For a period, it felt like a V/H/S dropped yearly. From 2012-2014, there was a new anthology that largely showcased up-and-coming horror talent, many of whom went on to do big things. However, there hasn’t been a sequel since 2014’s V/H/S: Viral, which was largely panned by the horror community. Now, seven years later, cue V/H/S 94, a shlocky, gory good time that harkens back to the Clinton era. This is what we need after the last year of political tumult and a raging pandemic. Fun and escapist, the anthology brings back some bigger names, including Simon Barrett (Séance and You’re Next) and Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You Too). They’re joined by newcomers Jennifer Reeder, Chloe Okuno, and Ryan Prows. Like any anthology, this one is a bit uneven, but that doesn’t take away from the fact it’s an enjoyable viewing experience.
This latest installment begins with a SWAT team that enters a dingy warehouse and finds cultists with their eyes ripped out. While exploring the facility they discover VHS tape after VHS tape of unspeakable horrors. Some of the shorts are better than others, and of course, tastes vary. I’ve included a list below of my favorite entries in this found footage sequel.
The Empty Wake
By far, “The Empty Wake” is my favorite of the bunch. Written and directed by Barrett, the short is an uneasy, slow-moving story about a young funeral attendant who oversees a wake. Unlike the other shorts, this one isn’t big on the over-the-top gore and video nasty influence that has come to define the franchise.
Immediately, something seems off about the wake. For instance, who creates a memorial video of a wake? What family wants to revisit that type of mourning, let alone record it? Meanwhile, one of the workers asks why the casket is crooked and claims he didn’t leave it like that. Suspicions further arise after it’s mentioned that the body was found in pieces. These little grisly details add to the mystery of what lurks within the coffin and how the person died. Barrett keeps the viewers guessing, and it creates edge-of-your-seat anxiety and major payoff in the final minutes.
With Séance, Barrett’s directorial feature debut, he proved that he excels at establishing mood, tone, and atmosphere. That film takes place at an all-girls academy, where something or someone stalks the students after they try to summon a ghost. As he does in Séance with the familiar setting of a school, Barrett manages to make another everyday setting, a funeral parlor, even creepier through some simple sound effects, specifically, an organ, rumbling thunder, and pounding rain. These sound effects go a long way in establishing an eerie mood and tone, like a good old-fashioned ghost story. It’s a welcome contrast to the rest of the shorts.
This entry is all about the little things, like the position of the casket after the funeral attendant turns around, or the noises that she may or may not hear. Is the corpse alive, or is the worker just spooked by the storm, loss of power, and the simple fact that she’s working in a funeral parlor alone at night?
After one person shows up to the wake and once the attendant learns a few more details about the dearly departed, Barrett ramps up to the reveal. It’s worth the wait! Kudos to the special effects team. A corpse hasn’t looked so good on screen in some time. Barrett, meanwhile, should continue directing. Séance and “The Empty Wake” are two of my favorites from this year. They’re both a masterclass in showing restraint in a horror film, while gradually increasing suspense.
Other than the wrap-around, “Storm Drain” is the first proper entry of V/H/S 94. Written and directed by Okuno, the short follows an ambitious reporter, Holly Marciano (Anna Hopkins), into a crumbling sewer drain where she seeks “the rat man,” a local legend that she calls the small town’s very own “Loch Ness Monster.” No, this short isn’t perfect, but my first job out of college was as a news reporter for a small-town paper outside of Philly. So, I can relate to the grind of covering such silly stories. I can also relate to Holly’s desire to do something more for the community and cover stories that really matter to her, like homelessness.
When she and her cameraman discover some sleeping bags in the sewer, she insists they investigate more. Give a voice to the voiceless! Forget the goofy story about a rat man. She wants her broadcasts to make a difference. No more chasing monsters. This short quickly leans into the absurd, and it’s a whole lot of fun when that happens. Terrified or not, Holly isn’t afraid to leave her business card with some of the strangest sewer inhabitants.
Holly, with the cameraman chasing behind her, discovers a bunch of sewer dwellers called the “Raatma People.” They apparently worship the very monster that locals call “the rat man.” When the monster reveals itself, spewing black gunk/acid, it’s another impressive win for the special effects crew. I’m all for having more Lovecraftian-type monsters on screen, and this one looks damn good! Oh, and the short has a closing shot that’s priceless once Holly returns to the news desk. I’m eager to see what Okuno does next. This film blends comedy and horror well.
I need to mention the middle entry, “The Subject,” just because it’s SO bonkers. Tjahjanto, like Barrett, took part in V/H/S 2. His short, “Safe Haven,” was a highlight. His latest begins with a closeup of a man’s face. He slowly wakes up, only to scream. As the camera pulls away, it reveals that he’s attached to a mechanical, spider-like machine. It catches fire. Thus, the experiment failed. This subject won’t become some bizarro cyborg creation.
This short takes several creative narrative twists and contains wild leaps of imagination. After the eye-popping opening, it cuts to a scene of a mad Indonesian doctor and two test subjects. He creates biomedical experiments, part human, part machine, “neo humans,” as he calls them. The rest of the entry is from the point of view of one of those subjects. The scientist’s hubris, meanwhile, rivals Victor Frankenstein’s, as he compares himself to Da Vinci.
And, of course, like the Frankenstein story, the Creation comes to life and turns on its Maker. From there, the rest of the short plays out like a violent video game. The test subject tries to escape and deals with a rescue team who sees her as inhuman. So, it’s like Frankenstein combined with a first-person shooter. That’s how wild this short gets. However, it’s effective, in part, because the “monster” isn’t shown until well into the runtime, even though a majority of the short is from her POV. And when the other test subject comes to life? Well, it’s quite a sight! It’s a real lab of horrors with human/machine hybrids lurking around every corner.
Some Other Highlights
Though V/H/S 94 is set in the mid-90s, it isn’t overly nostalgic like so much other content in the genre right now. That said, there are some cool infomercial-like interludes thrown into the mix. Veggie smasher, anyone?
This latest sequel also has a handful of truly terrifying humans. Prows’ “Terror” follows a group of white militia outside of their woodsy Detroit-area compound. The premise of this short doesn’t quite work, specifically a weapon they claim to harbor and something about a hostage who won’t stay dead. However, the human characters scare. They’re no different from the January 6 insurrectionists or those pictures of armed men who besieged Michigan’s capitol building to “protest” COVID restrictions during the early days of the pandemic. This short reminds us that domestic terrorism was indeed a thing back in the 1990s. Think Timothy McVeigh. Now, the problem has worsened.
Overall, V/H/S 94 isn’t as groundbreaking as the first two installments. Still, it has enough strong shorts, especially Barrett and Okuno’s, to entertain. It can serve as a fitting coda to the franchise, or perhaps successfully revitalize it and warrant another sequel, depending on audience response. At the very least, it’s worth adding to the Halloween movie list, if you’re looking for something new.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.