When looking at the found footage genre, there are many titles that people say were influential in bringing them into the fandom. Often, people point to films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, both of which became a sort of cultural phenomenon. Personally, where my love of the genre started was in the first V/H/S film, a production that felt exploitative, almost perverse, in its approach of peaking in on someone’s suffering through the lens of grainy VHS footage.
Now, a decade removed from the initial film, and with V/H/S/94 proving to be Shudder’s most in-demand title in the history of the platform, there are four films which have come to define the highs and lows of the anthology series. As such, I decided it was time to look back on all four films and really dig in to determine what my favorite shorts and series were – entries overdue for a revisit to make such claims.
Note: This is all my own personal opinion and while I am confident in my choices and final order, it is still a matter of preference. As a fan of the series, I believe all the shorts have legit reasons for people to pick them as their own personal favorites. Also, I am aware of another V/H/S project which exists online, but given the different format, I decided to skip including that particular ‘entry’ in the franchise as invalid for rating all the films.
20. Vicious Circles by Marcel Sarmiento (Viral Wrap Around)
One of the major shortcoming of Viral comes via the awkward set up to the anthology, that tries to give this idea of ‘viral’ videos overcoming the public and driving them to chaos. However, what struck me right away is how Viral is conveyed as the least cohesive of the series in trying to capture a theme and much of that can be attributed to the awkward framing narrative. Arguably, this wrap around does have a few great action sequences (kid being dragged behind ice-cream truck), but on its own it feels confused and non-sensical. Even worse, it is easily the most dated entry in the history of the franchise – you don’t go viral by filming stuff get yourself in the frame doing a silly dance or something. Amateur!
19. Slumber Party Alien Abduction by Jason Eisner (VHS2)
I had recalled this one being particularly effective and shocking, one of the reasons I held V/H/S/2 in such high regard. However, upon revisiting and knowing what to expect, the shocking elements fell short and I was left with just being irked by the view from the doggo being used for cheap emotional stings. Very few people feel good about a dog dying in a film, and Esiner decided he wants you to see it frightened, tortured before falling to its demise. Consequently, Slumber Party is a rather despicable and easily a contender as the worst segment in the entire history of the anthology – regardless of well executed scares.
18. Dante the Great by Gregg Bishop (Viral)
Dante the Great just falls short of offering anything horrific, opting for a more comedic approach. Lacking gore or jump scares, it feels drastically out of place in the franchise. On its own it is entertaining, it just fails horribly within the context of V/H/S, particularly within the messily executed Viral entry.
17. Second Honeymoon by Ti West (VHS)
Ti West has always existed as a divisive director, one in which it is easy for people to belittle any of his work. Although I happen to be a fan. I found his entry in V/H/S my first major disappointment in the series. It feels poorly executed and established, the twist coming from a place where the viewer has to essentially write the backstory for West. At best slightly unsettling, Second Honeymoon is passable by being wedged in the original film, but wholly uninspiring when viewed by itself.
16. Holy Hell by Jennifer Reeder (’94 Wrap Around)
Though lower on the list, I think that Holly Hell got undeserved flack among fans. Positively, there are some strong visuals and the ending kill is pretty badass. In addition, I like that it feels it is building to something that could be brought into later entries. I would love to see Reeder return for the next one and build what she outlined. However, there is just not enough story or context here to warrant placing it any higher on this list.
15. Phase 1 Clinical Trials by Adam Wingard (VHS2)
Phase One is a rather forgettable entry with a few good scares – it does not feel inventive and lacks narrative intrigue. Well executed but playing it safe, this is easily the least effective entry in V/H/S/2, despite being rated higher than another.
14. Tape 56 by Adam Wingard (VHS Wrap Around)
Tape 56 does not have much of a narrative going for it, but it encapsulates the ‘grimy’ charm of the first film. The group it follows – men who sexually assault women and break into homes – are just begging to be murdered in the most horrific way possible. Arguably, this segment plays out more like an exploitation film than horror, yet it creates a memorable scenario that really draws viewers into the idea of seeing shocking found footage.
13. Tape 49 by Simon Barrett (VHS2 Wrap Around)
Tape 49 as a lot of similarities too Tape 56, as they contain exploitative elements and sees a despicable man get his come-uppance. Honestly, these last two entries are interchangeable, but I felt that Tape 49 had a bit more of a story and I love the sign off at the end – thumbs up from someone missing half their face still.
12. Terror by Ryan Prows (’94)
Terror is an odd one in the series, there are certain things I love about it and I do feel it fit the brief of ‘94‘ better than any other entries. Furthermore, the image of constantly shotgunning a creature in the face to keep its power low is shocking every time. However, it just seems to be missing something that brings it all together in a meaningful way. In particular, the monster is underwhelming compared to to all the other creations in the entry. A solid addition undoubtedly, but nothing that will distinguish itself from the series at its best.
11. A Ride in the Park by Eduardo Sanchez & Greg Hale (VHS2)
POV Zombie! Up until 94, this was easily the most upbeat and absurd entry in the series. Man turns into zombie and kills some hikers and campers -simple yet effective. It is hard to say much about this one stylistically or narratively, it makes itself clear what it is doing and executes it with style. Regardless, it ranks a bit lower for lack of narrative depth, and a few other entries hit those absurd notes with more conviction in alternate segments.
10. Parallel Monsters by Nacho Vigalondo (Viral)
I often hear people using Parallel Monsters to make a case for Viral, claiming for it to be one of the best in the series. Understandable, with an abstract concept pulled off cleverly with admirable creative effects (i.e. glowing eyes of the parallel world are particularly haunting). However, I will admit I am stuck on the absurdity of the giant demonic penises and vaginas, giving the short a comedic edge which I felt negatively impacted a serious impression. Nevertheless, this one is a deserved stand-out to many fans for a good reason.
9. Amateur Night by David Buckner (VHS)
The original V/H/S felt like it was entirely defined by this one short, especially when this is the only one ever to get expanded to a feature length film. Certainly, the visuals are sharp and the initial shock (particularly as the opening segment) feels like it set the tone for everything to follow. Sadly, I learned upon revisiting the series that nostalgia can sometimes be misleading… The short is disappointingly one note and features an obnoxious opener. Regardless, it makes sense when most people envision what VHS is, the image of the odd harpy-like creatures is often what comes to mind.
8. Tuesday the 17th by by Glen McQuaid (VHS)
The visions of a distorted killer seems to be a premise that either succeed or faltered for many. Myself, I see it as a rather creative editing technique that brought a larger than life monster to the screen, one that exists as a sinister figure hiding in the background when you get the ‘tracking’ notice. Admittedly, It does lack the scares and gore that helped some of the other entries become more notorious, but it still is feels creative a decade later.
7. The Subject by Timo Tjahjanto (’94)
The Subject is certainly hyperviolent, over-the-top and gore-soaked. Sadly, the entry sticks out among the other segments in 94 and almost derails it entirely from the theme. Essentially, the plot is arbitrary plopped into the context of a mad scientist in the 90’s without brining any of that aesthetic – it feels like Tjahjonto just said “f*** it, i’ll do my own thing”. Existing in its own universe, The Subject is one of the greater entries to ever come out of the franchise, yet I cant help shaking the feeling that this ruined 94 as a cohesive vision.
6. 10/31/98 by Radio Silence (VHS)
There are some rough aspects to this haunted house themed short, as the CGI at this point is rather dated and can be seen as downright silly. However, taking that into account and just accepting it for what it is, this segment is both well executed and frightening.
5. The Empty Wake by Simon Barrett (’94)
A really effective short, single location, horror film with a morbid monster. Original? Certainly not, but as straight forward experience in terror this one is perfectly executed. I also like the hints of occult, or a sense of sacrifice being prepared for the broken corpse. Personally, I really like the abrupt conclusion that buries this incident in the realm of the obscure as the woman’s death can be brushed off by natural disaster – what really occurred and why we will never know, but the segment is all the better for its minimalistic set-up
4. Bonestorm by Justin Benson & Aaron Scott Moorhead (Viral)
There are a few segment throughout the franchise that go the route of little story and big on chaos, such as Ride in the Park and Vicious Circles. Bonestrom is easily the best in the series that is framed as one long and frantic sequence. Consequently, there is no reason to cheer for anyone here beyond good vs. evil, but the energy and action in is commendable. Furthermore, I would argue it is the only segment that really capture the vibe that I felt Viral was trying to aim for, by embracing kids putting themselves in harm to make a name a for themselves.
3. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger by Joe Swanberg (VHS)
It is easy to look back at VHS and say that the segments have been diminished with time and others doing it better, but as with 10/31/98, I don’t see it that way. Certainly, popular productions like The Den, Unfriended: Dark Web and Host have gone on to use the video chat formula to much greater effect, yet The Sick Thing… hits pretty hard and fast with some superb jump scares tossed in. Admittedly, I can see some finding the ending to be a bit silly, but I found it morbidly apt. I did not think this would rank this high, but this one became an easy choice upon revisit.
2. Storm Drain by Chloe Okunu (’94)
Hail Raatma! Chloe Okuna’s Storm Drain is the easy standout of V/H/S/94, perfectly combining scares, comedy, creature design and gore. I do understand if you are coming to V/H/S/ for a more visceral and shocking experience this one may seem too silly, yet, it is hard to argue it is really effective at what it aims to do. Okuna, as the filmmaker with the least experience in this years contributors, has certainly made a mark – I can’t wait to see what she does next.
1. Safe Haven by Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Evans (VHS2)
Timo Tjahjanto & Gareth Evans crafted one of most disturbing segments ever to grace the franchise. A complete breakdown of a cult where a mass suicides mingles with summoning of a demonic entity to bring on end times. It is intense, upsetting and, oh so, glorious vision of a peculiar madness. Going in to revisit all of the films, I had a feeling this would still be my favorite short, and it still delivers so many years later.
Final Thoughts and Ranking the Films
Revisiting all the films in a row was quite a task, but one which I had a lot of fun with. My opinions did change on a few shorts, and V/H/S/ was long overdue for a re-watch in putting this one together. However, for the most part, my memories held up and the segments stayed roughly to what I had first anticipated – though the different ones drastically shifted my franchise order.
Notably, it is hard to deny how effective and gritty the first film is, and how uncomfortable of a watch it can be at times (stated as a compliment). It has a special feeling to it that the later entries lack, and the idea of finding something forbidden and shockingly perverse still resonates a decade later. Admittedly, the original film went from what I had predicted as my third place, right into my top choice for best entry in the series.
Following behind that, V/H/S/94 offers up a nice blend of horror and comedy that is only marred somewhat by an awkward flow between shorts. Next up, V/H/S/2 is my third favorite, which surprised even me as I thought it would be my first. However, beyond Safe Haven, it is easily one of the most forgettable in the series, particularly when on revisit I learned how much I despised the Slumber Party entry.
No surprise here, but V/H/S Viral I believe to be decidedly the worst in the franchise. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised with it and felt that hatred thrown towards it is undeserved. Furthermore, Viral suffers from only having three entries that are all different in tone and with a poor wrap around.
Overall, V/H/S is a flawed series, that has seen some ups and downs. It is not, or ever will be, the pinnacle of the best of found footage or horror genre. But, it does not need to be that to be enjoyed and cherished among the fandom. My own personal view of the project has always been that it acts as a mini showcase under time restraints that either seems to bring out the best or shortcomings of certain creators. It is fascinating to observe, always entertains and chocked full of unique concepts. I came out of this liking the series more than I did before, while also becoming aware of its limitations and need of audience to meet the makers half way to really embrace the franchise.