Death says V/H/S/99 loses the 90s zeitgeist in translation in some places, but the shorts make up a fun collection of scary stories in time for Halloween.
V/H/S/99 is the fifth installment in the V/H/S anthology series and platform for myriad horror filmmakers since the original was released in 2012. Like previous installments, it features five segments from various directors of different styles within the found footage subgenre. For its own efforts, the collection does not stray from the formulaic structure the series is known for and delivers a predominantly successful entry, although it may grossly misinterpret the late 1990s in many ways.
The collection opens with Shredding, written and directed by Maggie Levin, a segment that seeks to capture the 90s punk era’s Zeitgeist. It features a band of misfits trying to aspire to the greatness of their now-dead (or undead) rock idols. The music is ostensibly inspired by the early 90s grrl punk rock trend, but with heavy corporate pop punk undertones, despite the fervent claim to the contrary. The music definitely isn’t punk if one actually experienced the west coast 90s punk era firsthand, but it works for the story’s setting. (Also, mosh pits were not about violence; they only looked that way. Guess you had to be there.) Levin is guilty of telegraphing some gags, which is bound to annoy the audience, but she delivers in setting a ghoulish tone.
Second in the line-up (and first in how to commit involuntary manslaughter) is Suicide Bid, written and directed by Johannes Roberts. The story follows a young college student making an all-or-nothing play to join her dream sorority. The one-dimensional cruelty of the antagonists is the worst thing about this short. The over-the-top and overused mean girl trope only serves the audience’s desire to see pretty girls getting killed by monsters. There are some strong The Craft (1996) and Mean Girls (2004) vibes at certain moments, which gives audiences hope initially, but it quickly devolves into confusing and inexplicable plot jumps, resulting in the weakest segment of V/H/S/99.
Thankfully, despite its shaky start, V/H/S/99 offers some solid storylines and scares worth watching. Ozzy’s Dungeon, co-written and directed by Flying Lotus and Zoe Cooper, harkens back to cable television hell that was the Nickelodeon game shows when parents were all too willing to have their child risk life and limb for a slim chance at fame on clearly unsafe obstacle courses. Strong performances from Steven Ogg and Sonya Eddy carry the story, and Flying Lotus comes the closest of any of the filmmakers to saying something profound. There is a moment when the exploitation of these shows collides with racial wealth disparity in an attempt to say something much bigger than focusing on the OSHA health and safety violations on display. However, it is lost when the segment plunges into cynicism and the need to complete its horror movie checklist.
Gawkers, co-written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre with Chris Lee Hill, provides the interlude for V/H/S/99 and delivers some potent scares when it finally comes into the foreground in the fourth act. Of all the other segments, it feels most anachronistic, belonging to the 20s rather than the 90s (the internet could barely handle text-based communication in 1999, let alone high-resolution video, CRT monitor or not, let’s be honest here). This segment may look like the late 90s in fashion and style, but it reads like YouTubers found a box in their parent’s garage marked ‘90s stuff’ and decided to make a horror film with the contents. MacIntyre salvages the segment by employing some very nice special effects to tell a hormone-soaked peer-pressure story about adolescent boys, this amazing new invention called ‘the internet,’ and the hot girls next door.
To Hell and Back, co-written and co-directed by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter, closes out V/H/S/99 with the most intentionally hilarious segment on offer. Clearly influenced by films like Army of Darkness (1992), the Winters skillfully deliver a Raimiesque whirlwind of peril, guts, and comedy—pulling together summoning demons and the fear of Y2K to greater effect. The banter between characters and matter-of-fact treatment of the subject matter really works as short-form content. It is a refreshingly comedic end to an otherwise serious and cynical outing for the rest of the anthology. The only issue with the short is that there isn’t more of the film to enjoy. (Extra points are awarded for keeping the party hat on the entire time.)
While some stories falter in V/H/S/99, the rest pick up the slack and make a serviceable, if not innovative, addition to the V/H/S series. The collection doesn’t exploit the greater potential of some of the displayed themes but mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do. Even though it loses the 90s zeitgeist in translation in some places (something every generation is guilty of when reflecting on the previous one—don’t fret too much, Zoomers), the shorts make up a fun collection of scary stories in time for Halloween.
V/H/S/99 premiered on the East Coast at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 14, 2022, before its exclusive streaming premiere on Shudder on October 20, 2022.