Oh, what a year 1999 was. There was the Y2k hysteria when we all believed that our electronics would suddenly be rendered useless at midnight on New Year’s Day. Boy bands battled with hip-hop artists and nu-metal rock stars for the top spot on MTV’s flagship show, Total Request Live. Movie ticket prices were $9.50 (could you imagine that now?) This period is the latest stop for the V/H/S horror anthology series that continues the tape deck fuzz-laded infused stories of last year’s V/H/S/94. Only this time, we’re at the tail end of the popularity of the VCR as we go into a more high-quality media age. The five stories in V/H/S/99 dive into themes like the overall horniness of adolescent male teens chronicled in films like American Pie and skater and punk rock culture shown in the CKY video series. There’s a usual bounciness regarding the quality of stories; however, this iteration continues with a rather enjoyable steady hand.
The first thing you’ll notice with V/H/S/99 is that there is no overall skit to tie these stories together this time. Instead, short stop-motion clips laugh with army men figures threaded by “The Gawkers” short director Tyler MacIntyre. Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” kicks things off as a small punk collective named R.A.C.K. plans to make a music video — although their venue is not the most brilliant pick. The Colony Underground was a sight of a horrible tragedy where an all-girl band Bitch Cat, unfortunately, met their demise when a fire broke out and was trampled to death. The young bandmates do all the textbook wrong things you can do while going to an abandoned (and possibly haunted) area. They mess with an altar and dumbly re-create the accident with Jello and blowup dolls. This is much to the dismay of drummer Ankur (Keanush Tafreshi), who is apprehensive about doing this. An undead hoard of zombie musicians awakens to make them pay. “Shredding” might overwhelm you because of the number of transitional tricks, and its setting might seem standard for the V/H/S lore. However, there is enough frenzied amount of dismemberment, catchy tunes, and attention to costume design to be a satisfying watch.
Johannes Roberts’s “Suicide Bid” combines a bunch of phobias into a simple but satisfying story of a pledge gone wrong. College freshman Lily (Ally Ioannides) wants to make friends and has a chance to join Beta Sigma Eta. All she has to do is spend the night in a coffin. It just so happens there’s a legend of a previous girl who did this, was forgotten for a week, and died. Being in the confines of a coffin overnight is scary enough — a perfect environment for Roberts to use the found footage style of V/H/S/99. Then spiders, flooding, and the practical effects of a ghost get added to the mix to make things that much more uncomfortable. The ending hints at the 1982 Creepshow short story “Something To Tide You Over.”
The most eclectic short of the entire bunch goes to Flying Lotus’ “Ozzy’s Dungeon.” If you remember the Nickelodeon show Legends of the Hidden Temple, the fake game show “Ozzy’s Dungeon” will invoke a swath of nostalgia within you. Like the past obstacle course game shows, kids from all over the country compete in various physical challenges. Donna (Amelia Ann) wants to win because the grand prize is that the mysterious Ozzy will grant her wish. A tragic accident confines Donna to a wheelchair while a studio audience, including her parents, looks on. The snarky host (Steven Ogg) doesn’t seem to care until the family later kidnaps him. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” then undergoes some interesting tonal shifts in genre. Donna and her family subject the host to a bunch of games, the likes which Saw and Hostel would dream of. When the host breaks and takes the family to meet Ozzy, the short then takes a crazy, Lovecraftian-like turn as it ends. The problem with “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is it ends too quickly. That’s what the best stories of this franchise do to you — it implores you to wonder where certain character choices came from.
Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers” heads to prototypical suburbia as a group of young teenage boys seems to fill their time with the most obnoxious activities possible. When an attractive neighbor (played by Emily Sweet) moves in across the street, the group lets their hormone rage out of control. What starts with using binoculars to look through her window turns into adding spyware on her computer. The boys think they have hit the pervy jackpot when the secret their neighbor has been holding is revealed to them. “The Gawkers” is probably the most straightforward of all the V/H/S stories. The payoff is what audiences will react to rather than the buildup.
Last, directors Vanessa & Joseph Winter take the audience on a comedic ride with “To Hell and Back.” On New Year’s Eve of 1999, two friends, Nate (Archelaus Crisanto) and Troy (Joseph Winter), are hired by a cult to film a ritual. It’s absurdly funny how they both take this in stride — there’s small talk from a lady about how delighted she is about being a vessel for a demon. Unfortunately, both guys are pulled into Hell and have to find their way out before time runs out. Frantically looking for a solution, they have to reluctantly trust an eager, tortured soul named Mabel (Melanie Stone) to help them. “To Hell and Back” is able to juggle comical stylings and great production, which is the fastest-paced entry of this anthology.
It’s great that a horror franchise can continue to pump out sequels while trying to maintain some inventiveness. The V/H/S franchise is trying to reinvent itself further, sticking to specific periods. V/H/S/99 has peaks and valleys because there’s only so much you can do in a defined block of time. However, there is something here for every horror fan; not having a specific story tie everything together helps its iteration and allows the shorts to live on their own merits.
Photo Credit: Shudder