SXSW Review: V/H/S

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SXSW Review: “V/H/S”

“V/H/S” is an anthology of five horror stories with a simple premise: A gang of delinquent misfits (aka asshole kids) is hired by a mysterious entity to burglarize an old man’s house and acquire a rare VHS tape.

When the kids break in, they find the man dead in a chair facing a makeshift wall of TVs and VCRs. The gang quickly discovers more found footage than they bargained for. They search boxes and boxes of unmarked VHS tapes, their only clue as to what they’re looking for, “You’ll know it when you see it.”

And so the kids start sticking random tapes in VCRs and discover different found footage flicks. This kick-ass horror anthology is directed by the likes of Ti West (“House of the Devil”), Glenn McQuaid (“I Sell the Dead”), David Bruckner (“The Signal”), Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard (“The ABCs of Death”) and the filmmaking group Radio Silence.

Curated by Brad Miska of Bloody-Disgusting.com, “V/H/S” was originally conceived as a television series in the likes of “Twilight Zone,” “Amazing Stories” and “Monsters” — and with such a simple premise, it’s easy to see how this could take off especially with ABC’s recent found-footage television experiment, “The River.”

Each film in the anthology explores a different element of the horror genre and really deconstructs the found footage sub-genre in a way that will no doubt catch the attention of Hollywood – as well it should. Personally, I’m getting tired of “Paranormal Activity” sequels and countless found footage films about exorcism – the anthology approach seems to be the best way to handle it, and who doesn’t long for the nostalgia brought by the sound of a VHS tape sliding into a VCR.

In one of the tapes, someone wears a pair of spyglasses, in another, someone wears a Halloween costume with a camera built-in. The film is fairly creative in the way it uses the gimmick, expanding outward from the standard “I’m running through the woods with a camcorder crying and screaming in the dark” fare we’re used to.

 

There’s something powerful about watching a violent, disturbing VHS tape. I guess it really all goes back to the idea of snuff films – of seeing something you weren’t meant to see, something that can’t be unseen. “The Ring” had that kind of power -  if you watch this weird tape, you’ll die in seven days.

In the age of DVD and YouTube, that premise doesn’t seem nearly as scary. “Oh dude, there’s this BitTorrent out there and if you download it and watch it, you’ll totally die in like 5-6 days.” Just doesn’t have the same kind of effect, does it?

That’s where “V/H/S” shines. It takes me back to a childhood spent watching VHS tapes, and thinking about the power they held. We had shelves of VHS tapes, most of them commercial releases, but tons of tapes where we had recorded movies or specials off of TV.

I had several Halloween anthology tapes myself, collections of televisions shows and movies that would play in huge blocks during the holiday – and I like to think of “V/H/S” as a reminder of those days, when you could essentially make a video mix tape and it required more effort than burning and ripping a disc.

It seems like this year’s South by Southwest Festival has been showcase of documentary features and, surprisingly enough, genre films like “Cabin in the Woods,” “The Raid: Redemption” and “V/H/S.”

Since its premiere at Sundance, “V/H/S” has been acquired by Magnolia Pictures so hopefully it will receive a wide-release this fall because fans are dying for good horror and sadly there just aren’t many thrills or scares to be had in the genre these days.