Over Halloween I had the unique opportunity to do a Q&A session with Johnny Daggers, the director of a indie horror documentary called, BLOOD ON THE REEL. Our conversation ranged from the impact of the internet on the indie horror genre to a movie called THE NIPPLE COLLECTOR (a mythological film that potentially with crowdfunding could find its origin story), but one of the most interesting bits that still knocks around in my mind is Daggers’ impression of the anthology sub-genre in horror. When asked his thoughts about this new growing area of cinema, he spoke of his approval. This type of story allows more indie horror filmmakers to showcase their talent and begin defining themselves as contributors to the genre.
As someone who typically avoids short films, I have notoriously avoided the anthology films for fear of having the same experience – to become too invested only to have it last just 5-minutes. Yet, I had picked up my September/October 2012 FILM COMMENT by happenstance last week and their first list was MUST-SEE MOVIES which included at #3 the anthology V/H/S. I thought, this must be a sign, so here is part one of a three part series where I explore this trilogy of terror to see if I agree with Daggers’ excitement.
V/H/S begins with its frame narrative directed by Adam Wingard, who used this release to further bring us indie horror hits like YOU’RE NEXT and THE GUEST (as well as the potential DEATH NOTE remake), which involves a group of video hijackers who break into a terrifying house to hunt for a specific VHS tape worth a hefty sum. The tricky part, the house seems to be cached with the motherload of tapes, forcing them to grab and watch to build our reason for the upcoming shorts. Oh, and there is a “dead” guy just sitting in the room, yea, it was a bit creepy. Wingard may have the credit, but this frame really could have been developed by anyone as it represents merely filler for the other stories. It is poorly developed and a means to drive the plot, but should not be classified as another story. It doesn’t quite carry the heft as the others surprisingly do, focusing on derivative scares and cliche opportunity (see naked man in basement).
Our stories within this film are AMATEUR NIGHT (directed by David Bruckner), SECOND HONEYMOON (directed by famed indie horror director Ti West (as well as a personal favorite)), TUESDAY THE 17TH (directed by Glenn McQuaid – my least favorite – but he did go on to direct the AMAZING I SELL THE DEAD), THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER (directed by indie favorite Joe Swanberg who gave us DRINKING BUDDIES and DIGGING FOR FIRE as well as a producer of QUEEN OF EARTH), and finally 10/31/98 (directed by a group called Radio Silence). As a whole, these were some genuinely frightening stories. AMATEUR NIGHT may have built one of those cult monsters you will easily identify as the years progress, while SECOND HONEYMOON will just send newlywed chills up your spine (classic Ti West style). Plus, I love the Swanberg was in West’s story, some nice indie cross-over there. Sophia Takal (so great in WILD CANARIES) superbly brings the final moments to this story together. Finally, the excitement behind a genuine haunted house story makes a perfect way to end this anthology – it was simple, yet utterly effective.
As a whole, I was surprised by this series. Genuine frights with only a few groans of disappointment. The entire TUESDAY THE 13TH should be removed from my memory, and the overall suspense of THE SICK THING THAT… seemed to be running on empty too early, but overall – I was impressed. This is also an interesting film to revisit now (it was released in 2012), because so many of these directors actually have used this as a stepping stone for more, and are currently some of the most interesting indie directors working today. I still find my grumbling happening over the use of found-footage (I had the opportunity to hear a live-audio-commentary from Eduardo Sanchez who gave us the original found footage with BLAIR WITCH and has since watched the sub-genre crash and remains burning through numerous attempts at a resurrection), but Daggers’ may have been onto something. Perhaps this is a great way for indie horror directors to make their mark, to find their footing for bigger projects.
I will remember V/H/S and may even suggest it to someone on the streets, which honestly surprised me as I do not find myself dabbling in the horror realm that often. Can I say that I am slightly looking forward to V/H/S 2? Well, I am.