horror movies

A V/H/S Breakdown for the Horror Purists

It’s October and that means it’s horror movie time. Not that the other eleven months of the year aren’t also horror movie time, but Hollywood knows from scheduling around holidays and Halloween is fast approaching. Every weekend this month sees a major horror release, the first being the found footage/anthology film V/H/S. Vulture’s Horror Enthusiast will be looking at each film and how it does or does not meet the genre’s well-known specifications. (If you’re not sure what those are, just watch Cabin in the Woods.) Here’s our checklist of how V/H/S satisfies your horror film needs. (Some specific — yet also unspecific — spoilers follow.)

The film is divided into six parts, each of which was directed by a different young horror upstarts — Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die) did the bookend segment, “Tape 56”; David Bruckner (of the similarly multi-director horror film The Signal) did crazy-shit-goes-down-in-a-motel-room segment “Amateur Night”; the beloved Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) did road-trip segment “Second Honeymoon”; Glenn McQuaid (of horror comedy I Sell the Dead) did killer-in-the-woods segment “Tuesday the 17th”; mumblecore pro Joe Swanberg directed the Skype story “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”; and the filmmaking collective Radio Silence directed and starred in haunted house tale “10/31/98.” The film premiered at Sundance, where one viewer apparently passed out during the screening, which is an endorsement that any horror film would kill for.

Horror Subgenre
Found footage (see the Paranormal Activity films, The Blair Witch Project, and — oh God, no — The Devil Inside) plus horror anthology (see: Tales From the Crypt, Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, Creepshow, Trilogy of Terror). Furthermore, each of the six segments dabbles in a particular subgenre: haunted house, slasher film, bad road trip, haunted apartment, assholes who get their comeuppance flick.

Welcome Clichés
People foolishly go down into the basement; people foolishly go up into the attic; a ghostly child runs across the camera’s field of vision; there is nudity; sex leads to death.

Unwelcome Clichés
Characters who cannot clearly see the growing danger until it’s much too late; several characters who are simply odious; a segment featuring the old horror stock characters — the blond slutty girl, the brown-haired girl, the jock and the bespectacled dweeb; two people fall down the stairs and hurt themselves while running away from danger.

Locations Where Bad Things Happen
A motel
A motel
A spooky house
A spooky house
The woods
A darkened apartment

Ways in Which People Die Horribly
Torn to pieces
Torn to pieces, penis ripped off
Swept up into the sky by an evil demon
Stabbed in the throat
Knife in the eye
Stabbed in the head
Throat slit
Vehicular accident

Place on Horror Quality Continuum
Horror anthology films have always been troublesome. Their structure naturally forces viewers to compare the effectiveness of each segment against the others. (Did any of the other two stories in Creepshow 2 ever have a shot against “The Raft”?) With six stories to tell, V/H/S does a surprisingly good job — each story save one (the nonsensical idiot-teens-in-the-woods tale) is tense, surprising, and uses the “found footage” format in unique ways. And as far as “found footage” films go, the film is a wonderful course correction on this year’s terrible smash hit The Devil Inside. A great start to Halloween month 2012.

A V/H/S Breakdown for the Horror Purists