The V/H/S anthology horror films have had hills and valleys. The first film had a rocky start, but the foundation was solid for centering around unearthed and cursed footage from a dated format. There was an appeal for the dated nature of terror that might lurk in the darkest corners of a VHS shelf. This format was better perfected with films like V/H/S/2 and V/H/S/99. So, there’s a fair chance you’ll get a handful of great horror that utilizes the found-footage format well.
V/H/S85, as the title implies, features a slew of horror stories taking place in 1985. Unlike the previous entry, V/H/S/99, a more cohesive story is told from the stitched-together horror of a spliced tape. Throughout the film is the connecting story of Total Copy, an investigative program that probes into a laboratory’s dark experiment of a shape-shifting creature dubbed Rory that grows over time. The experiment grows so dangerous with each entry presented until the finale features unearthed footage from within the lab, when the experiment turns brutal, bloody, and even a little absurd.
Spliced in with Total Copy are several strange tales involving taped footage. No Wake, written and directed by Mike P. Nelson, features a lakeside vacation that turns deadly. The various friends on this trip find themselves being shot at by an unknown attacker. Just when it seems like they’re all dead, something strange happens, and they all survive their demise despite having jaws blown off and brains coming out of skulls. The key factor that leads to their immortality is a strange source on their trip. This story will continue later on in Ambrosia, also by Nelson, which reveals the attacker to be part of a family death cult. The revenge the assassinated friends seek is also cleverly woken into this action-packed entry.
There’s some otherworldly horror present in the Spanish entry, God of Death, written and directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero. This segment finds a Mexican broadcast being interrupted by an earthquake, forcing the survivors to flee further into the Earth. There, they encounter the markings of an ancient god that assaults them in gruesome ways. TKNOGD, directed by Natasha Kermani and written by Zoe Cooper, is a neat short for highlighting a performance art piece in which an actress condemns virtual reality for holding no gods. She is soon proven wrong when the digital deity gores her. One of the longest entries is Dreamkill, directed by Scott Derickson and written by C. Robert Cargill. This segment becomes a twisted mystery of murders recorded on tape and then sent to the police station. The format gets weird as dreams become reality and twists mount as the bodies pile up.
The batting average is high for how many of these shorts work so well. Each entry has a different appeal and surprises in various ways. There’s an unpredictable nature to where exactly God of Death went. I found myself fascinated as the adventure continued deeper and deeper. The playful nature of connecting No Wake to Ambrosia was brilliant and is so well-woven that it’s enough to make me wish directors would compose a minimum of two segments per V/H/S to keep up the trend. The gore is also as bloody and vicious as it’s ever been, featuring everything from torn-off limbs to gutted stomachs. The variety of horror sources V/H/S taps remains as wild and expansive as any entry.
V/H/S/85 has more than enough strong segments to make it an easy horror recommendation. It frames the era well enough by never harping too much on the references, only making it most clear in commercials spliced in between the stories. In an age where tapping the 1980s for horror has become nearly ubiquitous, this franchise manages to draw from that era well with horror tales that are compelling beyond the nostalgia and tape glitches. It was a lot of fun watching how this horror franchise continues to impress for over a decade, going well beyond being a one-gimmick anthology series.