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Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: 'V/H/S/94' tracks more highs than lows

'V/H/S/94' returns with a '90s staged collection of sewer monsters and first-person shooter mayhem in the franchise's latest entry.

A hybrid creature in 'V/H/S/94.'
(Image: © Fantastic Fest)

Our Verdict

'V/H/S/94' will please lovers of the franchise and not surprise audiences keen on the usual ups and downs of horror anthologies.

For

  • 📼 Hail Raatma!
  • 📼 Payoffs mostly land
  • 📼 Momentum keeps moving segment by segment
  • 📼 A mixed bag that skews positive

Against

  • 📼 Some segments manage time limitations better than others
  • 📼 VHS vibe isn't always a cool nostalgic overwash
  • 📼 Can feel like a step backward

V/H/S/94 is a tactical “digression” after V/H/S Viral embraced the infectious spreadability of cyberspace. A new (and returning) slew of horror filmmakers recreates the videocassette era in this latest addition to Bloody Disgusting’s ongoing horror anthology franchise, complete with tracking fuzz and home video aesthetics. 

V/H/S/2 still reigns as series champion with “Safe Haven” and “A Ride In The Park,” but that’s not meant to erase V/H/S/94 like when dad accidentally taped another Clint Eastwood rerun over your fifth birthday party. Every segment hides one or two beats that sell their premise with vigor and violence — it’s also not impervious to the “mixed bag” fate that plagues nearly every horror anthology in existence.

The highs of V/H/S/94 include flickers of everything from The Taking Of Deborah Logan to Doom (stop laughing, it’s good). The lows devalue stories that succumb to short-form storytelling, whether a better-served blast of action trends too long or more punctuated cryptic mythologies burst a bit too soon. 

V/H/S/94 suffers from inescapable anthology hurdles like countless prior, but still succeeds as another V/H/S collection that spotlights indie horror filmmakers who deserve vastly more attention than they’re awarded — even in Timo Tjahjanto’s or Simon Barrett’s case. It’s a franchise that doesn’t care about leaving haters in the dust by targeting already hooked V/H/S-head audiences, and that’s made evident in V/H/S/94. Take that as a commendation or cautionary disclaimer.

Relative newcomer Chloe Okuno — known for the scathing 2014 short Slut wades into stanky waters to search for Ratman in “Storm Drain.” A local Channel 6 investigative journalist (Holly Marciano, played by Anna Hopkins) chases the Westerville myth of a rat-like figure who lives in underground runoff tunnels, as her cameraman jostles and embellishes the pratfalls of found footage annoyances. Then again, y’all will have “Hail Raatma!” trending once the film releases theatrically, which is a promise tied directly to some gnarly practical effects on the segment’s backend. Cinematography is the weakest aspect as shaky-cam and ill-focus marks why viewers continually stigmatize found footage. Still, that moment pops as a shock-value ritualistic glimpse into underbelly terrors. 

Like I said, every segment leaves its mark.

Barrett props interconnected camcorders around a vacant Jensen Funeral Home in “The Empty Wake,” which is dreary and dreadful in a Frankenstein’s monster kind of way. It’s compositely barebones — a single woman is tasked to oversee the overnight memorial viewing amidst tornado warnings, a thumping casket and only a sole visitor who spews gibberish. It’s all attuned to fears of darkness, isolation and an unsettled afterlife like we’ve witnessed before throughout found footage history. It’s also another searing usage of effects once the inevitable “awakening” occurs and gruesomeness takes over. The stinger works, and “The Empty Wake” pays off its quieter atmospheric adherence to somber wake music and “What was that?” skittishness.

Tjahjanto pays slight homage to Adam Wingard’s V/H/S/2 segment “Phase I Clinical Trials” in “The Subject,” which goes zanily off the rails per first-person-shooter excitement. Dr. James Suhendra kidnaps men and women off the streets of Jakarta as patients for his robotics-human experiments, which means arms become blade attachments and camcorder wires replace optic nerves. Tjahjanto’s humor touches on Mars Attacks! as we behold Suhendra’s wackier hybrids before one such successful project discovers a machine gun attachment she uses to mow down SWAT officers who, themselves, are trapped in Suhendra’s self-destructing laboratory. You can expect a few glorious Mortal Kombat style fatalities thanks to an adversary that looks like Wall-E spliced with a mecha-samurai, and punishing gore recalls Tjahjanto’s blood-splattered catalog. But viciousness and maniac squad captains run their course at the experience’s current length. Tjahjanto no-doubt creates something unforgettable, but it becomes more of an endurance test through the eyes of a “creature” that yearns to be human once again.

Ryan Prows follows his seedy, bruised-and-busted Lowlife with “Terror,” about right-wing crusaders known as the First Patriots Movement Militia — or some similar #MAGA name generator faction — that captures a vampire. They’re typical gun-fetishizing redneck stereotypes who discover vampiric blood explodes in sunlight like a stick of dynamite, which they intend to weaponize for domestic terrorism purposes — cue a crew of bumbling hatemongers blindly obsessing over the words of a leader who uses rhetoric like the “United States of Fuckdom.” Comedy leanings are jabs at those who proudly display Trump 2024 and Jesus Saves stickers overlapping on their pickup-truck bumpers, and Prows delivers on the finale comeuppance we so desperately desire when the vampire prisoner bites back. V/H/S/94 ends on its highest note as a chorus of artillery fire, explosions and feral screams soak upstate snow a darker shade of crimson.

V/H/S/94 resurrects a horror anthology tradition that will have its appreciators and detractors alike since intentional VCR qualities distort visual presentations. Jennifer Reeder’s "Holy Hell" wraparound keeps chapters moving as SWAT grunts maneuver through this funhouse of upside-down crucifixes, severed hands and glowing television sets that one-by-one lure in officers who watch each video unfold (a death sentence). It’s what some might describe as senseless and a grab bag of horror that works as much as it flails around without landing punches, but for someone who’s more forgiving when it comes to found footage horror representations, especially in a “gimmick” franchise like V/H/S? The standout sewer creatures, disintegrated flesh practical effects and showings of diabolical incompetence in American rebel culture make V/H/S/94 a midnight massacre treat that continues a worthwhile tradition.