The Screaming Minis is an experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella & Justin Martinez)
Starring: Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Jason Yachanin, John Walcutt, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella
Running time: 116 minutes
As a fan of found footage, anthologies, and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead) I’d been looking forward to this movie. With its recent release to VOD and a few other outlets, I had to check it out.
A group of hipster thugs that spend most of their time doing crimes, being dicks, and making a buck with sharking videos are hired to steal a VHS tape. They burgle their way into the home of the man in possession of the tape, only to find him dead in front of a mass of screens and a mountain of cassettes. As they split up to search the rest of the house, one member of the group begins reviewing the tapes. In the first, some brosephs try to pick up some drunk girls and secretly record their own personal porn. They’re moderately successful, but probably wish they hadn’t been. The second tape is a travelogue of a young couple second-honeymooning in the American Southwest who picked precisely the wrong motel to stay in. In the third segment, a girl takes a group of new friends on a camping trip. Always a bad idea. Tape number four contains the webcam conversations of a man and his troubled friend who believes her house is haunted. And the final tape shows a group of guys heading out to a Halloween party. They may’ve gotten the address wrong.
I wasn’t sure whether I liked V/H/S or not after first watching it. I knew there were scenes I enjoyed and I liked the overall concept, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about its execution as a whole. It’s flawed: Some of the tapes work better than others. The third segment, “Tuesday the 17th,” isn’t quite as good as the rest, though it does have its moments. Some of the characters (especially the dudes in the framing sequence and the first tape, “Succubus”) are EXTREMELY annoying. I think “10/31/98” went a little too crazy toward the end. It features a haunted house and with hauntings, subtle is usually better. Think The Haunting (1963) versus The Haunting (1999). And the second and fourth tapes don’t provide much of explanation and can be a little disorienting.
The day after seeing it, I tried to describe the movie to, shockingly, someone who wasn’t Fisty. (I still feel guilty.) I found that there was a lot that I wanted to mention. There are plenty of freaky little details as well as big payoffs from each segment. That’s when I started to feel that there was more about the movie that affected me than I was immediately aware. Just hearing about the stories from the movie secondhand had that someone interested. She wasn’t just listening to the scenes I was describing, she was reacting.
Fulci said his film The Beyond was “[An] absolute film, with all the horrors of our world. It’s a plotless film: a house, people, and dead men coming from The Beyond. There’s no logic to it, just a succession of images.” I think V/H/S works in the same way. (Not as well as The Beyond. Don’t think I’m praising it THAT highly.) It’s a collection of nightmare clips not designed to flesh out every detail, make perfect sense, or just go from story point A to story point B, but rather to tap into our fears and freakouts. It’s a handful of video equivalencies of the urban legend about the mad man under the bed, pretending to be the family dog, licking the little girl’s hand. This is why just hearing my spoken account of the movie could affect someone. That’s the level V/H/S works on, that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark level. It does it well and that’s why I’m still thinking about the movie days after watching it. It affected me. It was freaky. It was scary. Bravo.
Also, there was A LOT of nudity … male and female!
V/H/S, while not being great, is still a good found footage anthology whose successes outnumber my nitpicks. Shockingly violent, disturbing, scary, and bizarre, it revels in its own freakiness and the disreputable nature of the genre.