The odds aren’t right for “V/H/S” – that is, it’s the even-numbered entries in this horror omnibus franchise that have been by far the best yet. As No. 5, “V/H/S/99” sadly maintains that pattern, offering an uninspired extension to the series that was restored after a seven-year hiatus with last fall’s “V/H/S/94”.
That episode was mostly uneven, but the better segments were great. Nothing stands out here: the best episodes are only good enough, and the worst are just exhausting. Nevertheless, this brand has proven the appeal of genre streaming platform Shudder, where it should do well when it launches on October 20 in various territories. Set in 1999—the tail end of the titular format’s commercial reign, since DVDs were introduced two years earlier—it’s unlikely the film will be the last in the series.
If this “Q/H/S” has a binding theme, it looks like bullying. All but the last story contain cruel jokes usually perpetrated by insensitive youths who end up receiving extreme compensation for the deeds they dutifully videotaped.
Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” kicks things off with RACK, a Blink-182-esque pop punk band of cheeky skateboarders and ersatz rebels filming their antics for theoretical online viewers. Their latest stunt is breaking into the ruins of an underground art collective/performance space. It closed after being gutted three years earlier by a “freak fire” that claimed the life of Bitch Cat, another punk-style band.
The others mock lovable drummer Ankur (Keanush Tafresi)’s fears about desecrating an actual grave, but they don’t laugh when pissed off dead rockers take revenge. Levin has roots in music videos, effectively recreating their late ’90s aesthetic. Like most horror movie and rock shotgun weddings, however, this one ends up dumb rather than scary.
More successfully creepy is “Suicide Bid,” from feature veteran Johannes Roberts (of the recent sequels “Resident Evil” and “The Strangers”). Needy freshman Lily (Ally Ioannides) is inexplicably desperate to be accepted into the worst “mean girl” sorority on campus. She thus submits to the “test” of being buried alive in a coffin, which would be unpleasant enough without the addition of a ghostly local legend. There are few surprises in this story, but it is effective enough to be considered best-in-class here.
Fans of producer-DJ-rapper Flying Lotus (né Steven Ellison) and his 2017 directorial debut “Kuso” (which drew attention at Sundance due to his audience failure) can hand that award to his segment instead. Someone else will likely have the opposite reaction. “Ozzy’s Dungeon” is the name of a Nickelodeon-style game show where kids run an icky, slimy, not-too-sanitary “obstacle course” to make their wish come true.
After contestant Donna (Amelia Ann) is permanently injured in front of the camera, her family (led by Sonya Eddy’s mother) kidnaps the smarmy host (Steven Ogg) and subjects him to a more sadistic “competition.” Ellison’s sensibility is fully present, with a lot of emphasis on bodily fluids amid an overall, rather pernicious mix of the cartoonish and grotesquely scatological. As in ‘Kuso’, its original soundtrack offers an invention of a considerably easier-to-take kind.
We’re back at skateboarders trying to make like “Jackass” in Tyler MacIntyre’s “The Gawkers,” in which a quartet of chubby suburban teenage boys take a break from recording themselves to spy on what’s too hot to be true new neighbor next door (Emily Sweet). Unfortunately, she has a secret that will reveal their great misfortune. This miniature does not lack energy, but offers nothing memorable in concept or incident.
Probably the most ambitious segment is the final, “To Hell and Back” by Vanessa & Joseph Winter, who made their two-feature directorial debut earlier this year with the above-average found-footage horror film “Deadstream.” With a similar comedic slant, this feuding besties has hired Nate (Archelaus Crisanto) and Troy (co-helmer Joseph) to film some neighbors’ occult rite on the eve of Y2K. Unfortunately, it’s a little too successful to suck them into an “other realm” much like a smaller circle of Hades. There they run screaming at and fleeing various gory perils, aided somewhat by a not-unfriendly, semi-demonic sprite named Mabel (Melanie Stone). It’s a game-enough mix of the icky and antique. But there’s not much story power in it as our protagonists encounter one grotesque creature after another, causing them to say “Arrgh!” can go.
Probably the best thing about “V/H/S/99” are the wraparound sequences, which are funny stop-motion animations of toy soldiers. Ostensibly created by the bullied brother (Ethan Pogue) of one of “The Gawkers” before the camera is snatched from him, and also directed by MacIntyre from that segment, they are irrelevant to the main stories, yet offer moments of quirky charm. .
Creature prosthetics, makeup, CGI, and other effects elements are decent in a movie whose other major design contributions are somewhat limited by the conceit of hand-held video camera shots.
Mediocre as it is, this franchise entry still ranks several cuts above Glenn Danzig’s infamous “Verotika” (also on Shudder) in horror anthologies. That doesn’t take away from the fun of hearing vintage Danzig song “Long Way Back From Hell” under the credits, though.