V/H/S/99 is probably the biggest film in the series, mostly eschewing scares in favor of stylistic intensity.
Almost a year to the day after 2021’s V/H/S/94, Shudder has unleashed V/H/S/99, the fifth entry in the (surprisingly long-lived) horror anthology franchise. If you’ve seen any of them, 99 is more of the same, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like its predecessors, it’s a collection of shorts plus a brief wraparound story that (very) loosely connects the various vignettes. Each short is filmed in the familiar found-footage format, a mostly tired cliché that nonetheless works reasonably well here in controlled, short bursts. The first short, Shredding, is directed by Maggie Levin and finds a group of punk rock skateboarders breaking into an old, underground club that burned down during a concert. The headlining band performing that night was killed by the crowd in a mad stampede to get out, and legend has it that their ghosts now haunt the hollowed-out building. Levin spends too much time indulging these kids’ antics, as they do skate tricks and play pranks on one another in bits clearly inspired by the old CKY2K videos that would eventually become Jackass. But once they get to the building, the mood quickly turns dark, and it has an agreeably violent ending. The second short is Suicide Bid, directed by Johannes Roberts (known for 49 Meters Down: Uncaged, The Strangers: Prey at Night, and the recent, underrated Resident Evil reboot). A young woman has decided to pledge only one sorority (the titular “suicide bid,” which — once made — excludes one from being able to join any other sorority in the future), and agrees to spend the night in a coffin as part of her hazing initiation. Of course the mean sorority girls have some surprises in store for her, but when an unexpected police cruiser drives near the graveyard, the girls flee the site without digging up their victim. Then the torrential rain begins. Suicide Bid is the simplest of the shorts, with the most limited scale, but Roberts ratchets up the claustrophobia and gets a lot of mileage out of cramming cameras into the coffin with our protagonist. Sometimes simple is good. Up next is Ozzy’s Dungeon, directed by Flying Lotus (producer, rapper, and Adult Swim contributor Steven Ellison), the most unhinged of the bunch. It begins as a distaff riff on a Nickelodeon-like kid’s show, where youngsters run through obstacle courses and compete for prizes. But everything is just slightly off — the host is a huge asshole, and the kids keep injuring themselves. It builds to a revolting bit of violence where a girl gets her leg broken in particularly gruesome fashion. But this is just the beginning; an edit and a fade up from black reveals the host now caged in a dank room. The injured girl’s family has kidnapped the host, forcing him to compete on a disgusting funhouse version of the game show set that they’ve constructed in their basement. He’s racing against time, desperate to save his skin, but there are some sick surprises in store. The fourth story is The Gawkers. directed by Tyler Macintyre, which begins as a Rear Window riff; some horny teenage boys are using their video camera to spy on the extremely attractive woman who lives across the street. When one of their younger brother actually meets the woman, she asks him for help installing some software on her computer. Sensing an opportunity, the dudes convince the little brother to sneak some spyware onto her computer so they can get a closer look at her in the shower. The ploy works, but of course they get more than they bargained for when they see what she’s getting up to behind closed doors. The final short is titled To Hell and Back, directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter, which finds a couple of goofballs taking part in a Satanic ritual on the eve of Y2K but, instead of summoning a demon, they get sucked into Hell. Desperate to find a way to escape, the two dude-bros traverse a treacherous, rocky landscape littered with corpses, severed limbs, weird creatures, and even a curious helper demon that leads them to a possible exit. In terms of scale and scope, this is probably the biggest film from any of the V/H/S collections, a wild ride that — like the other shorts here — mostly eschews scares in favor of intensity.
At this point, you mostly know what you’re going to get with this series. The presence of analog artifacts like tracking lines and low-res, blown out visuals (ironically achieved digitally) have at this point lost any phenomenological basis and seem like a tic, masking deficiencies in the special effects more than anything else. Streaming is actually the perfect home for these endeavors; divorced from the demands of a big theatrical release, one is free to skip around and watch them in whichever order they wish, while rewinding the “money shots” or simply skipping over the bad ones. Thankfully, the batting average here is quite high; if none of the films reaches the heights of Safe Haven, still the gold standard for the entire series, they are all agreeable enough. Ozzy’s Dungeon boasts the most interesting production design, like a Saw movie reimagined by Michel Gondry, while To Hell and Back’s Doom-on-a-budget vibe has the biggest WTF factor. For fans, there’s plenty to like here. Shudder has already announced plans for a sixth entry, presumably to premiere around Halloween 2023, and if this is going to become a new holiday tradition let’s hope they start taking more chances. Some creeping dread, some actual scares would be nice. There’s also no reason to not get a little more experimental with the whole thing. Get filmmakers like Chris Osborn, Kyle Edward Ball, and Jordan Graham involved. They could go more international, too, and really create an incubator of sorts for emerging talent. The sky’s the limit for the depths of hell.
You can stream V/H/S/99 on Shudder beginning on September 20.