Reporting Jonathon Sharp
The last horror anthology I saw was 2004’s Three Extremes. That Asian horror threesome seemed to be made for the purpose of showing off the East’s finest genre directors, such as Takashi Miike and Park Chan-wook. But despite having the force of those creative powerhouses, Three was not “extremely” memorable. Only the fetus dumplings, which I believe were the first course, stood out.
But now another anthology, V/H/S, is at the Lagoon, and it’s indie found-footage glitchy-goofball style gives it a markedly different feel from its Asian counterpart. First off, V/H/S has double the directors in its lineup. As a result, it feels more like a skate video than a showcase. Enhancing this quality is its nostalgic shaky-cam aesthetic, which delivers the claustrophobic, flashlight-in-hallway, POV scares.
Beware: I believe this trailer has scare spoilers!
Unlike Extremes, V/H/S connects all its separate parts with a story. This skeleton narrative, directed by Adam Wingard, follows a group of jackasses who lift up women’s shirts in public and videotape it for money. But in the pursuit of more profits, the group decides to rob a house of a single VHS tape. When they break in, however, they find a dead man and dozens of tapes, which end up getting watched one-by-one, by individuals who keep the dead man company.
These tapes are each the work of different directors and they give the film variety, which is at once the movie’s best and most crippling quality. The best videos were those by Ti West, Joe Swanberg and Radio Silence. They’re nerve-pinching and funny and each complements the other by being different. West’s, for instance, is slow and tense. While Radio Silence’s is something like a roller coaster through a haunted house.
On the other hand, the three other videos are basically OK, mediocre or just straight dumb. But at least you know, in the back of your brain, that while you might not like what you’re seeing at the moment, you’ll likely be watching something else in a matter of minutes. (This thought might also help those, like me, whose nerves aren’t made for horror movies.) The offal videos are not, however, totally indigestible, and this is due to the movie’s sense of humor. When I spoke with one of the movie’s producers, Brad Miska, of the horror website Bloody Disgusting, he said V/H/S wasn’t made to come off as something real.
“We’re not really trying to trick people into thinking [the movie] is real,” he said. “We are telling the story in an authentic way, but we know the audience isn’t dumb. That’s why we don’t end the movie with the camera dropping and saying they-were-never-seen-again-type stuff. We have a fun montage. That’s our way of saying, like, we did it. It’s not real. It’s fun. Have a good time.”
As an aside, if one were to take something from V/H/S, the moral would be: Don’t be an ass to women. Even the nice guy, who tries to film his wife undressing in West’s video, gets messed up in the end. And the bros…the bros get their nuts ripped off by a succubus, among other things. Lots of nasty ways to go, but I guess they had it coming.
V/H/S is playing at the Lagoon this week and only this week. If you like horror, see it. But be warned, it’s not for everybody. At the screening, I saw four people (including a cute young couple) walk out.
Below are parts of an interview with producer Brad Miska, who seemed like the nicest horror – blood, guts and gore — movie aficionado you’d ever meet.
Jonathon Sharp: What was your attraction to horror movies? How long have you been interested in them?
Brad Miska: I started watching them when I was 12 or 13. One of my friends, he used to show them to me when I’d go over to his house. I was a big fan of Toxic Avenger, Child’s Play movies, Tales from the Crypt episodes, Poltergeist scared me when I was like 8…That’s sort of where it started from. Then you go from one movie to another. I saw Army of Darkness, then I had to see Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2…I just kind of spiraled into this thing. It became an obsession of mine.
Sharp: Do you like being scared? Or do you just like these worlds?
Miska: I don’t know. I think it’s about seeing something you don’t normally see. When you watch like dramas or comedies, a lot of them are based in a world that exists. But like when you watch a horror movie, it’s really fantastic. There’s nothing really believable about a lot of them. I guess that’s where the fear comes into a lot of horror movies…ones that can really tap into that believability, which is really really rare. That’s probably why I like them so much. I don’t know. (Laughs).
Sharp: When did you first get the idea to make V/H/S happen?
Miska: We talked about doing a TV series with it: the idea that these kids come across a bunch of tapes that they explore. That was the basic premise of it.
Then the company that co-owns [Bloody Disgusting], the Collective, thought it would make a cool movie. So they got behind it, and we went off and did it. I went to work with Adam [Wingard] and Simon [Barrett] again, I worked with them on A Horrible Way To Die…and we really wanted to work with them so we had written and sent them off to film right before they shot You’re Next…We then built the movie from there.
Sharp: Was found footage something you always wanted to do with V/H/S?
Miska: I wasn’t like, Found footage is hot; we should do something with found footage!
To that story, that’s what made sense. I felt it was organic. These kids are going to find these tapes and the things they are watching are technically found footage.
Sharp: I thought [the found footage style] was effective, especially on how it seems – I only thought of this afterward – that the movie is recorded over a sex tape.
Miska: That’s actually something, too. We wanted to do a little bit more, but then we felt like it’d be touching it too much…like having a commercial or something in there. It cuts out; you’re watching commercials because they taped over it on like some TV show or something. But ultimately, we thought it’d just get confusing.
Sharp: Has the movie’s reception surprised you?
Miska: Yah, actually it did. It surprised me a lot. Not to say that I didn’t think it was good. I mean, I’ve watched like a billion horror movies. I’ve liked worked on stuff behind the scenes and watched cuts over and over again. And after I see [some movies] like three times, I’m so sick of watching it, even if it’s something I feel close to. With V/H/S every time we tweaked it, I could watch it straight through and didn’t feel fatigued by it. I thought maybe there was something special in that…but when we started showing it I was really nervous. Like full-blown anxiety up until the Radio Silence short started. Then it felt like the end was coming and everyone was still there and I could relax a little bit. But it was definitely scary.
Sharp: Do you see yourself working with these guys again on another anthology?
Miska: I’d love to work with all those guys again if I was lucky enough. I consider myself lucky. It’s not something that I like do every day.