I have always had a real soft spot for horror anthology films. I’m sure it goes back to my intro to the sub-genre, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie which was a favorite “home sick from school” movie for me growing up. Yes, I know most point to The Twilight Zone: The Movie, but ‘Darkside’ had an amazing framing device that was just as much a film as it’s inter-woven segments. Honestly, even if only for Rae Dawn Chong’s gargoyle segment it would still be my go-to. Fast forward 20 or so years and V/H/S hits the scene and plucks all of the right notes for someone with a taste for these films and adding a found footage twist. Now that I think of it, this series is literally found footage since all of the stories come from video tapes found by an unsuspecting viewer.
We are now six films in, with the results being largely hit or miss. V/H/S/85 is the latest installment, and honestly the most apt as far as timeline is concerned with 1985 being the absolute pinnacle of the, then fresh, home video format. The film, which consists of four segments and the wrap-around, opens with an A Current Affair or Hard Copy knock-off called Total Copy in which they conduct a story about a group of scientists observing a little “boy” who seems obsessed with his TV, I’ll keep this vague so as not to give anything away. This is where the anthology film lives or dies, in my mind. So many of these films use the framing story as nothing more then a way to burn time between segments or, in some cases, they forgo it all together. V/H/S/85 gets the importance of this ingredient and delivers one of the best wrap-arounds thus far.
Getting to the full segments I was fully expecting to see one I really liked, one that was good and two that I could have done without. This has been the case for all of the installments which came before so why would this be any different? Well, I’m not sure why, but it definitely was different. The V/H/S series has always done a good job of mixing horror genres within it’s stories and V/H/S/85, whether by design or chance, had the perfect mix. Starting with “No Wake”, which starts like a textbook “teens go to a lake, cabin, old house for the weekend” film but brings in more then one twist. Then it’s on to my favorite segment, ‘God of Death’ which uses the very real 1985 Mexico City Earthquake as it’s setting and follows a news crew into a sink hole. The moment you start seeing Aztec artifacts you know this isn’t going to end well. A perfect mix of disaster cinema and supernatural horror the segment highlights a very underappreciated subject for horror, pre-Colombian gods and culture.
TKNOGD is next, and was probably the only segment I would mark as “throw away” but only if I was forced to choose a segment to mark as such. Hints of pre-internet VR films like Lawnmower Man or Brainscan give a retro-future feel that really hits the nostalgia notes for an oldschool computer nerd like myself. Lastly we get to Scott Derrickson’s (The Black Phone, Sinister) second contribution (he also directs the wrap-around) ‘Dreamchild’ which features quite possibly the scariest two words to feature together in all of horror, demon child.
I hesitate to say V/H/S/85 is the best film of the series, I think that accolade still lies with V/H/S/2 (I mean c’mon, that cult segment? Amazing) but ’85’ is a close runner up. While they do a great job with connecting all of the stories in some way I would have preferred a more logical, real-world framing device. All I could think of watching this was being a kid and finding a box of unmarked video tapes…which was always an event to remember. It’s that feeling that V/H/S/85 leans into recreating and, for the most part, succeeds.