It has become tradition for countless individuals to spend their Halloween binging scary movies rather than going door-to-door for candy or out to a party. While television networks have begun catering to this new norm, many of them throwing Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street marathons, the advent of Netflix has made this tradition a little easier.
Netflix puts a number of scary options at your disposal, even having their own “Halloween Favorites” sub-section to make this as easy as possible. With a lot of frighteners vying for your attention, two titles that certainly deserve your attention are the horror anthology installments, V/H/S and V/H/S 2.
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Anthology horror has become all the rage in recent years—in both television with American Horror Story and the film world with titles like The ABCs of Death—as the genre is tailor-made for a new entry to be released the following year, ad infinitum.
Just like the anthology horror films from the ’80s or ’90s, some of the most prolific names in the latest wave of horror—Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Ti West (House of the Devil), Gareth Evans (The Raid), Joe Swanberg, and more–have been assembled here to provide top notch, format-heavy scares.
With the release of V/H/S Viral, the third film in the series, which is already seeing rave reviews, it appears that this franchise may have a long life ahead of it still, in which case, why not jump on the bandwagon early?
The V/H/S films operate under a runner of a frame narrative involving some low-rent criminals being paid to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. While they’re there, they of course get caught up in the very-wrong creepiness of the place, and soon tapes from the wealth of videocassettes that are strewn about the screening room get viewings.
The tapes that are watched by the criminals make up the segments of the features, and all of them are confined to the restraints of the found-footage horror genre for their pieces. What’s impressive here is that not only are the bulk of the shorts here legitimately scary or unnerving, but each of them acts as a pretty inventive take on the structure and genre that they’re operating in. You get to see classic horror staples get serviced as well as creative ways to rejuvenate the found-footage genre, whether it’s having the camera be in someone’s GoogleGlass equivalent, their webcam, implanted in their eye, or even mounted to a person that is in the midst of turning into a zombie.
There are two films with nine short films between them (not including the frame narratives), and a recently released third film.
Why you should watch it:
These films are worth your time if only for the sheer amount being offered up to you. While not all the entries are classics or as scary as they could be (V/H/S 2 is the best of the three superior), you’re getting a lot of varied, unique content here. There’s something to be said for a shorter, more contained horror story that allows some of the subject matter to really get insane and forget about convention entirely.
It’s exciting to watch a number of relatively new voices in horror get to refine their skills and further prepare themselves for whatever is on their horizon. The standout entries in these titles are clear (“Amateur Night” and “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” from the first film, and “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” from the sequel), and I can’t wait to see what some of these directors do with their first feature.
There’s just a tremendous amount of effort being put into all of this, and the amount of fun that’s being had behind it all is clear. These are directors that love horror films with every fiber of their being and they just want to scare you as best they can with these stories. Phenomenal work with tension and fear is done in “Amateur Night” and “Safe Haven”, while segments like “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” and “A Ride in the Park” have more fun, subverting popular horror tropes.
It’s also one of the few anthology films that I can think of that actually has a scary frame narrative around it. This isn’t some hokey situation where beleaguered strangers are talking to a Cryptkeeper-esque storyteller. Here you’re actually concerned about the characters’ safety and getting scared between the actual stories. You’re not given any opportunity to relax.
This series is for you if:
You like terrifying monsters ripping hapless teenagers limb from limb on camera. If visual flares from the format like tracking errors make you smile. If you like seeing slow-burning, methodical horror that gets under your skin and steals your breath. If you like seeing familiar ideas like vampires, aliens, poltergeists, and horror in the woods being twisted in unique, unsettling ways. If you enjoy all-out, viscera dripping insanity where you won’t even believe what you’re seeing on screen, as exemplified in V/H/S 2’s “Safe Haven” segment.
V/H/S and V/H/S 2 are some of the more creative horror films to come around in awhile, which is so fascinating considering they’re some of the most rigidly structured ones. Not only do these films feature a number of important, blossoming names to the horror genre, revive a mostly-dead concept in the found-footage format, and manage to surprise you in the stories they choose to tell, most importantly they’re also deeply scary films. And at the end of the day on October 31, isn’t that what you deserve as you celebrate Halloween?
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in October 2014 and is being repromoted as part of our 31 Days of Horror series.