It may come as a surprise to some, but the VHS found footage film series is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2022. The anthology-style franchise has developed a cult following over the years, and despite its reputation for mixed quality, still has plenty of Horror fans looking forward to new releases. Anthology Horror has that quality of anticipation not unlike a box of chocolates, where each new story has the potential to be something special even if the last one didn’t suit you. The latest, V/H/S/ 99, released exclusively through Shudder on October 20th, delivers more of what we have come to expect from it… for better and worse.
The main difference experienced viewers will notice about V/H/S/ 99 is the lack of wraparound narrative that usually opens and closes the film, with additional scenes between the segment stories. This was the template followed by the classic Creepshow movies, and was always well-received by fans in that franchise. V/H/S has had some trouble delivering the same cohesion with its wraparounds, but removing it altogether is a puzzling decision since it’s one of the main things that give the franchise its identity.
Missing wraparound narrative notwithstanding, the segments reach middling heights at best, and are just as wildly inconsistent as ever. They each seem to target a particular facet of late’90s pop culture; juvenile public pranksters, mean-spirited sororities, and kids game shows among others. The concept is good and there are some good performances in them, but none seem to realize their full potential.
The first of the lot is Shredding, which is clearly based on the CKY videos of pre-Jackass fame; teens in a band who also film themselves doing various public stunts. Their problems start when they break into a condemned building that was the site of a tragic fire and stampede that killed another young punk band like themselves. This segment had no real impact of any kind. It isn’t scary, and more importantly doesn’t make you like or dislike the characters, a problem that has plagued the franchise from the start.
Another story is The Gawkers, about a group of teens who go much too far in spying on their very attractive young lady of a neighbor. This one is seemingly inspired by ’90s frat films like 1999’s American Pie, where spy cams and other early internet tech was used for nefarious purposes. Somewhat better than average for VHS segments, and it does manage to make you hate some of the teens, but perhaps a bit too similar to another famous segment from a past entry.
The best of the new segments is Ozzy’s Dungeon, which is almost a Black Mirror-esque version of kids shows like Legend of the Hidden Temple, or Double Dare for those of us of an older generation. It features an always entertaining Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead series, Better Call Saul series) and Sonya Eddy (The Hive 2014, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday 2016), who deliver the best performances of the film despite some hammy and outright poor dialogue written for them. It has a strong, twisted quality and tone throughout, and feels like an alternative universe from the beginning.
There are five stories in total, some decent, others not good at all. The biggest problems this movie has is in the writing and editing. There is an overall feeling that most of the stories simply lack punch. They just aren’t scary, creepy, or memorable enough to strongly recommend a viewing. Additionally, the dialogue can be the pits in many places and really drags down some segments that don’t have much going for them anyway. As for the editing, there are several times where a story jumps ahead in time without an explanation for what happened in between. We also don’t understand the reasoning behind some of the choices made by characters because of the same thing. Lacking those things is a major part of the segments not landing the way they ought to.
V/H/S/ 99 is unfortunately not a strong entry in a franchise that unfortunately has not had many. Poor writing, editing, and acting in some places keep this film from taking off for the most part. Some interesting ideas, but almost all of them fall short of what they could have been. Furthermore, budget constraints did not hurt the film much, and they made good use of what they had in that department, but the overall experience is one fans will likely find lacking. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives V/H/S/ 99, 2 out of 5 stars.