The anthology film contains frights set in creepy funeral homes, a gore-splattered laboratory, some disgusting sewers and more
V/H/S/94, the fourth iteration of the found footage anthology franchise and the first new entry since 2014’s V/H/S Viral, attempts to reel things back to the roots of the subgenre with its 90s setting and vintage aesthetic. The V/H/S series, despite its name, is filled with segments that seemingly ditch the analog concept altogether, but 94 (barring one particular story) is the most committed of the films as far as holding together both a distinct look and similar themes throughout its five segments.
The first of these, as with the previous films, also acts as the framing device and wraparound narrative. Directed by Jennifer Reeder, ‘Holy Hell’ follows a SWAT team as they infiltrate a building filled with mutilated bodies and tons of strange television screens. From the perspective of an officer’s bodycam, we’re taken through a series of staged rooms of bloody mayhem that plays out like a local haunted house attraction. Still, it is a bit more of an exciting framing device than previous franchise entries, and also contains a cheeky bit of humor that carries over into each of the other segments.
There’s a comforting bit of levity there, which is funny considering that the next segment, Chloe Okuno’s ‘Storm Drain’, is the creepiest short of the film and possibly of the whole series. It follows a news reporter named Holly (Anna Hopkins) as she and her cameraman very foolishly explore the sewers in search of an urban legend called The Rat Man. The 90s era quality of the news camera and the very limited light make everything genuinely terrifying and Okuno shows she has an eye for some strong horror imagery, even when things get intentionally silly later on. The slimy and grimy sewers make for an extremely memorable setting, and Okuno sets the new bar for what’s to follow.
The image gets even granier with the next flick, ‘The Empty Wake’. From longtime V/H/S contributor Simon Barrett, the segment follows a young girl named Haley who’s just begun a new job at a funeral home. She’s been left by herself one evening to handle the wake for a recently deceased man, but – perhaps due to an increasingly dangerous storm outside – nobody is showing up. The family requested that the wake be filmed, so the segment is told through the perspective of a camera in the corner of the room as well as a handheld one that Haley uses. Church organ music is what helps set the mood and create an effective atmosphere. ‘The Empty Wake’ is a chilling slowburn that builds and builds until things reach a crazy conclusion.
Next up to bat is Timo Tjahjanto, who previously made a fan favorite and standout of the franchise, ‘Safe Haven’ from V/H/S/2. Tjahjanto gets even wilder this time around with ‘The Subject’, a segment that more or less ignores the 90s period but makes up for it with unhinged mania and the film’s most impressive visuals and sequences. From the perspective of laboratory cameras and a ton of other recording devices that are gradually revealed, we’re shown a legitimately mad scientist who has been kidnapping people and performing horrendous experiments on them. Not only is ‘The Subject’ the goriest of the bunch, but it also gets taken in a ton of different directions (it’s the longest of them all) that include a sequence that feels like a bloody first-person shooter. It’s the kind of ambitious filmmaking that you can’t help but admire.
V/H/S/94’s final segment feels much more muted than the rest, but it’s the one that nails down the aesthetic of the time period the best. ‘Terror’, directed by Ryan Prows, follows an American militia group as they prepare to bomb a federal building. The bomb is supposedly supernatural in nature, and Prows takes his time laying the story out as well as being the one of the only filmmakers in the V/H/S catalogue that manages to avoid cracking a joke at some point – ‘Terror’, living up its name, takes itself seriously in a nice contrast to the rest.
The glory days of the found footage subgenre and its distinct style may be behind us (one could argue that computer screen films overtook it) but there’s still very much an allure to it. There’s a level of grounded immersion that goes with it that most other films simply can’t do, and the V/H/S franchise is a wonderful format to keep it alive and well. V/H/S/94 has some of the best segments of the entire series, and certainly feels like the most well-rounded and consistent in terms of the quality of its various shorts. Hopefully there will always be talented filmmakers from around the world that can continue to put together something fun and creative like this.
‘V/H/S/94’ is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.