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To Stream or Not to Stream? V/H/S/2

V/H/S/2Despite my love for anthology films, I put off on watching V/H/S/2 for an entire year, due to the fact that I was largely underwhelmed with 2012’s first installment. I found V/H/S to contain more misses than it did hits, and I was all around quite unimpressed with the short films that comprised it.

Now that V/H/S/2 is available for instant streaming on Netflix, I finally got around to watching it this past weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a whole lot more fun with it than I did the first one.

Before we take a closer look at each of the sequel’s four short films, one thing I want to mention right off the bat is that V/H/S/2 suffers the same inherent flaw that the first film did; the fact that it kinda sorta makes absolutely no sense that the shorts would be on VHS tapes in some creepy dude’s house.

Granted, I’m far from the first person to point this out, but it’s hard to look past the fact that these movies are essentially a betrayal of the gimmick. It’s clear that each short was made in the present day, with modern technology, and so it’s entirely impossible to suspend disbelief and pretend they were transferred to VHS tapes.

It’s an issue that ultimately doesn’t really matter, but it’s nevertheless a little odd that these anthologies are based around VHS tapes, and yet have so little to do with the format – or the time period the format thrived in. Guess you just have to ignore the fact that the films don’t fit the gimmick, in order to enjoy them – which thankfully wasn’t too difficult, this time around.

In any event. After a thoroughly lackluster introduction, which was directed by Simon Barrett (writer of You’re Next) and continues in-between each installment, V/H/S/2 kicks off with the segment Phase 1 Clinical Trials, directed by You’re Next‘s director, Adam Wingard.

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A sort of found footage take on 2002 Hong Kong horror film The Eye – which was remade here in the states back in 2008 – Phase 1 Clinical Trials is a fairly innovative entry in the tired sub-genre, with Wingard himself playing a man who has one of his eyes replaced with a bionic camera, after losing it in a car accident.

It doesn’t take long for Wingard’s character to realize that the robotic eye is allowing him to see things he was never able to see before, in the form of a handful of frightening ghosts that live in his house with him.

The eye-camera allows for us to literally see everything directly from Wingard’s POV, which provides somewhat of a fresh twist on the usual idea of a character simply holding a camera and never letting go. In the world of found footage, any little tweak of innovation is welcomed by me personally with open arms (the fan-cam from Paranormal Activity 3 comes to mind), so I must give credit to Wingard for finding a way to present a generic story in a way that doesn’t feel too generic.

Phase 1 Clinical Trials is a fun way to kick off V/H/S/2, even if it provides little more than a few creepy jump scares. Definitely fertile ground there to expand the short to feature length, though again The Eye already pretty much covered that – minus the bionic aspect.

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Up next is A Ride in the Park, directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale. Though the names may not ring a ball, it was Sanchez and Hale who essentially launched the found footage sub-genre back in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project – which Sanchez co-wrote & directed and Hale produced.

In Sanchez’s return to found footage horror, a bicyclist finds himself surrounded by zombies in the woods, documenting the unexpected zombie apocalypse with a camera that’s affixed to his helmet.

Sounds like just another zombie movie, right? Well what separates A Ride in the Park from the pack is that the main character is bitten and turned into a zombie at the very beginning of the short, and so the majority of the film is seen from the POV of a zombie, due to the fact that the camera helmet says strapped to the newly-created monster’s head.

Much like Phase 1 Clinical Trials, it’s an innovative touch that makes A Ride in the Park interesting, as it’s the very first time – to my knowledge, at least – that a zombie has ever been the one filming the action, in a found footage movie. The concept makes for some clever visual gags and the short all around is a whole lot of fun.

Again, a little innovation goes a long way when it comes to the horror genre, particularly the found footage sub-genre, and A Ride in the Park is definitely innovative enough to entertain even the most anti-found footage horror fans.

Safe Haven

The third entry, titled Safe Haven, is far and away the best of the bunch, which is an opinion that most seem to reflect. Directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, the former being the director of brutal Indonesian fight flick The Raid, this one is about news reporters infiltrating an Indonesian cult, which is run by a brain-washing man referred to as ‘Father.’

Yes, Safe Haven is in many ways the same general story that Ti West told in The Sacrament, both films being inspired by the real life story of Jim Jones and the infamous Jonestown Massacre. But just as I was sitting on my couch getting comfortable and thinking I had already seen it all before, Safe Haven threw a major curve-ball into the proceedings, turning out to not quite be the movie I was expecting it to be.

The best way I can describe Safe Haven is that’s it’s the gory satanic version of The Sacrament, trading in reality-based horror for batshit crazy and insanely over the top fun. And good god is it fun, playing out like a fucking insane first-person survival horror video game.

Safe Haven is not just the best segment of V/H/S/2, but also the very best short in the franchise’s brief history. The game has been stepped up with this one, to say the least.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction

And finally, V/H/S/2 is wrapped up with Slumber Party Alien Abduction, courtesy of a guy who specializes in cinematic fun; Jason Eisener. Eisener first came onto my radar with the 2008 short film Treevenge and then further won me over with 2011’s Hobo with a Shotgun, which starred Rutger Hauer as the badass title character.

Mostly filmed from a camera attached to a pet dog, Slumber Party Alien Abduction tells the story of a group of young friends whose night of pranks leads to a night of survival, when alien creatures crash the party.

Though there are ample amounts of humor present throughout Eisner’s contribution to the anthology, the short is much more about scares than it is the Canadian filmmaker’s usual brand of fun, and with it he proves that he’s not just a one trick pony. Escorted by bright lights and loud sounds, the alien creatures are pretty damn creepy – despite the fact that up close they look like dudes in ski masks – and the short all around highly effective.

All in all, V/H/S/2 is a big step up in quality from the first film, which hits a whole lot more than it misses. In fact, aside from the wrap-around segments, there’s not a weak entry in the anthology, moving the film along at a brisk pace that never bores or fails to entertain.

To answer the question from the headline of this post, I’d have to go with a big ole TO STREAM on this one, even if you weren’t a fan of V/H/S. If you’ve been holding off like I was, give it a shot, because I bet you’ll have as much fun with it as I did.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • I wanna see a movie about how they got a friggin face-time session onto a VHS tape. THAT interested much more than anything else I saw in the first one.

    The title itself lends itself to retro nostalgia. The shorts should be period pieces. The promise of the premise never happens.