The V/H/S series has enough built-in fans by now that it’s barely necessary to review the latest release. But anyone feeling ambivalent about the found-footage horror franchise should make it a point to seek out its sixth entry (eighth, if you count the two spin-off films), because V/H/S/85 is excellent.
There’s never been a shortage of talent associated with V/H/S; the very first entry back in 2012 featured segments by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Godzilla vs. Kong) and Ti West (The House of the Devil, X, Pearl)—as well as David Bruckner (The Night House), the latter of whom returns for V/H/S/85. Also guiding us on our grainy, tracking-challenged channel flip back to 1985 are Gigi Saul Guerrero (Into the Dark episode Culture Shock), Natasha Kermani (Lucky), Mike P. Nelson (2021’s Wrong Turn), and the most recognizable name of all: Scott Derrickson, whose horror bona fides include The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and The Black Phone, as well as Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
The V/H/S series has always been the ultimate distillation of found-footage horror, with the premise of each film being that the audience is latching eyeballs onto media that’s been abandoned, censored, forgotten, banned, or otherwise kept from the public because it’s too damn disturbing. There’s a “we shouldn’t be watching this!” quality of forbidden discovery that plays into each narrative, though over the series some segments have exploited it more effectively than others.
That’s the case for V/H/S/85, but even its least gripping segment (Kermani’s “TKNOGD,” about a performance art piece gone awry; it’s intriguing, but unfortunately a bit static and predictable) won’t make you hit fast-forward. Guerrero’s Spanish-language “God of Death” follows a TV cameraman and a rescue crew trying to escape a crumbling building (and, uh, other things) in the wake of a Mexican earthquake. And Bruckner’s “Total Copy,” which weaves throughout the other stories as if they were taped over it in fits and starts, is a news-magazine investigation of a scientific experiment that starts off like In Search Of…, detours into Stranger Things, and then slithers down its own path of gruesome horror.
On the subject of gruesome: V/H/S/85 is well aware that fans expect plenty of splatter, and it delivers handsomely; there’s no shortage of severed limbs, oozing brains, peeled-back skin, rivers of blood… all that juicy stuff, rendered in grimy, slightly unfocused camcorder-o-vision that somehow makes it all even more wince-inducing.
V/H/S/85’s two best segments come courtesy of Nelson (“No Wake/Ambrosia”) and Derrickson (“Dreamkill,” which stars Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez and The Black Phone’s James Ransone, as well as Derrickson’s son Dashiell). Derrickson’s entry in particular makes excellent use of various sources, including surveillance cameras and other more mysterious devices, to craft its suspenseful tale, helped along by that MVP of found-footage horror that you really shouldn’t think about too much: the unseen hand that’s somehow edited everything together. (“Dreamkill” also wins a prize for Best-Ever Use of Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady” in a Horror Movie.) Nelson’s story, meanwhile, takes turns you will not see coming—though really both of these entries are best experienced knowing zero plot details, since they do an outstanding job of keeping you guessing and very much on the edge of your seat until the end.
V/H/S/85 is now streaming on Shudder.
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