God bless V/H/S.
In an age of hit-and-miss horror anthologies, the V/H/S franchise has provided some of the most hit-and-miss films of them all—and yet, all four films have at least one or two truly entertaining segments to tide viewers over. More importantly, though, the franchise has been a wonderful playground for genre filmmakers who are either finding their footing or experimenting with different formats. After their segments were released, V/H/S alumni went on to make independent horror classics like The Guest, Ready Or Not, The Ritual, Colossal, The Sacrement, May The Devil Take You, The Endless, Séance, and Apostle as well as other franchise installments like Blair Witch and Scream.
Though it burned brightly for three straight years, the franchise unplugged for a long while until V/H/S/94, which premiered on Shudder earlier this month. And if the early returns are any indication, V/H/S is back, baby. The film currently holds a shockingly good Rotten Tomatoes score (92%, the best of the franchise by far), and Shudder announced last week that V/H/S/94 is their biggest film premiere ever, which means more retro goodness should be just around the corner.
In celebration of this franchise’s triumphant return, we took up the challenge of ranking all 21 segments (including the wraparounds and one short that was cut altogether). Give it a read and then let us know what we got wrong (or right, if you’re feeling nice).
21. “Dante the Great” – Gregg Bishop (V/H/S: Viral)
No disrespect to Bishop, but somebody has to be last on these lists. The Southern setting is a nice touch (especially the lovely Fox Theatre), but this short is burdened by many things, namely the shoddy CGI, lackluster lead performances, and a talking-heads-style framing device that does it no favors. And if we’re being honest, there’s nothing scary about a murderous magician with a cloak that craves blood.
20. “Tuesday the 17th” – Glenn McQuaid (V/H/S)
There’s a nice aesthetic quality to McQuaid’s riff on the slasher flicks of his youth—as evidenced immediately by the title—but the homage gets pretty old pretty quickly, even for a short film. And not to be all “that’s not how video cameras work,” but the supernatural element meant to set this segment apart from its titular predecessor just makes it more of a head-scratcher.
19. “Vicious Circles” – Marcel Sarmiento (V/H/S: Viral)
The least successful wraparound of the franchise flies a bit too close to the sun. Sarmiento deserves credit for trying something different from the first two framework devices, but it’s too disjointed and unrestrained to tell an effective story—or even make sense most of the time. The backyard barbeque and the taxi cab hostage moments are solid, but they don’t really fit into the larger story at all.
18. “Tape 56” – Adam Wingard (V/H/S)
In the original wraparound device, Wingard and his friends play a band of scumdog losers who commit (and record) public sex crimes for money before embarking upon a more profitable excursion: stealing a special videotape from an old man’s house. It’s hard to watch at times (and hasn’t aged well in that way), but there are some solid scares, a nice atmosphere, and it sets the tone well for the franchise as a whole.
17. “Gorgeous Vortex” – Todd Lincoln (V/H/S: Viral)
If you’re scratching your head here, you might not’ve actually seen this one. Lincoln’s short was shelved and lives only as an extra on the physical release because, well, he didn’t really understand the assignment. It’s abstract, it’s dialogue-free, it moves like a music video, and it isn’t found footage…but it isn’t that bad either. With a brief runtime and some memorable imagery, it’s worth digging up.
16. “The Empty Wake” – Simon Barrett (V/H/S/94)
Barrett’s idea here is a good one, especially for a single location (which looks great from a production design standpoint). But the build-up is all atmosphere and phone calls, and by the time the antagonist arrives, it feels like too little too late–especially when it ends abruptly. That said, there’s something rewarding about Mother Nature being the ultimate victor at the end of a horror tale…
15. “Phase I Clinical Trials” – Adam Wingard (V/H/S/2)
Wingard got to make a proper horror short his second time around, and though it’s the least effective segment in the V/H/S/2 crop, he did have some stiff competition. He might’ve benefitted from hiring a more experienced actor and fleshing out the narrative a bit more, but the concept of a bionic eye doubling as a camera is pretty cool, and shady medicinal ethics always provide a nice boost in this genre.
14. “Tape 49” – Simon Barrett (V/H/S/2)
An improvement upon his buddy Wingard’s original wraparound saga, Barrett’s piecemeal framework gives us a groovy “haunted tapes” scenario that follows a pair of ethically ambiguous amateur detectives (though they’re far less scummy than the “Tape 56” hooligans). There’s not much of story to it once they get to their investigation, but these things can only do so much. (Barrett bares it all in the opening minutes, though, and you have to respect that.)
13. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” – Joe Swanberg (V/H/S)
Aesthetically speaking, this segment doesn’t exactly follow the rules since it’s on a computer screen. But credit to Swanberg for delivering an early entry into a subgenre that would explode a couple years later with films like Unfriended. The twist is a bit flat, but the format works well here, playing up the fear of dark rooms in a fresh way and blending a few different subgenres into the mix.
12. “A Ride In The Park” – Eduardo Sánchez & Gregg Hale (V/H/S/2)
The V/H/S franchise comes thematically full circle here with the co-director and producer of The Blair Witch Project. The idea of using a GoPro as the recording device is clever, and while a zombie origin event in the woods isn’t the most original premise (especially after they’d already nailed the “spooky woods” conceit), Sánchez and Hale keep the narrative tight and elevate it above mediocrity with some light humor and great effects.
11. “10/31/98” – Radio Silence (V/H/S)
The final chapter of the original anthology is a pretty standard haunted house scenario on the page: A group of young men show up for a Halloween party at an unknown location to find an empty house. (Or is it?) The special effects leave something to be desires, but the Radio Silence team knows how to execute a decent premise. This segment is simply a lot of fun and a great closing chapter, right down to the terrifying final images.
10. “Holy Hell” – Jennifer Reeder (V/H/S/94)
The directors of the wraparounds always have the biggest challenge, but Reeder’s rises above all the others thanks to a solid premise—a SWAT team raids a warehouse thinking it’s a drug bust only to stumble upon a spooky analog cult scenario—and some terrific production design. Also, points to Reeder for getting one of the best line reads of the franchise: “We don’t need more tech. We need a gravedigger!”
9. “Bonestorm” – Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (V/H/S: Viral)
A couple of narrative decisions already feel outdated here, but Benson and Moorhead really go for it. The second V/H/S segment to employ GoPro cameras, this one works better in the context of skate punks trying to film their own trick compilation, only to find themselves in the midst of a resurrection ritual in Tijuana. Particular praise is in order for great effects and what feels like the most blood and carnage of the series.
8. “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” – Jason Eisener (V/H/S/2)
Eisener was given a tough task in terms of his segment’s placement, but he still ended V/H/S/2 on a high note. Your mileage may vary on the adolescent shenanigans and the ensuing revenge plot, but once the aliens actually show up (including a nice underwater preview), this one becomes a different kind of party. The very last shot will trigger many viewers, but strapping a camera to a little dog was a refreshing creative choice.
7. “The Subject” – Timo Tjahjanto (V/H/S/94)
Tjahjanto is trusted with the longest, meatiest segment of the latest anthology, and while it’s near the middle of the latest crop, it’s still an absolute blast. Though it may be more of a gory action film than a true horror short—and though the quality of that video footage is far too crisp for a handheld camera in 1994—the pacing of the setup and the reveal provide a solid foundation for all the bonkersness happening from the jump.
6. “Second Honeymoon” – Ti West (V/H/S)
West was arguably the most established horror director of the original crew, and it’s easy to see why in his lone contribution to the franchise. There’s no gimmick to be found here—and not much gore either. But this slow-burn segment following a young couple on the road, acted well by Sophia Takal and fellow V/H/S director Joe Swanberg, implements a level of underlying dread typically only achieved in features.
5. “Terror” – Ryan Prows (V/H/S/94)
Prows toes the line effectively with the latest bookender; gun-toting right-wing extremists might be the scariest villains imaginable in this day and age, but for those who are able to laugh at their buffoonery, this might be the funniest segment in the franchise. The exploding vampire rabbit (perhaps an ode to Bunnicula, since this is 1994 after all) is almost as memorable as the long-jawed vampire master himself.
4. “Parallel Monsters” – Nacho Vigalondo (V/H/S: Viral)
Widely believed to be the worst film in the franchise (and possibly the reason why it remained dormant for years), V/H/S: Viral nonetheless gives viewers a truly memorable segment from Vigalondo. The pacing is the key here as the short follows a Spanish inventor who builds a gateway to another dimension…and then slowly finds out how different that dimension truly is. (Two words: demon penis.)
3. “Storm Drain” – Chloe Okuno (V/H/S/94)
The concept here—a vainglorious news reporter trying to spin gold out of a dead-end story—is a refreshing framework for not just this series but the found footage subgenre at large. Perhaps it owes a bit to [REC] for that, but what this news team discovers in the titular storm drain is wonderfully wild and incredibly memorable, right down to the ill-fated recap behind the news desk. (We’re convinced this one was partially inspired by the Crichton leprechaun in Mobile. That amateur sketch!)
2. “Amateur Night” – David Bruckner (V/H/S)
Bruckner’s chilling segment stole the show the first time around and announced him as a future force in the horror genre. What starts as a despicable spin on a sexual conquest for a few young men—which feels even slimier after the first portion of “Tape 49”—slowly devolves into something sinister and befitting of its faux hero characters, fueled brilliantly by Hannah Fierman’s terrifying expressions and brilliantly landed with a terrific climax. This one is so good, it got its own feature-length spinoff (Siren).
1. “Safe Haven” – Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Evans (V/H/S/2)
Two of the best 21st century genre directors combined their talents to create not just the best segment of the franchise but what might be among the best short-form horror pieces ever made. What could’ve been a routine found-footage concept—a camera team traveling to a remote area to document something vaguely unsettling—is elevated to classic status thanks to tremendous effects, terrific atmosphere, a stellar performance from Epy Kusnandar, and one hell of a final moment. Even at a full 30 minutes (the longest segment of the franchise), it doesn’t wear out its welcome for a single second.
If you haven’t seen V/H/S/94, it’s one of the best horror films of the year so far. And if you’re craving some content for spooky season, you’ll be well served with each of these films. Hail Raatma!