Jennifer Reeder’s wraparound story in the latest horror anthology V/H/S/94 may not be the best performed or most dynamic of the series of shorts, but it does provide something more than mythology building for this entry in the found footage genre exercise: ecstatic edge. It follows a SWAT team as they penetrate what they think is a warehouse-sized drug den, only to discover the remains of an analog video-based horror house cult - perhaps a group obsession that may as well be a drug - that engages in black market effed-up artifacts. Dead bodies and bloody mannequins litter the Church and prison-esque environment, leading one officer to exclaim “We need a gravedigger!” in all seriousness. No irony or sarcasm. Camp and cheese certainly exist in this collective film, as does awareness for what’s happening and how silly it all is, but there’s something near undefinable underneath the slapstick gore and impressively creative captures. Cross my heart and hope to die, V/H/S/94 represents all that is good and decent in cinema, despite and in spite of anything that grates the face.
It’s all about the vision and the craft of each filmmaking team involved, and how they interpret the challenges and the freedom of found footage. There’s still a lot of ground to potentially explore in this kind of storytelling - Spree and Operation Avalanche come to immediate mind - and V/H/S/94 is up for the tasks. For example, Chloe Okuno’s opening offering, about a news report on a storm drain monster, shifts perspective with madcap invention. We see an actual (in the world of the film) broadcast news segment, then Raw footage, then an infomercial bit, before rounding out with another news segment, straight out of The Howling with its explosive finale. Ryan Prows’s final flick of the project, about a bumbling but dangerous militia looking to do an Oklahoma City-like act of domestic terrorism, is presented as a propaganda advertisement and a Jackass escapade of doofus after doofus playing Rambo and getting drunk. Prows nails the video aesthetic in scary detail, from visual to feel, not too far away from bootleg copies of the Heaven’s Gate pre-suicide testimonial.
These productive behaviors, these experiments in progressive imagination, make one yearn to shoot some video too, and fart around with friends and maybe strangers. Inspirational really, but the film is not without some strikes. The more aggressive segment, from Timo Tjahjanto - whose V/H/S/2 bit was a showstopper - is more fantastical than faithful to video. That’s ok, even great to do, but its overload of video game shooters and Tetsuo: The Iron Man monster movie sensibility feels the least appropriate of the bunch, or rather least matching, while also being the most bombastic and loud. Not pretentious at all, but certainly a show-off of spectacle. A nit-pick this is, as it’s awesome to behold, just a bit overtoasted.
V/H/S/94 has recurring acts throughout, with two that have exact endings and two whose endings are remixed but similar. Nothing is redundant here, but there is some muddling around with the overall theme, which toys around with celebration of escapism to an “often imitated never duplicated” message regarding nostalgia for that which auto tracks. And something about final girls taking control over genre, though this isn’t as clear as could be.
With an over-reliance on swear words and a lovely level of sinew and gore, V/H/S/94 is the best of times and kind of the less of times, to varying degrees. It’s a blast. It’s near great. It’s sometimes grating. It comes with baggage. Clunky, but so were videotapes. When they dropped, there was a chance that a piece of plastic would chip off, and a worry in the moments before hitting the floor that it wouldn’t play later. But it was usually ok. After all, stores were in abundance at one time, and shelves were well stocked. V/H/S/94 revels in this remembrance of relic, and takes it as far as it can go. Not all is made of our joy for this past, but all exemplify a groovy tomorrow with killer tales to tell. And kill they will. 3.5/5