I can only think of a single female cast member whose tits I did not see in the midnight showing of V/H/S. Friday, September 29th, was the first 11:59 PM showing of the Milwaukee Film Festival‘s Cinema Hooligante category: the brain child of the organization’s Programming Director, Angela Catalano. Tailored to midnight thrill seekers, opening weekend’s late night offerings were devoted to the macabre. The following night a collection of “sex, horror, gore, comedy” shorts were delivered in succession for 80 minutes.

V/H/S offers 6 stories of horror tied together by the adventures of 5 D-bags who may or may not deserve what is coming to them. I am a wimp when it comes to these genres. Paranormal gave me nightmares for a week. However, I lost no sleep over V/H/S‘ campy mechanics and uninspired narrative.

Each vignette was produced by a new team, and each story is supposedly “more horrifying than the last.” The victim-held camera ties all 6 stories together, as well as its audience: 5 angry young men that like to assault women on-camera for money. The use of the camera itself is more inventive with some directors than others, but every interpretation adds a fresh take to the “Shaky-cam” method introduced in the Horror classic The Blair Witch Project. Instead of being a refreshing, the stories are mostly uninventive and poorly delivered.

A group of guys is sent to a house by a mysterious, anonymous employer to get a video tape. Upon arriving, they find a mostly empty house with several video tapes inside. They are one by one left alone in a room with a dead body to watch the latest video tape, while the remaining guys search the house for various things. The idea of watching a video tape alone in a pitch black room, with your back to a dead body is about as scary as this movie gets. While that’s pretty damn scary, it’s ultimately unimpressive. One by one, the dudes mysteriously disappear until the less-than climactic ending.

Party time.

With moments of humor, a healthy use of gore, and the introduction of a non-traditional monster in Horror films, the first video tape is one of the best. It is also the most gratuitous- which suits the plot. The characters are fairly sympathetic- 3 bros that want to make a porno. Their night starts with a pair of video camera eyeglasses and a lot of drinks at a few different clubs to find girls. While the idea of filming a woman having sex with you without her knowledge is both illegal and utterly disgusting, the 3 guys all remind us of someone we know. It’s easy to forgot their reprehensible objective. The ending gets a little corny on the special effects, but this is by far the most successfully directed, acted, and filmed. Plus, you see a penis, so maybe there’s hope for an equality of privates in Horror.

Story number two is about a young couple going out West for a vacation. The two appear to be an unconsummated 19 year old couple nervously going on a first trip. However, according to IMDB, they were supposed to be a married couple going on a second honeymoon. The lack of clarity doesn’t stop there. This story ends in death, lesbian make outs, and an anti-climax with a lame plot twist. Moving on.

Our 3rd tale is about 4 teenagers going into the woods. All of them die. The ending is almost interesting, and the killer is a little ingenious, but the short is ultimately unfulfilling.

The penultimate video tape is by far the most ingenious. Taking place on a series of video chat sessions, the characters are endearing, the story is a twisted take on a classic ghost story, and the ending is not only surprising, but humorous in a dark way. My only complaint with this story are the tits. Don’t get me wrong, they were admirable breasts. However, by highlighting the sexual part of a web-cam long distance relationship first, and last, the women in it are marginalized. I understand that tits are a “part” of America’s Horror genre. That doesn’t mean I think it’s an awesome part. It’d maybe be different if you saw the guy’s boner, but HEY I’M JUST SAYING GENDER EQUALITY.

Speaking of gender equality, the final video tape is all about bros. The haunted house story offered contains the same problem most stories in this Horror subgenre suffer from: too much scary shit. The ticking clock at the end is the most climactic this story gets, and the plot’s mix of ghost, cult, and urban legend traditions was uninspired. The characters were endearing. It did not pull the piece into a better story.

Rotten Tomatoes currently has V/H/S at a whopping 75%. Maybe I don’t “get” it. While a promising offering: 6 short films in a variety of styles, V/H/S should have been a better showing. There is hope for a film like this in the future, but we just aren’t there, yet.

The Milwaukee Film Festival has several indie Horror flicks this year- including Dead Weight, a local treasure. I’m personally invested in this one, as I went to college near Wausau, the plot’s objective location (now THAT is scary). It’s gotten excellent reviews, and while not playing again at the MKE Film Fest, there are future showings at several festivals. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Beyond the Black Rainbow, an “homage to Kubrick and Cronenberg,” playing twice the next 2 weeks, and Citadel, an Irish Horror offering showing twice this week.

Next weekend’s midnight shows will be devoted to black comedy. Eddie- the Sleepwalking Cannibal plays Friday night, October 5th. Klown plays the next night.

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