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Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: V/H/S/99 Is A Worthy Installment In The Franchise

One of the most influential Found Footage films of recent has got to be the V/H/S franchiseV/H/S shot its way onto the scene with brute force, taking no prisoners. V/H/S/2, or S-VHS, took the bar set by V/H/S and raised it tenfold. Then…well, V/H/S: Viral. We don’t have to talk about that one. In 2021 we got the absolutely fantastic Shudder exclusive V/H/S/94. Hail Raatma, and all that jazz. Now 2022, an all-around terrible year to be alive, has gifted us a new V/H/S entry with the highly anticipated V/H/S/99.

V/H/S/99 brings us five new stories of punk rock zombies, deadly hazing, a horrifically nostalgic kid’s game show, creepy privacy-invading teens, and a trip deeeeeeep below the surface. Before breaking down each segment I think as a whole this is a wonderful entry into the franchise, though there is one glaring issue. There’s really no wraparound story. Granted, the interludes between the first three segments act as part of the fourth story; though there is nothing separating stories four and five. The wraparound stories are really interesting throughout the franchise, yes I will concede even in Viral, and to not having a complete wraparound feels a little sacrilegious. Do the stories have enough individuality and pizzazz to make a successful film? Even though I already said it’s wonderful, let’s still take a look into the five stories in V/H/S/99.

Shredding written and directed by Maggie Levin

The punk group Bitch Cat chants together in a circle

A punk rock band named RACK, which stands for Rachel (Jesse LaTourette), Ankur (Keanush Tafreshi), Chris (Dashiell Derrickson), and Kaleb (Jackson Kelly), breaks into an abandoned underground punk venue. The space was abandoned after a fire broke out and trampling resulted in the death of the punk group Bitch Cat. RACK decides to go to the venue to film a music video and what happens next, is sure to snap a few guitar strings.

Personally, Shredding was my least favorite of the five stories. My main issue with this story is a mixture of the acting and the tracking. I really despise every member of RACK even if that’s what Levin was going for. There are ways you can make leading characters for the audience to despise while doing it in a way that is still appealing. My other issue is the overuse of the patented V/H/S tracking. It makes sense to have the tracking lines occasionally glitch over the screen, Shredding had a tendency to overuse this effect and it felt a little reliant and lazy. THAT BEING SAID Shredding succeeds at being an interesting concept with a pretty solid payoff.

I should also mention Meggie Levin made one of my all-time favorite installments in Blumhouse’s Into the Dark with the film My Valentine (and includes this banger).

Suicide Bid written and directed by Johannes Roberts

Lily lays in a dark coffin as her friends start to lower the lid

Our second story finds us following Lily (Ally Ioannides) who is a freshman in college. Lily wants to join the highest-tier sorority at her school and will accept no substitutes. Apparently, when you only go to rush only one sorority/fraternity it’s called a suicide bid? I didn’t know that. Anyways, the girls Lily is trying to get in with decide it would be fun to haze Lily by burying her alive for the night in a coffin full of spiders because I guess that is a fun tradition? I say this all in jest because this segment gave me quite an anxiety attack.

Suicide Bid could easily be seen as cheesy by some, due to some of the practical effects/makeup. I think it’s the right amount of cheese. The SFX makeup used is the right amount of creep mixed with the right amount of comedy. There is a moment halfway through that will make any claustrophobe cringe, and it was pulled off really well. I enjoy the majority of Johannes Roberts’ work and I was happy to see him really pull off his segment. One of the more interesting aspects of Roberts’ career is how he jumps between subgenres with ease. Suicide Bid really feels different from anything he has done to this point, from what I’ve seen, and I have a feeling this story will go on to be quite a lot of people’s favorite.

Ozzy’s Dungeon written by Zoe Cooper and Flying Lotus directed by Flying Lotus

The sleazy and creepy gameshow host dons a toothy grin while bathed in green light

I decided it would be best to cover the stories chronologically, even though I was debating talking about this one either first or last. What is there to say about this one and Flying Lotus as a creator in general? First off, Ozzy’s Dungeon follows a sleazy Legends of the Hidden Temple-esque game show host (unnamed, but played by Steven Ogg who voices Trevor in GTA V) as he gets held captive by a family whose daughter Donna (Amelia Ann) is permanently injured on the show. Donna’s family then makes the game show host run threw a slew of deranged amalgamations of his own game, but this time it is life or death.

Flying Lotus is one sick puppy, and I’m not taking him to the vet. The content that FlyLo creates through his music and visual horrors really span beyond the idea of midnight movies. His taste for the deeply unsettling knows no bounds. As a musician, his music transcends the artistry, and as a filmmaker, his works excel past descriptions of macabre, experimental, and absurd. Between KusoFire is Coming feat. David Lynch, and Ozzy’s Dungeon, Flying Lotus continues to prove he has a distinct control of his vision. This script, written by Zoe Cooper and Flying Lotus, is beyond absurd and under anyone else’s direction would fall apart.

Ozzy’s Dungeon has the amoral feel and bodily fluids of Kuso while being consistent and precise with its direction as Fire is Coming feat. David Lynch. Under FlyLo’s careful direction, Steven Ogg is able to tap into his Trevor persona, which he plays so well, but the complete unadulterated performance FlyLo can demand from his direction is spectacular. The sound design will make your stomach churn just as much as the visual gags. I think it is safe to say Ozzy’s Dungeon is hands down the greatest story in the entire V/H/S franchise.

The Gawkers written by Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre directed by Tyler MacIntyre

A woman is washing her car as she is filmed by the kids across the street

From the folks who brought us Tragedy Girls, one of the better films of 2017, comes the semi-wrap-around story The Gawkers. The interludes we get between the stories are stop-motion army action figure scenarios, with a reference to a large rat man, Raatma?! All hail. The brother takes his camera back so he can film the new girl across the street. Soon, he and his other creepy teen friends form a crush, well they just want to have sex with her honestly. After the younger brother goes to install Sandra’s (Emily Sweet) webcam, he also installs spyware on her computer, at his older brother’s request. What transpires next is an attempted homerun, but ends up being a triple.

The majority of this story works really well, but once the reveal happens it kind of takes a little dive. The biggest downfall of The Gawkers is some unfortunate digital effects. Even the grain of a ’99 home video camera can’t cover up the digital mush. I find it unfortunate to say that because this almost rivals the impact of David Bruckner’s Amateur Night from V/H/S, but it just falls flat once the digital effects kick in. I do want to note, I am not saying CGI because I don’t believe they solely rely on CG, I feel like the scenes were shot with practical assets and enhanced digitally. The Gawkers just doesn’t feel like it is a strong enough story to act as the anchor, of a sort, for this installment in the franchise.

To Hell And Back written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter

Mabel, a demon in hell, looks into Troy's camera

Vanessa and Joseph Winter are back at it again, twice in one year. The Winters may very well be one of the next emerging names in the genre. What they did between this and Deadstream stand as two wildly different, but in a way spiritually similar, pieces of fantastic[ally funny] pieces of genre. To Hell And Back ends our fifth installment in the V/H/S franchise with a story about two videographers Nate (Archelaus Crisanto) and Troy (Joseph Winter) who are hired by cultists who plan to summon something from Hell. Unfortunately, Nate and Troy are sucked into the bowels of hell. Once firmly in the fiery underbelly, they are guided by Mabel (Melanie Stone, Deadstream alum) as she takes them to the one location they need to get to in order to escape.

As with Deadstream, the standout of To Hell And Back is the grotesque creature design, both done by Troy Larson. It’s unclear whether The Winters created the idea of the creatures in the script for Larson to work from, or if these designs are completely Larson, all I know is they need to keep working together. This story is told through Troy’s perspective and follows him all throughout the rocky creature-filled paths he needs to take for his escape. This story is adrenaline-filled fun, and ranks somewhere in my top…eight stories in the franchise. I don’t think Joseph Winter will ever cease to not make me laugh. To Hell And Back is the perfect send-off for V/H/S/99.

Final Thoughts

As with each V/H/S film, there are obviously going to be some that are less engaging and entertaining than others. Even the stories I had some issues with in V/H/S/99 still managed to entertain me to a certain extent. My biggest complaint still stands with there being no wraparound story, I think that is definitely this film’s biggest weak spot. Will they change that for V/H/S/85? Who knows, but at the end of the day, V/H/S/99 stands as an extremely worthy installment in the franchise.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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