This is an advanced review out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where V / H / S / 99 made its world premiere. It will premiere on Shudder on Oct. 20, 2022.
The de-evolution of the V / H / S franchise thrives throughout V / H / S / 99 in that it’s becoming more punk-rock by the entry. As the digital cleanliness of past collections trades for snowy ’90s tracking fuzz, filmmakers unify visions by using copious practical effects that make for a creature-heavy edition of this seminal found-footage franchise. Expect your usual anthology mixed bag, but late ’90s nostalgia goes far to bind chapters as everything from American Pie perviness to Nickelodeon game shows gets slathered in gushing mutilation. Monsters, mayhem, and attraction-based engagement make V / H / S / 99 one of the steadier V / H / S titles to date, as long as you’re into a headbanging rollercoaster that favors gratuitous midnighter entertainment over more self-serious horror thrills.
Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” sends a Jackass Lite crew calling themselves RACK (first letter of each member’s name) into a burned-and-abandoned arts collective known as The Colony Underground. Skater punks played by caricature teen rebels dare provoke the souls of deceased girl band Bitch Cat – trampled by fans during a fire – and are met with unrested spirits. Snotty burnouts chatter about inappropriate topics, but the payoff of Bitch Cat’s emergence is where “Shredding” sings. Recreations of Bitch Cat’s deaths with sex dolls and squishy Jello turn into a rave from the grave as RACK flees from Night of the Demons-looking zombie musicians, and the final shot – it’s like Chuck E. Cheese but with more dismemberment. Levin might overuse trickery as RACK keeps punking their drummer, who fears their meddling will result in what rightfully happens. Still, it’s raucous enough in its horror motions to deliver on punk-rock promises of bloodlust thanks to energetic original songs and a moshy score by artist Dresage (reunited after Levin’s Into The Dark: My Valentine).
Johannes Roberts (Resident Evil: Welcome To Racoon City) follows with sorority hazing tale “Suicide Bid,” a torturous grab-bag of excruciating paranoias. Hopeful Beta Sigma Eta pledge Lily (Ally Ioannides) is lowered into a coffin and told by her prospective sisters di lei she must spend the night underground if she wants admittance. Roberts does a tremendous job commanding claustrophobic tension as poor Lily falls victim to a horrible prank turned horrific lock-in. “Suicide Bid” uses confinement, arachnophobia, and aquaphobia to exceptional degrees but goes too far in the finale. There’s ample spine-tingling terror as Barbie BSE meanies cackle while a freshman cowers below dirt clumps and rain-soaked mud, all before the gossipy curse of a pledge who died underground in the same graveyard becomes another chance to inject practical monster effects. Everything else in the segment works i know well that it’s hard to take the haunted maze effects seriously. It’s still a winner, just a bit too ambitious when already frightening on all cylinders.
Next is Flying Lotus’ “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” a riff on the popular children’s obstacle course Legends of the Hidden Temple. Little Donna (Amelia Ann) hopes to be the next grand prize winner, which means a single granted wish from magical Ozzy backstage. Out struts an uncomfortably showy host (Steven Ogg) in a floral lavender suit, who downplays the severity of Ozzy’s Dungeon when extreme violence occurs – and that’s just the setup for Saw-like evolutions bred from a vengeful past contestant. If you’ve seen Kuso, you understand the obscurity Flying Lotus favors and why “Ozzy’s Dungeon” will be either a love or hate chapter in V / H / S / 99. There’s a vibe of cable-television impurity that needs to be better sustained, and the whole experience lasts a bit too long for its gimmick. Satire is incendiary yet stretched thin as puppetry and melted faces become the norm. Sometimes less is more, and that’s where I’ll leave “Ozzy’s Dungeon.”
Tyler MacIntyre redeems with “The Gawkers,” which is the aforementioned American Pie takedown. Suburban cul-de-sac stoners with nicknames like Boner notice a smokeshow (Emily Sweet) across the street and begin peeping through binoculars – then cyber spyware – hoping to glimpse some skin. MacIntyre recalls David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” while taking shots at the creepiness of teen sex comedies once normalized by pop culture, while high school stooges lose control of their hormones with gore to spare. The journey is a gas, but MacIntyre’s monster clinches “The Gawkers” with lessons learned through massacres and a mythological creature not seen enough in horror cinema.
MacIntyre also oversees the humorous wrap-around – stop-motion army men fight plushy kaijus and banter about the gloom of battle like an elementary school student’s depiction of war. It’s the kind of juvenile time waster your little sibling or cousin would make you watch, proud of the strawberry jam blood and toy actors. There’s plenty to chuckle at (including Tales From The Stich‘s Raatma doll), like someone recorded snuff videos over cherished memories.
Joseph and Vanessa Winter carry momentum from their festival favorite Deadstream into “To Hell and Back,” which is jam-packed with more of the same supernatural black humor and never-recycled demon costumes. Two documentarians (Archelaus Crisanto and Joseph Winter) anticipate Y2K by recording a cult’s demonic vessel ritual – but they end up dragged into the underworld when the summoner’s target appears early and pulls them below. The best friends regain composure in a calcified mass of mountains ruled by unspeakable horrors, traversing unholy feeding grounds while wearing cardboard New Year’s Eve hats. Shades of Astron-6 put on a lower-budget special effects showcase that resourcefully blends the Stranger Things Upside Down with Adam Green’s Digging Up the Marrow, as long as you’re alright with jokier adventurers bumbling through Satan’s backyard. The Winters spare no production design expenses by building everything from the rocky landscapes to cave-dwelling warriors, pushing the boundaries of where V / H / S tales can transport viewers.