Fantastic Fest 2021- V/H/S 94

By Naomi Roper

It’s been 7 years since the last (underwhelming) entry in the horror anthology series V/H/S (Created by Brad Miska and Bloody Disgusting) and now it’s back with a brand new quarter of stories in V/H/S 94

As before V/H/S 94 features found footage tales with a central wrap around. As the films are meant to be tapes captured on VHS the quality of the images varies wildly in Storm Drain and The Subject we get pristine HD whereas in Terror the screen flickers and the quality is pretty tough on the eyes. 

Anthologies are very tricky to rate overall but the quality of the tales on display here is decent and far stronger than the last effort V/H/S Viral. Rating each of the tales in turn:

Storm Drain – written and directed by promising newcomer Chloe Okuno

A journalist Holly Marciano (Anna Hopkins) is assigned to do a puff piece on a mysterious “rat man’ that is appearing in the sewers. Her initial reluctance to go wading into sewage evaporates when she realises that talking to the homeless people who live underground is a much better story. So off Holly goes marching into a pitch-black sewer in her high heels with no protection whatsoever except for her cameraman. Things do not go well.

This is a ton of fun. Hopkins is hilarious as the reporter with tunnel vision whose desire for a story at all costs has deadly consequences. The last 5 minutes are completely wild containing one of the most gruesome and hilarious death sequences I’ve seen. Funny, nasty and with a surprising amount of world-building I am fully on board for this and whatever Okuno does next.

The Empty Wake – Written and directed by Simon Barrett (Seance, You’re Next)

A funeral home employee waits at a wake for the family of the deceased to arrive. They have requested that the wake be filmed and so the cameras are rolling at all times. Outside a storm is brewing, the lights keep going out and there are noises coming from inside the coffin.

This short feels somewhat incomplete. It’s a snapshot of a story with more questions than answers. Why have the family insisted that the wake be filmed? Why is no one there? Is the poor woman a set up by the funeral home guys or are they just jerks who don’t care about the concerns of their employees? None of these questions are answered. This short feels like Barrett started with the money shot (because from the second we are told that the coffin has moved and is now ajar we know we’re going to see what’s in there) and hurriedly worked a story around it. 

The scene in question is great with some superb SFX makeup but by the time it arrived, I was rather impatient for the story to get on with it. An incomplete snapshot of a short that isn’t really dramatically satisfying.

The Subject by Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You Too)

Timo Tjahjanto co-wrote and directed (with Gareth Evans) the highpoint of the V/H/S franchise (Safe Haven a segment in V/H/S 2) and he brings out the big guns here with a riotously gory tale. Essentially a mad scientist tale The Subject is told entirely through the eyes of a kidnapped girl who wakes up to discover that the madman in question is on a mission to fuse human beings with machines. At a certain point, it devolves into a first-person shooter as the poor girl (sorry for lack of actor details – there is nothing on IMDB) travels through the lab of hell finding other examples of the doctor’s experiments and trying to escape from the police, her supposed saviours, who see her as a monster.

Fast-paced, gruesome and stunningly shot The Subject is the highlight of the segments and stands alongside Safe Haven as the best of the franchise.

Terror – Written and directed by Ryan Prows (Lowlife)

A militia group have found themselves a supernatural weapon (all the garlic on the outside of the cage is a hell of a clue) which they want to use to blow up a federal building. They decide to have a party the night before their planned attack. But alcohol and idiotic redneck white supremacists do not mix and before they know it their captive is loose…

Basically, vampire v militia – the build-up is perhaps a tad lengthy (and there is some dark humour to be mined at how unbelievably stupid and inept these sorry excuses for human beings are) but the ending is enormously satisfying. #TeamVampire Great SFX work too. 

Holy Hell Jennifer Reeder (Knives and Skin)

A brutish SWAT team investigate a remote warehouse only to discover a sinister cult compound featuring a series of terrifying videotapes (which include the anthology segments).

Unfortunately as is often the case with the V/H/S series the wraparound is by far the weakest element. This is pure style over substance. The images of the SWAT team investigating the compound to discover room after room of people who seem to have plucked their own eyeballs out is deeply, deeply creepy. But the acting is in a different heightened register to what everyone else is doing in the anthology segments and the payoff is poor. Plus they misuse the term “Final Girls” which made me quietly furious. Looks great but would have been more effective if the SWAT team didn’t actually speak. 

Overall V/H/S 94 is a really strong return to form for the series with The Subject standing out as one of the best segments the franchise has to offer. There is plenty of mileage left in this format and here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see of it.

V/H/S 94 had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest and will play exclusively on Shudder from October 6th.