My VHS player sits in my friend’s flat collecting dust. Since the decline of videotape, I have missed my visits to the video store and the chance to peruse garish covers and discover hidden gems of horror cinema.
Hearing about the promotion of the V/H/S movie bought new hope of a video revival, even if it was for one night only.
Which was why I found myself at Cellar Rentals a pop-up video store at Blackall Studios in East London. As its retro neon sign shone down on me, I knew I was about to embark on an evening of video nostalgia.
A man with a clipboard checked me off the guest list, a faux rental membership card was placed in my palm and I made my way into the video shop Cellar Rentals. The store was swarming with generations of video lovers. Shelves filled the walls and those shelves were stacked with Classic, B-movie, Troma, Corman and Hammer Horror. Curious hands fondled the chunky video boxes as plastic sleeves and graphic covers reflected members’ faces filled with gory nostalgia. VHS players set on the shop counter brought videos to life, replaying old favourites and forgotten classics.
Having just sold a heap of VHS in a car boot sale, I couldn’t help but feel that my actions were hasty. I suddenly realised how many films I hadn’t yet seen. I wonder if there is time to start again…
I was the tender age of 8 when I first visited my local video shop. I spent hours in this cubbyhole of a store, often asking the video man to play the film for me before actually renting it out.
Soon the local video store closed and along came Blockbuster Video, which became my next hangout. It appeared futuristic with overpriced popcorn in impressive boxes and…unnecessarily bright lighting. Nevertheless its spacious interior drew me in and for the duration of my teenage years the school dinner money saved for Point Horror books also became video rental money.
Titles like Rabid Grannies, Critters, Leprecauhn, The Stuff, Basket Case and The Blob (just to name a few) were childhood favourites.
At Cellar Rentals video lovers made their way upstairs for the screening of the V/H/S film. Vintage popcorn bags and bottled water welcomed viewers for what felt like a real home video ‘cinema’ experience.
In true ‘found-footage’ style, V/H/S is an anthology of horror shorts introduced by a group of unlikable hooligans who stumble across masses of videotapes in a house they have burgled. Their mission is to reclaim one tape in particular, we are never told why, and one by one they watch a selection of tapes that make up the anthology. It’s a decent enough wraparound for such an enterprise.
The anthology opens with a disturbing story, Amateur Night by David Bruckner. A group of wannabe porn stars lure two girls into their hotel room for a night of testosterone-based action. The gimmick here is that the camera is hidden in a pair of spectacles worn by one of the party. In a swift turn of events it soon becomes clear that one of the girls is not who they think she is…in fact she doesn’t appear to be human at all.
Ti West’s (The House of the Devil) Second Honeymoon succeeds well in revealing the tension between a couple who are set on making their relationship work. Unfortunately for them a fortune-telling machine propels them into an unforeseen future, putting an abrupt end to their vacation. Continuing in the vein of fly-on-the-wall ways to die The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (Joe Swanberg) is an interesting twist on the horror trope that is the Skype call. Emily is haunted by a presence in her apartment, her health is failing and she feels unwell. An unpredictable revelation puts an end to what seems like an inexplicable supernatural presence…and gives us a boyfriend who knows a lot more than he’s letting on.
Expect macabre gore with Glenn McQuaid’s Tuesday the 17th. A group of horny adolescents visit a forest notorious for an unsolved tragedy. Used as bait by one of the girls on the trip, each teen is unforgivingly slaughtered by the man in two places at once. Clever CGI (capitalizing on video static and scrambling often associated with old tape) help to create novel scary moments. It is definitely one to watch again for anything missed.
Film ensemble Radio Silence present a captivating finale with 10/31/98.
It’s Halloween and a group of friends are invited to a party. On arrival, they find themselves outside an old mansion. Now inside, the teens are convinced that they’re in a Fun House…except unknowingly to them, floating chairs and moving objects are neither optical illusions nor magic tricks. Eventually they stumble across an occult sacrifice and decide to rescue the female victim. As you’d expect good deeds in horror movies always come to a bad end.
The theme of 10/31/98 is not dissimilar to Amateur Night. Subservient girls become the catalyst for a pandemonium of terror, whilst unleashing irreversible resolutions. Boys beware; we girls are not to be trusted. We will be the death of you.
V/H/S offers murder, the supernatural, sci-fi and… sex. In that regard V/H/S is an all-rounder in the home-movie department with enough scares to warrant a place in your video collection as long as you don’t mind the inevitable all dominating camera shake that ‘found footage’ movies depend upon for their veracity.
The bonus of the evening for me was having the opportunity of meeting Paul McEvoy, one of the founders of Frightfest, and Director Jake West (Evil Aliens), who congratulated me on my blog. He also told me about Frightfest Glasgow which I’m seriously considering attending.
V/H/S proved to be a successful event. I wonder if they will make a sequel called D/V/D.