A tape inserted into a player glitches and snows, images of monster trucks and Ed Koch finally giving way to an episode of Hard Copy in “V/H/S/85.”
Laura's Review: C+
As horror anthologies are almost all mixed bags, “Southbound” and the recent “Satanic Hispanics” being two of the better examples of the subgenre, I haven’t gone out of my way to see many of the “V/H/S” series since the original, which failed to impress. But as their most recent outing included a Scott Derickson (“Sinister,” “The Black Phone”) short, I was willing to give the franchise another go. The result is one very strong entry, a good one, a solid piece of filmmaking that outstays its welcome and two outright duds.
Director David Bruckner’s (2022’s “Hellraiser”) ‘Total Copy’ wraparound is fashioned as a taped TV tabloid episode chopped into the film in bits and pieces. We learn about a cover-up involving Dr. Spratling (Jordan Belfi) and an evolving humanoid creature which is allowed to get out of control. It plays like a lame episode of Tales from the Crypt.
Mike P. Nelson’s (2021’s “Wrong Turn” reboot) ‘No Wake / Ambrosia’ is the absolute cream of this crop, playing up the new consumer video camera era to great effect. This one, too, is divided, but only in two complete pieces. In the first, Rob (Alex Galek) is videotaping he and his friends’ RV trip to a lake where he and his crush Robin (Anna Sundberg), as well as Drew (Toussant Morrison) and Kelly (Chelsey Grant) head out for some water skiing while Rob’s sister Anna stays ashore. There are a couple of warning signs before they head out, but you still won’t anticipate what happens. It is shocking in its abruptness and quite relevant today and while the story seems to simply trail off, when it picks up later you’ll be admiring Nelson’s canny ability to flip his own script.
Gigi Saul Guerrero, who delivered the least memorable section of “Satanic Hispanics” with ‘Nahuales,’ relives Mexico’s devastating 1985 earthquake in ‘God of Death.’ Shooting with an actual VHS camera, the film introduces us to an amusingly cheesy Mexican news program starring Lucia de Leon (Gabriela Roel) and fumbling newbie field reporter Gabriela (Gigi Saul Guerrero), but when the quake hits, the only studio survivor is Luis (Ari Gallegos), who is dragged into underground tunnels by a group of first responders led by Eddie (Marcio Moreno). Guerrero shoots in long takes and the heightened anxiety responding to disaster made me think of those trying to get out of the Towers on 9/11. It is tense and well done, but its mythological climax goes on too long.
Natasha Kermani’s ‘TKNOGD’ (Techno-God) is about a performance artist, Ada (Chivonne Michelle, railing against technology. There are too many camera angles used for a performance featuring about half a dozen audience members, suggesting multiple videographers. Frankly, I fought sleep during this episode and its punch line is an overused cliché.
We end with Scott Derrickson’s creepy and very gory ‘Dreamkill’ in which a detective, Wayne (Freddy Rodriguez), receives videotapes of extremely disturbing home invasions that end in brutal, and I don’t use that word lightly, slayings seemingly shot by the perpetrator, that are followed about a week later by the actual crime scenes, seen through the lens of Wayne’s videographer Bobby (James Ransone). These tapes are interspersed with outdoor security and closed circuit footage inside the police station, the former observing Goth Gunther (Derrickson’s son Dashiell), slipping one of the packages into a mailbox, the latter his interrogation. This one’s atmosphere is more effective than its narrative, especially when it reaches the home stretch.
Robin's Review: B-
1985 was, apparently, the year of a hotbed of horror, as were the other years in the “V/H/S” franchise. This time, five stories bring us to that banner year with cult murders, an earthquake in Mexico, an alien creature from beyond and the return of the dead in “V/H/S/85.”
This is number six in the “V/H/S” franchise that began in 2013, and this latest in the series is yet another “found footage” compendium, this time from the height of the “me generation” of the 1980s. Five directors provide their stories with various degrees, or not, of success.
The wrap-around bumper story, “Total Copy” by David Bruckner, has Stamer University researchers studying a shape shifting alien creature they dub “Rory.” They keep coming back to the subject as we watch Rory evolve and change – not in the best of ways. The filmmakers keep you interested in the story, even in its dribs and drabs. B
“No Wake” brings seven friends together at a lake where it is posted “no swimming.” Of course, five of them (the other two meet a different fate) defy the warning and swim in the lake. Then, a hidden sniper takes them out one by one. The thing is, though, once dead, they come back to life and want revenge on the killer. B
“God of Death,” directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, brings us to the start of the day in a Mexico City TV news station and all of its hubbub. Things change drastically when an earthquake hits the city and the news building collapses.
This is where the story shifts to one of escape from the rubble and the presence of an ancient Aztec god, Mictlan, who takes possession of survivors and wreaks carnage. It is done in a scary/funny way. B-
Natasha Kermani’s “TKNOGD” takes us into 80s performance art and the very beginnings of Virtual Reality. Artist Ada believes that God is dead and has been replaced by the god of technology. She dons a VR headset, gloves and full body suit and begins her demonstration.
The audience sees, on a large screen, what Ada sees in her VR world. She begins an incantation to summon our new “god” and a shadowy figure appears on the video screen and attacks the interloper. The result does not bode well for Ada. C+
“Ambrosia,” directed by Mike P. Nelson, bookends nicely with “No Wake,” showing the family life from the sniper’s POV. The extended family, though, does not do the normal, coming-of-age rituals – like bar mitzvah and confirmation – like the rest of us.
Teenage Ruth announces to her family that she has completed her ritual and killed the seven from “No Wake,” How this all plays out is amusing and a case of just desserts being dished out. B
“Dream Kill” by Scott Derrickson, begins with a home invasion and the heinous death of the woman living there. This brings in detectives Wayne and Bobby to investigate. Wayne declares that he has already seen the murder site on a video sent anonymously to the police station.
Then another grizzly murder takes place and, again, Wayne has seen it before. He tracks down the source of the video tapes, Günter, who claims they are recordings of his dreams. It just so happens that he also happens to be Bobby’s son. You can take it from there. B-
The Shudder original “V/H/S/85” begins streaming on its platform on 10/6/23.