V/H/S/85 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th April 2024).
The Film

The latest entry in a horror franchise of diminishing returns goes faux-analogue with V/H/S/85. Having long since abandoned the drawn-out but actually effective wraparound of the first two entries in which inquisitive parties (burglars or private detectives) stumble across a collection of forbidden tapes, this one uses "Total Copy" from David Bruckner (The Night House) as interstitial segments like a dubbed over tape or switching TV channels to show fragments of a PBS-style documentary on a scientific experiment involving a child-like humanoid figure that may be an alien or an older form of life and the disaster that resulted from the attempts of university biologist Dr. Spratling (Jordan Belfi) to communicate with it, educating it about their culture through television, and his mistaken belief that its ability to physically emulate what it sees as an attempt to communicate back. This potentially interesting episode might have been successful at feature-length as a faux-documentary or a series of video diary entries but it is never fully-developed, the final transformation is underwhelming, and it all ends on a joke image.

"No Wake" by Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn) starts out like a melding of Creepshow 2's "The Raft" and the first V/H/S' "Tuesday the 17th" as a camper van full of college students ignore "no trespassing" and "no swimming" signs at an out of the way lake to their peril; this time around, however, the killer is not slasher movie "glitch" or sentient oil slick, and the body count actually declines… The story is suited to the short form and the director recognizes that his characters need not be more than two-dimensional mannequins for prosthetic gore appliances, but its open-ended resolution would have been more satisfying than the decision to tie it into another entry.

In "God of Death" by "La Muñeca del Terror" Gigi Saul Guerrero (México Bárbaro) – who also has a cameo – a news cameraman (Satanic Hispanics' Ari Gallegos) documents his rescue from Mexico City's 1985 8.0 magnitude earthquake, including the discovery of its cause as he and the rescue party descend into the bowels of the collapsed TV station building farther and farther into the Earth. Taking real-life inspiration and incorporating footage from a true catastrophe may be in poor taste – more on that in the disc's audio commentary – but the short mainly drags in the space between the quake and the climax with a lot of bellowing and the POV camera always looking away when a character gets impaled or crushed by debris. The faux-news footage though does conjure up childhood memories of surfing past Univision in the eighties and nineties.

"TKNOGD" from Natasha Kermani (Lucky) takes the form of a cable access videotaping of an avant-garde theater performance as Ada Lovelace (Shaft's Chivonne Michelle) rebukes her audience for killing the gods of nature in favor of the "God of Technology" before donning a virtual reality suit and "eye phones" to coax it into corporeal form with an incantation. This is probably the best story, not so because of the combination of primitive-style computer imagery and practical effects but more so because up until the effects climax it really is a one woman show with Michelle very believably aping avant-garde performances pieces without descending into parody, saving the titters for the ending.

Nelson returns with "Ambrosia" in which a goofy family gathering for guest of honor Ruth (Evie Bair) is no mere birthday or graduation celebration but her induction into the family's inner circle "The Seven" by means that tie into the events of "No Wake" just hours before. More of a setup/punchline joke of a short, the piece does at least set up a few possibilities of where it might go before its reveal.

Finally in "Dreamkill" director Scott Derrickson invokes the imagery of Sinister – along with Un chien andalou – but unfettered by an MPAA R-rating as police detective (Planet Terror's Freddy Rodríguez) recognizes a crime scene of a mutilated woman from a videotape sent to the station a week before; the problem is… the killing only took place a few hours before. When another tape turns up at the precinct detailing the first person perspective of a man murdered with a carving knife from the previous murder days before the actual crime, he finds himself confronted with a suspect (The Black Phone's Dashiell Derrickson whose goth persona is more distracting than him being the director's son) who claims that the videos recorded off of television are projections of his own nightmares. Despite claims by the suspect's forensic video technician father (Ken Park's James Ransone) that his son has always had premonitions, the detective cannot believe the evidence of his own eyes until the next tape comes giving him the chance to catch a killer with the prime suspect already in custody. "Dreamkill" is the most "developed" of the shorts narratively, but that is not saying much; however, Derrickson knows just how much he can leave to the viewer, and this is one that probably would not have been better expanded to a feature. The past entries of the series have been more miss than hit, and V/H/S/85 is no exception, but perhaps more so than the others, the hazy sense of dullness with moments of interest perhaps best suits an independent horror film set in the age of shot-on-video horrors.


Shot on various HD and DV formats – as well as some Super 8 film transferred to video – with the analog video effects sometimes simulated digitally and sometimes by transferring the video to VHS and then recapturing digitally, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen – most shorts are in pillarboxed 1.33:1 while some are in 1.78:1 with no explanation – Blu-ray of V/H/S/85 is not a demo disc by any means due to the sources in which fine detail is sacrificed to fake and real video noise, clipped highlights, and crushed blacks… and it is doubtful the filmmakers would have it any other way.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is utilized differently by each filmmaker but the surrounds are generally always active for either jump scares or just giving the scoring breathing space. Dialogue is centered as expected and there are some directional effects in the front channels rather than the more monophonic experience that might have been more realistic for the period. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the English dialogue while the Spanish dialogue of the Guerrero short is translated with burnt-in subtitles.


The film is accompanied by a rowdy audio commentary by producer Josh Goldbloom, directors David Bruckner, Mike P. Nelson, Gigi Saul Guerrero, and Natasha Kermani, and writers Zoe Cooper, Evan Dickson and C. Robert Cargill, moderated by Bloody Disgusting's "Boo Crew" podcast – presumably recorded at least partially via Zoom but with all participants present for the entirety of the feature rather than coming in for their own shorts – in which Bruckner and Dickson discussing the initial concept of having the boy transform during each segment in a manner referencing famous transformations sequences of eighties horror films as well as discussing the low-fi manner in which they achieved some of the earlier transformation stages, Nelson discusses the gestation of his idea and the challenge of shooting at a location that could not be closed for filming, Guererro recalls the 1985 earthquake as a national trauma and viral videos for the short offending people who thought it was either a documentary or reenactment (as well as how the actors who had lived through the disaster sometimes needed a moment before takes), Kermani and Cooper describes the initial concept of a suit that consumes its owner and how the "TKNOGD" recalls her own theater background, while Cargill discusses the concept for "Dreamkill" likening recording over a VHS tape repeatedly with the fragmented nature of the dream sequences, as well as Derrickson's fascination with Super 8 and 16mm film. The moderators add little to the discussion other than keeping up the energy with some of the filmmakers prompting each other.

While there are no making-of type featurettes, the disc does offer the uncut Super 8 "Dreamkill" footage (15:46) which comprises all of the filmed footage for the short including multiple takes of practical make-up effects – including the use of different fluids presumably with the knowledge that some additional grading would be done in post – while we also get the uninterrupted "Total Copy" (16:48) which is easier to follow but less satisfying as a self-contained short. Least satisfying is the uninterrupted "No Wake/Ambrosia" (29:18) since it pretty much just lops away the shorts and other footage in between.


The past entries of the series have been more miss than hit, and V/H/S/85 is no exception, but perhaps more so than the others, the hazy sense of dullness with moments of interest perhaps best suits an independent horror film set in the age of shot-on-video horrors.


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