This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY BECCA JOHNSON OCTOBER 8, 2023
The sixth instalment into the anthology franchise that's been running since 2012, V/H/S/85 gives us five more chilling tales of found footage horror. The newest instalment takes viewers on a gore-filled journey through the grim underbelly of the forgotten 1980's. Featuring a host of fantastic directors including Scott Derrickson and David Bruckner, V/H/S/85 is full of solid ideas and solid filmmaking, but misses the mark with it's storytelling and doesn't do enough to engage it's audience.
An ominous broadcast brings viewers forgotten nightmares of the 1980s: a disaster recovery crew unleashes the wrath of an ancient god; a lake that brings the dead back to life; a performance art piece makes contact with a creature from the beyond; an all-guns-out undead bloodbath, and a disturbing vision of videotaped murders.
The entire VHS franchise is incredibly divisive amongst horror fans and is never exactly a favourite, but after releasing new instalments yearly since 2021, it's become almost a spooky season staple for many. It is admired for it's originality, collaboration and utilisation of the found footage sub-genre – luckily, these traits can be admired in this years release. It's roster of directors is very impressive, from Scott Derrickson (Sinister) to David Bruckner (The Ritual). The line-up also includes Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn), Gigi Saul Guerrero (Bingo Hell) and Natasha Kermani (Lucky), who all bring something original and unique with their segments. It's undeniably fun to see some of our favourite horror filmmakers making a small piece of a film, and putting them together to create one big picture. The found footage style is incredibly effective, this time being put together as a made-for-TV documentary that feels genuinely 80's. It hasn't lost it's appeal.
As can be assumed when looking at the cool, colourful poster, V/H/S/85 has a very surreal feel to it. Audience enjoyment will largely come down to one thing – whether it's viewers enjoy cosmic horror or not. Most segments have an almost fantastical element to them, which on one hand is intriguing, but on the other is exhausting due to the lack of answers we get. V/H/S/85 feels a little more cohesive and enjoyable once you get to the end as it finally all comes together, but that doesn't take away from the fact it's often a bore to sit through, and it doesn't exactly answer everything. More than once, the chapters end just as they become interesting, leaving the audience wanting more – but not in a good way. As soon as the horror and excitement comes in, we're straight onto the next story, and that becomes frustrating pretty quickly. Some may enjoy it's sense of other-worldly mystery, but others will grow tired of it.
There is one element that most people expect VHS to deliver on – of course, the scares. Sadly, this instalment does lack the amount of horror that the franchise normally gives us. There are a good few instances of gore, and the 80's setting allows for some practical effects to be utilised particularly well, especially during the first short story. However, the more seasoned horror viewers among us definitely won't be grabbing for a pillow or turning our heads away from the screen. Despite the stories being short, they are quite slow, and the horror is minimal. It's hard not to feel underwhelmed by the end of each chapter, as the horror takes too long to begin, then doesn't stick around for long enough. It posed some really interesting ideas and creepy visuals, but doesn't do enough with them.
V/H/S/85 does well to feel as 80's as it can – the retro aesthetic is immersive and exciting, and the found footage elevates this further. The overarching story that links all the shorts together is one of the most interesting of the franchise, feeling worthwhile and bringing everything together nicely. The performances within each story are good enough, and the director's behind them are talented, bringing some interesting ideas to the table. It's bookended by it's two strongest stories of all, the most thought-provoking and unique definitely coming from Derrickson. It's cosmic approach is definitely unique, but it definitely looks more satisfying than it actually is. The shorts aren't engaging, they lack the horror that it's predecessors have given us, and very few of them feel like a success. The bigger picture is good, but the tiny moving parts feel weak.
*Synopsis from imdb.com