V/H/S: Fetishizing Horror-on-Videocassette

09/26/2012 4:00 AM |

Directed by David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West and Adam Wingard

Most of this horror omnibus, a creepy collaboration between hip indie genredirectors, looks like it was shot on Maxell GX-Silver: there’s the grainy image, the halting camera movement, the skips and freezes, the flashes of what’s being taped over. V/H/S fetishizes its namesake aesthetic almost as much as Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers did, except here it doesn’t signify something lowbrow: it seems born of generational nostalgia for the filmmakers’ earliest experiences of cinema—especially horror films. In the wraparound segment (directed by Wingard), a group of shitheads hired to break into a house and steal a tape stumble upon the fuck-craziest collection of videos, which they start popping into VCRs; we’re treated to their private found-footage festival. It resembles the way young people of a certain generation discovered scary movies: sticking cassette after cassette into the machine in the hopes of finding something new.

Tension between the retro and the new-fashioned pervades the film. While the shorts look like homemade artifacts from the 80s, most also employ a more recently popularized device: the handheld, first-person POV. The movie doesn’t always balance these competing styles sensibly: why would the video webchats that make up Swanberg’s contribution (like a mash-up of Paranormal Activity and Rosemary’s Baby… on Skype!) have been transferred to videocassette? And, as in Paranormal Activity 3, why would someone who has to pay for tapes leave the camera rolling when nothing’s happening? But I like that about V/H/S: it’s not a slave to its gimmick.

Despite the contemporary flashes, the movie’s thematically classical: like so much horror, each short deals with sexual violence, either perpetrated against women (as in McQuaid’s, in which teenagers in the woods are assaulted by a staticky electronic blur—as though by magnetic tape itself!) or by them, whether in the form of a werelynx or a lover with a switchblade. Nearly every section features some female nudity, often a failed attempt at amateur pornography. And really—what’s more VHS than that?

Opens October 5