once in a while a film comes along that i really get rather excited about the concept of. i was fortunate enough to see two films that did this for me recently, and sadly neither lived up to the excitement caused by the idea. well, maybe one of them did, but for now let's deal with the one that did not.
i first became aware of a film called V/H/S about a year ago.the outline was that it was a film which had some people break into a house to steal an ultra-rare video tape, and they watched the videos in the house to try and find it. i suppose it grabbed my attention as i grew up in the non-download generation, meaning you had to somehow get video tapes, and certain ones were rare. they are rarer still today, you would imagine, with probably the only copy of some films on tape being binned as people simply don't have video machines any more.
back then, there were many tapes that were "rare". outside of the obvious more adult content films, there was all sorts you could try and get your hands on via tapes passed around. the "biggies" were obviously A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist, both for different reasons refused a UK video release for many years. other than that, fan shot videos of concerts were always something to look out for, as indeed were things like the "workprint" of Apocalypse Now.
no discussion of rare video tapes would be complete, of course, without a mention of the infamous The Day The Clown Cried. legend has it that the only thing close to a "complete" copy of this film resides on a video tape that Jerry Lewis keeps locked away. if you are unaware of the tale of this particular film, google away!
i had hope that this film would take its cue from the last rare tape mentioned there. alas, no. it's pretty much standard modern horror fare, once or twice being exceptional but for the most part scraping along the line marked "average". overall it is probably worth the two hours it runs for if you are a horror film fan, but the experience shall be tainted by the fact that you know this concept could have delivered a much, much better film.
the above is the end of this being spoiler free, so a nice big *** SPOILER WARNING *** is in place for the rest of this review.
the film starts, with a great emphasis on shaking the VHS camera as much as possible, with a bunch of degenerates making a somewhat distasteful video. for this video they will be paid $50, apparently, which impresses the gang a good deal. one of them persuades the rest of the gang that they can make a good deal more money by stealing a certain video tape, as outlined above. he persuades them, as you do, by means of smashing in their TV with a baseball bat.
off they go, then, and find piles of video tapes. so many tapes, in fact, that they are unsure of the one they are supposed to be stealing.
they also find a dead body, presumably that of the owner of the house and indeed the video tapes. the presence of this body does not fluster them all that much, and certainly does not stop one of them having a look at some of the tapes.
and then we move, for the most part, into watching some of the collection of VHS tapes from around the house.
although a lot of the films have a kind of "found footage" feel to them, they are not quite this in the sense that a, say, Cannibal Holocaust or a Blair Witch Project are. the feel is that these films are ones which are made for and are in the hands of private, certainly underground, collectors. it's more of a voyeuristic slant one has to them than a trip of discovery.
i shall do my best to review each of the videos / films / stories in the order they are shown.
it takes a few moments to clock that we've moved from the guys into the house on to another set of guys of a similar warped mind, to be honest. they are just as warped as the would-be tape stealers. anyway, the jist of this gang is that they have a set of glasses with a camera hidden in them (presumably not bulky VHS equipment) and their imagination stretches as far as picking up some girls in a bar and making an amateur adult video with them.
despite this gang having all the charm, sophistication and appeal of a random stranger stopping you in the street and asking if you wouldn't mind if they had a bash at proctology on you, they succeed in picking up some girls and so off to a cheap hotel room we go.
things do not go quite as well as one assumes they had hoped, but at least it does not take the rather disturbing "forced" twist briefly suggested in it.
Amateur Night is pretty short, loaded with nudity of both genders, predictable and not all that bad for it.it benefits greatly in terms of a positive review in comparison to the one that follows it.
dear me, this one was rubbish. as in, i gave great thought to switching the whole film off.
in short, we get footage of a couple who presumably, going on the title, are off on a road trip as a sort of second honeymoon. of sorts, i suppose, the title in retrospect could be a play on words now that i think of the ending.
there are numerous red herrings thrown into the narrative to try and encourage you to "guess" where this is going, but alas these herrings don't get enough air to breathe any suspense. moments where one or both could be in peril turn out to be tedious.
when a rather violent end comes to the story, you are kind of glad it does only as you do not have to watch any more of it. perhaps that is the point, maybe whoever made this segment based it on some people they really did not like and do not wish for you to like them either.
this one is a total waste of time on every level. if you skip this story on the DVD or Blu Ray (or press fast-forward if to "get the feel" you've had the film bounced down to a video tape) you will be missing nothing - in fact you will probably make the film better by doing so.
in between the different stories / tapes being played we get scenes of what's going on in the house. fairly predictable stuff, this being a "modern" horror film, but go on, see if you can spot the slight difference in this scene from the one earlier on.......
moving on, and on to a section that i probably should be dismissing as rubbish, but it has an "odd" something to it that makes it worthwhile.
this one sees us move into the safety of Friday 13th territory (nice play on the date too), for it features some High School kids off to a lake where they probably shouldn't be going.
three of them would seem to have been "tricked" into going by one of them, but that does not stop them going. not when there's the prospect of nudity, sex and drugs on offer. are American teenagers, or all teenagers, really so easily led astray? probably.
if you have seen or are aware of what goes on in Friday 13th films you can pretty much guess what happens next here. it all happens in about 18 minutes instead of 90, though. if this is some sort of post-modernist critique of how easily one could condense a "slasher" film to the parts people really want to see then bravo, but you would suspect that interpretation is accidental.
it's kind of better than it is, if that makes sense, due to a slight twist on the reason for one tricking the others to going there, and indeed the reason for filming. it's not a plot twist i am familiar with from countless other 'slasher' films, so hats off to them for coming up with it.
Tuesday 17th is no masterpiece, but it's pretty good fun whilst it lasts. you don't exactly wish for more, but then again you don't get bored with it.
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger
this one features footage of a video or if you will 'Skype' chat via computers. erm, what's this doing on a VHS tape? surely this would be a bit of a digital file floating around on the internet than on a tape? well, OK, if we assume the owner of the tapes doesn't have a computer, i suppose it would make sense for him to have a VHS made of it.
for the most part, then, this one is conversations between a young girl (Emily?) and her apparently greatly older boyfriend.
there's a touch of flesh flash for you, but mostly it's a lot of dull conversation.
dull except, i suppose, for the bits where Emily is talking about her place being haunted. every now and then she does a tour of the apartment and you get subliminal flashes of what may or may not be someone or something haunting her house.
the whole thing is fairly predictable yet kind of interesting enough in the "jump" stakes to let you watch the full section, i suppose. perhaps i am getting old but the best part of this was that it was mostly a static camera, allowing you to catch your breath a bit after over an hour of very shaky camera.
want some more "dude looking at a pile of VHS picture" action? here you go.......
you know that "they save the best till last" saying? very true here. despite the fact that the film suffers from having the date in that stupid American format, this one is a real winner.
when after a split second us non-Americans have in our minds got the date the right way around you are aware that this is a film set at Halloween. subsequently, we are introduced to a gang of four lads, nowhere near as warped or depraved as any of the other gangs shown, on their way to a Halloween party.
once at the address for the party, there's some confusion going on as the house appears to be empty, seemingly abandoned in a hurry.
it turns out, of course, not to be empty at all. what follows when it turns out there are or is someone or something in the house, we are treated to what can only be described as 60 seconds of some of the best, most effective special effects i have seen in a film. there's a case to say they are a bit wasted appearing at the end of V/H/S, but they do pretty much make the whole thing worth watching if you are a fan of such things.
the ending is rather nifty too, to be honest. 10/31/98 was for me the best and certainly most effective segment of tape watched in the whole film. it leaves you wishing for more like this one, and no doubt we will get a sequel of sorts eventually.
that's the name given to the dull, "we know this is just to fill in the gaps" story linking all of videos watched as part of the film. this section could have been better - how about giving us at least one character to like? - but the makers seem to know it didn't have to be all that good and thus did not bother. as, ahem, the correct tape is never removed or taken, one presumes the intention as mentioned above is to make a series of these films.
V/H/S, then, is not much more than an anthology of really cool ideas for horror stories that could not be fleshed out to full 90 minute films in their own right. in some cases it works, in one certain honeymoon case in particular it's an, as i believe the kids of today would call it, "epic fail".
the biggest disappointment i have with the film is the fact that it takes the idea of a rare, sought after VHS tape and leaves it to one side in favour of a straightforward "let's connect these tales" approach. having an obsessive type being the one trying to get the tape rather than thugs for hire would have made for much more interesting viewing and snippets in-between, but perhaps that's just me. who knows, maybe they shall go for that approach in the inevitable sequel.
a sequel is inevitable and, i would venture, neither unwanted nor unwarranted. as a showcase for some promising film-makers this is a pretty good vehicle, and the better segments look even better when compared to the poorer ones on offer here. any further ones would follow the same pattern here, so there's not that much danger of sequels ruining everything, a la Friday 13th and more recently Saw.
this is just over half-decent viewing for horror fans at any time of the year and the variety factor of it probably makes it ideal for a Halloween screening a couple of days from now. it could have been much greater than it is, but what it is isn't all that bad.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!