The V/H/S horror anthology series is more than a decade old and shows no signs of slowing. The first film, conceived and produced by Brad Miska, debuted back in 2012. Since then, there have been four sequels and two spin-off films.
The latest in the main series is V/H/S/99. The film arrived on the Shudder streaming platform in October of 2022, setting new viewing records. Now it’s on Blu-ray (courtesy of RLJ Entertainment), available in a standard BD case or a collectible SteelBook edition.
The film actually consists of five short films, all horrific in nature, all “found footage” shot on VHS, and all taking place in 1999. Fans of the series will know what to expect, format-wise, though it’s worth noting that the stories in 99 are not tied together by any overarching connective plot line. There’s a kinda/sorta framing device of stop-motion animated toy soldiers that weaves in and out of the entire film, but it doesn’t advance any kind of story (it is, however, connected to the segment “The Gawkers” without serving a larger purpose).
As a collection of short pieces, V/H/S/99 is a decidedly hit-and-miss affair. That’s pretty much true of the V/H/S series overall, larded with too many stories that don’t resonate powerfully enough. For the most part, the storytelling in 99 lacks the punch needed to make these vignettes really sink in.
Still, there is some dark fun to be had for genre fans. The best of the bunch is “Suicide Bid,” in which a sorority pledge finds herself willingly spending a night in a cheap, plywood coffin to prove her worthiness. The whole buried-alive conceit has been done before, but if you’re afraid of being stuck in tight spaces this one offers some squirmy discomfort. The ending is kind of hokey, which unfortunately holds true for most of these shorts.
Best of the rest, “Ozzy’s Dungeon” features a twisted spin on a Nickelodeon-style kids competition show. Of course, things go horribly wrong when one child suffers a compound fracture that leads to a turning of the tables on the show’s host. This one is perhaps the most disturbing, boasting a variety of impressive analog effects.
“Shredding” puts a supernatural horror spin on the “battle of the bands” concept. Staying true to the 1999 era, there’s a lot of period-accurate MTV-style “reality show” hijinks as a pop-punk band is profiled in quick-cut fashion.
“The Gawkers” finds a group of mischievous teens meeting an extreme punishment for committing intrusive webcam-style voyeurism (which gives it some modern-day resonance).
V/H/S/99 sort of defies the kind of conventional assessment of acting and writing that might be applied to a standard feature film. As with previous films in the V/H/S series (and in anthology films in general), character development is in short supply due to the brevity of each story. Each of the shorts is presented as a fever dream that one simply goes with. The main criticism is that the imagery and concepts just aren’t memorable enough to linger after the end credits roll.
Again, the series continues to find an audience, so the creative talents are obviously doing something right. If you’ve enjoyed the franchise thus far, it wouldn’t make any sense to pass on this one.
That’s especially true considering the Blu-ray package offers some nice treats for fans. The multi-participant audio commentary is moderated by some folks from the Bloody Disgusting podcast, in order to facilitate the frequently-changing participants (which includes the writers and directors of the various segments). The next-most-substantial feature is the 50-minute-long New York Comic Con panel that allows fans to experience an extended discussion of the film with producer Josh Goldbloom and some of the writers and directors of the various segments. Beyond that, there’s a grab-bag of odds and ends for each segment, including bloopers, deleted scenes, a music video, and some short featurettes.