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Review: S-VHS (Sundance 2013)

Jan. 21, 2013by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: Two detectives investigating a missing persons case find themselves trapped in an abandoned house full of VHS tapes, each containing a different horrific tale.

REVIEW: After shocking the Sundance midnight crowd last year with VHS, the Bloody Disgusting Films gang is back with a follow-up, S-VHS, which, as the title suggests- is like the first VHS- but super. Of the original film's group of directors, only Adam Wingard returns, although the directors chosen to contribute prove themselves more than equal to the task- with this being a sequel that's bigger, better- and a hell of a lot scarier than the first.

Like any anthology film, the shorts are still a mixed bag- although I'd wager that S-VHS is much more consistent. None of the segments here are bad- whereas the first film had a stinker or two. Also, unlike the first which tried to shock you right away, the shorts here have been placed in a way that they get more and more extreme as the film goes on. The first one- by Adam Wingard (YOU'RE NEXT) is about a guy who- after losing an eye in a car accident, is fitted with an experimental artificial eye that records everything he sees. Too bad for him, the stuff he sees happens to include a growing number of malicious ghosts, who proceed to terrorize him. Easily the most conventional of the films, this short- while entertaining, feels more like a carry over from the original VHS- although coming from Wingard, there's a certain style and pacing that makes it worthwhile even if it pales next to what follows.

The second story by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and LOVELY MOLLY's Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, follows a cyclist who stumbles upon a pack of hungry zombies. What makes this outing unique is that the cyclist, who has a camera strapped to his helmet, is quickly turned into one of the undead, and the rest of the short lets us experience a zombie rampage through the eyes of a zombie. This is one of those ideas where, after seeing it, you're gobsmacked at the fact that no one's done it before. It's pretty unique being put into the shoes of this hungry monster, getting a first-person view as he devours anyone he crosses paths with- while still maintaining a tiny shred of his humanity, leading to an unusually affecting end.

For me, the third segment, by THE RAID's Gareth Huw Evans and Timi Tjahjanto is by far the best. Running a good forty minutes or so, it's the longest one, and it's certainly S-VHS' centerpiece, as we follow an Indonesian news crew as they try to film a documentary at a compound operated by a doomsday cult. Evans and Tjahjanto use the extra time to slowly build their story- eventually leading to a gore-soaked climax that just may set a screen record for one of the most violent extended sequences ever made. After THE RAID, we all knew that Evans was a masterful action director, but after this it's clear that he's just as comfortable doing horror. It's an amazing short, and one that I'd love to see extended to feature length if Evans and Tjahjanto ever had the inclination.

After the balls-out insanity and brutality of Evans' short, the film closes with a really fun alien attack short by Jason Eisener of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. A lot of Eisener's signature humour finds it's way into this one, with the early half of the film following a bunch of kids at a sleepover as they prank one of the group's older sister and her boyfriend- complete with water guns filled with urine, and a dog fitted with a video camera. Of course, everything goes to hell in a hand basket, and Eisener doesn't fail to ramp up the terror towards the end- although of all the films, this is the most tame.

While I enjoyed the first VHS, it can't be denied that S-VHS is certainly a big step forward, and if the franchise continues, I could see them getting bigger and bigger. That said, S-VHS is really not for the faint of heart, nor is it for anyone rubbed the wrong way by other Bloody Disgusting productions- including the first VHS or THE ABC'S OF DEATH. If, like me- you like what this gang is cooking up, S-VHS is probably the best thing they've done yet.

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