Welcome to Horror Movie Month here at Late to the Theater! Once a year we focus on one of our absolute favorite things, horror movies! For the entire month of October we’ll review at least two movies a week, some old, some new, and usually fitting into a weekly theme. So pop the corn, pour yourself a glass of whatever, and come along for the ride! I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers!
This week’s theme is one coined by dear departed Roger Ebert: it’s Dead Teenager Week! So strip down to your skivvies and dive into the moonlit water with me! I totally got into my dad’s liquor cabinet and stole some of his beers, and the kids from the next school over are meeting us down by the lake where Old Man Crumbles was last seen fishing before he killed that busload of nuns with an axe…or something…
Dead Teenager Movie: Generic term for any movie primarily concerned with killing teenagers, without regard for logic, plot, performance, humor, etc. Often imitated; never worse than the “Friday the 13th” sequels.
From Ebert’s Guide
Now, Ebert was being a bit unfair on makers of so-called Dead Teenager movies. There are some fantastically good horror movies involving teenagers that are well-acted and explore some pretty fascinating sociopolitical and psychosexual territory while still catering to the ‘cheap thrills’ desire of seeing nubiles wandering around in the altogether. You can’t blame Nightmare on Elm Street for inspiring a slew of sub-par imitators, after all. And exploiting teenaged audiences has been going on for a good long while, as evinced by films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the like in the 50s. Still, Ebert was writing about a very specific subset of movies involving unsupervised and severely underclothed teenagers being picked off one by one by psychokillers, so it is to that subset I dedicate today’s entry.
V/H/S, which I erroneously attributed to Netflix and did actually premier at Sundance in 2012, is an anthology of found footage films depicting violence and supernatural incidents. The framing device is a group of ‘viral pranksters’ who run around being assholes and then selling their videos on the internet. I take a dim view of their pranks because they all involve running up to attractive women, yanking their clothes off, laughing and zeroing in on the women’s exposed bodies while the latter scream and try to fight them off. When they aren’t stripping strangers, they are filming themselves breaking into houses and smashing windows.
I’m going to take you on a fabulous trip of disbelief and surprise, no doubt, when I tell you that women’s roles in this film are somewhat less than enlightened. They are either crying, passive victims or psychokillers and monsters. If you think someone is going to buck the trope, you will be disappointed. Also, there are bros. My god, so many bros. Some horror movies are so visceral your imagination takes the raw visual elements in front of you and extrapolates other sensory input – in a good horror movie, the wind blows and you can almost feel it, or almost smell the iron scent of blood, or feel the punches land in a fight to the death. In this movie you can almost smell the Red Bull and Axe body spray as the bros in each vignette go about their business.
The Framing Device
As mentioned above, the framing device that connects the anthologies is a story about some viral pranksters who pull hilarious stunts and sell the videos on the internet. Since I’m the kind of nerd who played violin in high school and now keep a film blog, I’m not really the audience for their pranks.
They receive a request from a fan of theirs who promises a big payday if the gang breaks into a particular house and steals a VHS tape–one that is apparently somewhat legendary in its content. Why on Earth they are still using analog when digital is better quality, more easily stored, and more easily hidden is never really explained, but there I can’t be too hard on the film as it evokes a nostalgia for those days – the blue screen with PLAY on it, the sounds of the drivers engaging the cassette wheels…ahhh. Takes me back!
While exploring the huge, tape-filled house (and making enough noise to –ha ha– raise the dead) they find the owner…expired, and sitting in a chair in front of a tv with snow on it (remember snow?!). As one, they decide to explore the house (not thinking about that now they are entering a crime scene, tampering with it, and leaving evidence everywhere, apparently). One guy is volunteered to sit down and watch the tapes scattered on the floor in order to figure out which one they are looking for while the others search the house. He loads a tape into the carriage, and thence begins the other vignettes.
Amateur Night was probably the hardest for me to watch, so I’m glad it went first and was out of the way. A trio of bros order special glasses off the net with a tiny hidden camera so they can film sexual exploits with women. They head out to a bar to pick up some chicks, and bring them back to the hotel room to Get Busy.
The trio bring two girls back to the room – one is party girl Lisa, who is already half in the bag when they meet her and proceeds to pass out before anything happens. I will give the movie one Good Human Gold Star by having one character point out to the other ‘Nah, you can’t have sex with her when she’s passed out.’ I forget the exact verbiage but at least that happened. Although it was probably because they wanted loud, pornstar type sex, now I think of it. GOLD STAR REVOKED.
The other girl is strange, whisper-voiced Lily, who reminds me of the ghost-witch woman from As Above So Below. Lily willingly came with them and seems a bit…off. I am pretty proud to say I called what was going to happen – at least the destination if not the journey, anyway.
After the screaming and carnage is over with, we check back in with the pranksters.
The second vignette documents the second honeymoon of Sam and Stephanie, a couple who barely seemed old enough to have a first honeymoon let alone a second one, but I’m old so I’m probably just grouchy. They are happy enough, although at one point Sam tries to pressure Stephanie into letting him film her undressing, which she pointedly rebuffs. I really liked that moment, as it was indicative of the kinds of disagreements that happen behind closed doors and gave their otherwise flat relationship some depth. It’s hard to stand up to a loved one in those situations, and I applauded the movie for approaching such a sensitive topic.
I ought to have known. Please see my earlier comment concerning how all the women are either victims, psychokillers, or monsters.
Tuesday the 17th
Road trip! With young people! I am ancient.
Three friends are heading to a forested, secluded spot with their new friend Wendy. As the trip spools out, Wendy acts weirder and weirder, and in the grand old tradition of tech horror movies that I just made up, there are some fantastically creepy shots of dead teenagers spliced into the film. It was kind of a shame that everyone dies, as this group were my favorite of the anthology characters.
The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
In this vignette, a young couple communicating through Skype talk their way through strange things happening in the woman’s apartment. I found this one upsetting too; less because of the creepy events than the boyfriend’s bizarre suggestions, none of which involved encouraging his girlfriend Emily to CALL THE POLICE or MOVE. Forget the horror elements, the real villain here was gaslighting. Seriously, Emily. You can, and should, do better.
The Framing Vehicle – Conclusion
The house-invading bros story comes to a close. With blood and screaming.
In the last story, we have a group of bros in search of a Halloween party. In the days before smartphones, it isn’t inconceivable that a group of people would go wandering far and wide in search of their destination, get lost, and have a spooky adventure; what does stretch credibility is how far they are willing to go to convince themselves that the giant, empty, well-lit house bereft of Halloween decorations is totally hiding a party somewhere inside. The bros wander throughout the Victorian mansion, which reminded me of a ghost tour I took in Savannah, certain that they are being set up for a scary surprise. Naturally weird shit starts popping up – creepy little kids appearing, hands on the walls, arms waving where arms shouldn’t be, etc. I thought the effects and scares were very effective, honestly.
Pretty soon someone finds a door to the attic, and things just go downhill from there.
So that was V/H/S! I read that during screening at a film festival, two people fainted. I actually laughed when I read that, not in a snarky way (although I don’t believe it, either), but because it reminded me of the old pranks that filmmakers like William Castle pulled on audiences back in the day. Skeletons on wires would float down from the ceiling, electrodes were attached to movie seats to give people a shock, and some studios would pay for an ambulance to park outside ‘in case any ladies fainted.’ Part of me is delighted by that, and the part of me wonders what sort of deep psychological scars one would carry away from the experience.
Thanks for reading! Join us again later in the week for a romp through a depressing council flat in thriller, The Forgotten. Have a great day!