The latest entry into the V/H/S franchise is V/H/S/94, a Shudder Original film set in 1994, as you might have guessed from the title. Like the other movies in this series, this feature has a prologue/framing narrative that acts as a short horror film interwoven with several scary found footage short films, each with a different writer and director to create an anthology.
V/H/S/94 begins with a SWAT team unit raiding what they assume is a standard drug lab, but they soon discover that the compound has ties to a sinister cult with a collection of pre-recorded tapes that we slowly learn are part of a conspiracy.
The cassette tapes start with a news reporter and her cameraman venturing below ground to search for a local urban legend known as the “Rat Man.” The following cassette shows what happens at an overnight wake, and the third tape depicts a mad scientist’s efforts to create the perfect biomechanical creature. In the last cassette tape, we witness a violent religious extremist militia group preparing a supernatural weapon for an act of domestic terrorism.
Directors featured in V/H/S/94 include Simon Barrett and Timo Tjahjanto, who have each worked on previous films in the franchise, and newcomers Jennifer Reeder, Chloe Okuno and Ryan Prows.
The bread and butter of the V/H/S films are experimenting with the found footage genre, and this franchise is also known for having disturbing content akin to the old-school “video nasties.” V/H/S/94 doesn’t disappoint on that front. While every segment offers ghoulish fun and bloodshed, it’s the segments directed by Tjahjanto and Okuno that stood out for me.
V/H/S/94 is at its best when it captures the feeling of a gruesome first-person survival horror game
Okuno directed the “Storm Drain” story about the Rat Man, which includes some genuinely gnarly practical effects and a creature design vaguely reminiscent of a specific scene from Annihilation (2018); you’ll know it when you see it. The same can be said for Tjahjanto’s “The Subject,” which feels like a gripping, visceral, first-person survival horror game. Simon Barrett’s segment “The Empty Wake” is a quieter, more suspenseful installment in the mix, but it builds to a genuinely freaky climax.
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The remaining segments, the prologue/framing short and “Terror,” were mostly misses. “Terror” attempts some political commentary, but the storyline itself gets garbled and confusing, although that might be due to a lack of subtitles. It’s honestly hard to figure out what they’re talking about for most of the short.
When the short finally introduces the crazy weapon the militia found, I became more interested, and the final sequence is easily the best part, especially when we get to see the “weapon.”
Similarly, the framing narrative regarding the SWAT team raid did not have the payoff I was hoping for at the end with the reveal of how the cult compound and cassette tapes ultimately connect. It didn’t make much sense, and I was left asking, “that’s it?” just before the credits rolled.
Still, ultimately V/H/S/94 is an entertaining, gut-wrenching and genuinely disturbing horror film that should appease fans of the V/H/S franchise and give horror fans something fresh to look forward to for Halloween season.
V/H/S/94 will officially premiere on Shudder on Wednesday, October 6.