do a pretty good job conveying what a deranged magician versus a Swat Team may look like, so bonus points for that.
Bonestorm (V/H/S: Viral)
A big step up from Dante The Great, Bonestorm is again endemic to the problem with Viral as a whole; a cool idea that ultimately leaves you wanting more.
And while I’m a big fan of Justin Benson & Aaron Scott Moorhead (The Endless fucking rules), I mean, Gentlemen…How are you not going to show me more of the monster that crawls out of the sewer at the end? Minus points.
The Pretty Good
I was shocked to see the first segment in the latest film this low on my list, but this is really about my personal taste. And I do quite enjoy this one – it kicks off ‘99 with a bang, delivering some great practical effects and effective scares.
The Empty Wake (V/H/S/94)
Having been to my fair share of wakes, as many have, I have definitely felt a sense of unease being around a casket containing a dead body. And of course, if the body proceeded to reanimate and wreak havoc in the funeral home, that would further complicate matters, and this is exactly what happens here, except that the parlor is empty (aside from one employee and a conveniently recording VHS camera, because movie) and the casket is closed, for good reason.
There’s really not a whole lot to the plot beyond that, but hey, less can be more!
Ride In The Park (V/H/S/2)
I am admittedly so fucking sick of the zombie genre I could throw up (thanks AMC), but I’m happy to report this is a fresh take on the whole concept.
Ever wonder what taking a bite out of a bicycle riding douche may look like through the zombie’s eyes? Well, thanks to Eduardo Sanchez, (a found footage horror legend because of a little film about stick figures and piles of rocks in the woods) and a GoPro camera, you’ll soon find out.
Phase I Clinical Trials (V/H/S/2)
The paranoia of techno-horror comes alive in this segment, directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) in the most Black Mirror esque V/H/S segment you’ll come across.
Come to think of it, Black Mirror's “The Entire History of You,” which came out one year earlier, and Phase I are extremely similar, aside from the terrifying specters of the dead and gratuitous nudity. Schwing.
Tuesday the 17th (V/H/S)
The title alone should give you a good idea of what you’re in for here. Horny, Drugged-Up Teenagers + “Masked” Killer = Good Time. Right?
The twist? Let’s just say you can’t get a good look at the killer’s face, and the reason is the most “VHS” thing ever. Good gore and good times to be had all around, even if the characters and dialogue leave a bit to be desired (but I mean, 20 minute film, so don’t expect the fucking Godfather).
The VERY Good
Suicide Bid (V/H/S/99)
Have you ever wanted to see Mean Girls, but set in a graveyard and The Plastics get their comeuppance from horrifying ghouls while buried alive?
Me too! So fetch.
Parallel Monsters (V/H/S: Viral)
If you’re a listener of our show, you know that Kat, Andrew & Matt often comment on not only my love for creature features, but my supposed love of “worm” movies. Yeah, I like Tremors... And Deep Rising. Who doesn’t?
Nacho Vigalondo takes “worm” horror to a completely different level (IYKYK), and this is far and away the most interesting and disturbing thing to come out of V/H/S: Viral. Can we just leave parallel dimensions alone, you guys?
Second Honeymoon (V/H/S)
This, for my money, is the creepiest short film in the entire V/H/S canon (and most plausible). It takes the voyeurism that is inherent to found footage horror and cranks it up to a 10.
It’ll also make you triple check the locks on your door. Speaking of which…I’ll be right back.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (V/H/S)
The craziest title on our little list also may have one of the craziest plot progressions, but is genuinely creepy and finds another innovative reason for a camera to be rolling, as the entire story is shown through a series of video calls between a girl and her soon to be Doctor boyfriend, who may be up to more than he is letting on.
This is another one that's genuinely scary with a shocker of an ending.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction (V/H/S/2)
You don’t have to have an IQ on par with Ken Jennings to figure out the plot of this one, but I love aliens, always have. I also love all things alien horror, so this is right up my alley.
SPAA also gives you the most creative filming device of any of these shorts, as nearly the entire thing is shot by a camera strapped to a Yorkshire Terrier.
You were a good boy, Tank.
The Gawkers (V/H/S/99)
Yet another spectacular entry in ‘99, this one with a moral to be had:
Kids, don’t spy on your insanely hot neighbors, or they may turn into a savage monster and rip your fucking head off. Pretty sure Aesop wrote that in one of his fables as well.
Does the thought of a Far-Right militia group getting ripped apart by the very thing they hope to use as a weapon of mass destruction excite you? Well then, my friend, Terror is right up your alley.
Bonus points for a truly original, scary design of a creature that has been done to death.
The Ones You'll Tell All Your Friends About
The Subject (V/H/S/94)
This is where it really starts to get difficult to rank these, as depending on my mood, the day, or the weather, The Subject could be near the top of this list.
Directed by Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto (more on him in a bit), this segment is a techno-horror gem that’s shot like a video game – think Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade mixed with a FPS on steroids.
The creations are terrifying and if you’re a gore hound, this should hit on all cylinders.
Another ingenious way for the camera to be constantly rolling during the entire story shines through in this gem from the aforementioned filmmaking group Radio Silence (Southbound, Ready or Not) as the POV character heads to a Halloween party dressed as a Nanny Cam.
What starts out as a good time through a haunted house turns into a nightmare that will stick with you well after the credits roll on this final segment of the first film. Watching this, it's easy to see why Radio Silence was given the keys to the Scream franchise, regardless of your thoughts on the latest entry.
Storm Drain (V/H/S/94)
One of the many things I relish about these movies is the wholly original monster designs, and none may be more beautiful than the abomination lurking in the sewers in Storm Drain.
This segment kicks off V/H/S/94 by diving head first into the murky lair of the film's resident rat-human hybrid for 20 minutes of balls to the wall insanity.
Cryptids? Check. Sewer-dwelling hobos? Check. Melting faces? You fuckin' bet.
Hail Raatma indeed.
To Hell And Back (V/H/S/99)
I can certainly understand someone wanting this kickass, adrenaline fueled romp from the creative team behind another popular Shudder exclusive (Deadstream) atop their personal list, as it seems to be the fan favorite of '99. I just happen to like a few others better.
Now that's not to say that this isn't an all-timer, because once this one takes you to Hell (and back), you'll have had a fucking blast. The whole thing is beautifully shot (I need to know if "Hell" was an actual set or all special effects because it looks INCREDIBLE) and the residents of the Underworld are all vastly different but all look phenomenal. This is also probably the funniest segment of the newest film.
Extra props to the filmmakers for reminding me that Go-Gurt was a thing and bringing Mabel into my life, who I desperately need more of.
Amateur Night (V/H/S)
Kicking off the franchise with a bang, Amateur Night takes off like a rocket and never looks back, making it hard to argue that it ever got any better than this (narrator voice: it did, in fact, getter better).
David Bruckner directs the hell out of this piece, which follows 3 unlikeable assholes looking to turn their night on the town into into an amateur porn video shot (literally) through the lens of glasses with a hidden camera. These perverted hopes and dreams ultimately do not come to fruition, as the supposed target of this operation has other plans for her male companions, along with all their parts.
Amateur Night is one of two segments to be expanded into a feature length film, and it's easy to see why. I can't recall another time I've seen this particular type of creature as scary as she is here, making for an incredible (an incredibly satisfying) story that unfolds at a breakneck pace.
I like you, Amateur Night.
Ozzy’s Dungeon (V/H/S/99)
Even though I was born in the 80s, I was raised in the '90s, and like many other American children in the 1990s, Nickelodeon was my life during these formative years.
Ozzy's Dungeon takes that 90s nostalgia, hits you over the fucking head with it, then shoves it down your throat with equal parts Legends of the Hidden Temple, Saw & the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft. And if you think that is an insane sentence, wait till you get a load of this short, written & directed by rapper Flying Lotus, who's notorious for his work on Adult Swim.
I actively avoided trailers for V/H/S/99 leading up to its release, as I wanted to be totally surprised by the contents, and boy am I glad I had no idea this was coming.
DO NOT let anyone spoil this for you. And fuck the Shrine of the Silver Monkey.
Safe Haven (V/H/S/2)
There are certain things, as a horror fan, that you'll always remember. Moments in time that seem to slow down as the hair on the back of your neck stands on end, a sense of dread building in the pit of your stomach as you realize you just may be viewing something special. Something that is beautifully deranged and unhinged, a fever dream from the mind of madman (or madmen like Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto).
The first time I saw Safe Haven was one of those moments for me.
I knew next to nothing about the plot before I saw this (I'd highly recommend going in blind as well), but attempting to explain beyond saying that a film crew witnesses chaos at the compound of a secretive cult would be an injustice.
What I will say was that Safe Haven left me disturbed, bewildered, enthralled and shaken all at the same time. I couldn't wait to watch it a second time. Or a third.
And that, dear readers, is why Safe Haven lands atop my list. Go watch, and thank me later.
V/H/S, V/H/S/2 & V/H/S: Viral are all streaming on Hulu; V/H/S/94 & V/H/S/99 are exclusively streaming on Shudder.