‘V/H/S/99’ Review: No One Is Kind in This Horror Rewind

The odds are not good for “V/H/S” — which is to say it’s the even-numbered entries in this horror omnibus franchise that have been by far the best to date. As No. 5, “V/H/S/99” unfortunately maintains that pattern, providing an uninspired extension of the series that had rebounded after a seven-year lull with last fall’s “V/H/S/94.” 

That installment was typically uneven, but the better segments were terrific. Here, nothing stands out: The best episodes are merely good enough, and the worst just tiresome. Nonetheless, this brand has proven viewer appeal for genre streaming platform Shudder, where it should do well when launched in various territories on Oct. 20. Set in 1999 — the tail of the titular format’s commercial reign, since DVDs were introduced two years prior — the film is unlikely to be the series’ last.

If this “V/H/S” has any binding theme, it would appear to be bullying. All but the last story involve cruel pranks usually perpetrated by callous youth who eventually suffer extreme comeuppance for the deeds they’ve dutifully recorded on videotape.

Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” kicks things off with RACK, a Blink-182-type pop punk band of bratty skateboarders and ersatz rebels who film their antics for theoretical online viewers. Their latest stunt is breaking into the ruins of a subterranean art collective/performance space. It shuttered after being gutted by a “freak fire” three years prior that claimed the lives of Bitch Cat, another punk-ish band. 

The others ridicule nice-guy drummer Ankur’s (Keanush Tafresi) fears over desecrating a de facto gravesite, but they aren’t laughing when pissed-off dead rockers wreak vengeance. Levin has music-video roots, and effectively recreates their late-’90s aesthetic. Like most shotgun weddings of horror cinema and rock, however, this one ends up silly rather than scary.

More successfully creepy is “Suicide Bid,” from feature veteran Johannes Roberts (of recent “Resident Evil” and “The Strangers” sequels). Needy freshman Lily (Ally Ioannides) is inexplicably desperate to be accepted into the worst “mean girl” sorority on campus. She thus submits to the “test” of being buried alive in a coffin, which would be unpleasant enough without the addition of a spooky local legend. This tale holds few surprises, but it’s effective enough to rank as best-in-class here.

Fans of producer-DJ-rapper Flying Lotus (né Steven Ellison) and his 2017 directorial debut feature “Kuso” (which attracted attention at Sundance for its audience walkouts) may hand that prize instead to his segment. Anyone else will likely have the opposite reaction. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is the name of a Nickelodeon-style game show where kids run an icky, slimy, none-too-sanitary “obstacle course” in order to get their wish granted. 

After contestant Donna (Amelia Ann) is permanently injured on-camera, her family (led by Sonya Eddy’s mom) kidnaps the smarmy host (Steven Ogg) and subjects him to a more sadistic “contest.” Ellison’s sensibility is fully present, with much emphasis on bodily fluids amidst a general, fairly noxious mix of the cartoonish and grotesquely scatological. As in “Kuso,” his original soundtrack offers invention of a considerably easier-to-take kind. 

We’re back to skateboarders trying to make like “Jackass” in Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers,” wherein a quartet of boorish suburban teen boys take a break from videotaping themselves in order to spy on the too-hot-to-be-true new neighbor next door (Emily Sweet). Alas, she’s got a secret it will prove their great misfortune to uncover. This miniature doesn’t lack for energy, but offers nothing memorable in concept or incident.

Probably the most ambitious segment is the last, “To Hell and Back” from Vanessa & Joseph Winter, who made their dual feature directorial debut earlier this year with above-average found-footage horror movie “Deadstream.” Taking a similar comedic tilt, this has quarrelsome besties Nate (Archelaus Crisanto) and Troy (co-helmer Joseph) hired to video some neighbors’ occult rite on the eve of Y2K. Unfortunately, it’s a little too successful, sucking them into “another realm” that looks a whole lot like some lesser circle of Hades. There, they run around screaming at and fleeing various gory perils, somewhat aided by a not-unfriendly, semi-demonic sprite named Mabel (Melanie Stone). It’s a game-enough mix of the icky and antic. But there’s not a lot of narrative propulsion in simply having our protagonists stumble across one grotesque creature after another so they can go “Arrgh!”

Probably the best thing in “V/H/S/99” is its wraparound sequences, which are amusing stop-motion animations of toy soldiers. Ostensibly made by the bullied little brother (Ethan Pogue) of one of “The Gawkers” before the camera gets yanked away from him, and also directed by that segment’s MacIntyre, they are irrelevant to the main stories, but still provide moments of quirky charm.

Creature prosthetics, makeup, CGI and other effects elements are decent in a film whose other principal design contributions are somewhat limited by having to hew to the conceit of hand-held videocam shooting. 

Mediocre as it is, this franchise entry is still several cuts above Glenn Danzig’s notorious “Verotika” (also on Shudder) as far as horror anthologies go. However, that doesn’t in the least reduce the pleasure in hearing vintage Danzig track “Long Way Back From Hell” under the closing credits. 

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Originally published at variety.com

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