Improved Frequencies: Sequel to Found Footage Anthology Film an Improved Bag of Goodies
While last year’s horror anthology, VHS, was an entertaining enough horror film compilation featuring work from some of the brightest new names working in the genre, it featured a rather convoluted unifying structure and perhaps a tad too many unremarkable entries. This time around, a sequel, S-VHS (so named for the advanced VHS format which improved luminance and picture quality), brings in some new names (with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett representing the only directors to return from the first venture), less entries, and a somewhat better written framework than its predecessor.
This time around, our unifying framework consists of two private eye investigators who are hired to find a missing college student by the boy’s mother. Convinced he’s most likely just drunk and passed out somewhere, they break into his home and find a creepy set up similar to that found in the house from VHS, where an empty room contains a bunch of blank television monitors with piles of tapes stacked around them. While it appears to be abandoned, Larry (Lawrence Levine) decides to search the house, leaving Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott) to dig through an open laptop and the stacks of VHS, each containing one of the four segments we’re about to see.
The first segment, directed by Wingard and Barrett, also stars Wingard as man that receives an experimental hi-tech eyeball implant. Those that created the implant, however, are monitoring and reviewing everything Herman can see. Of course, nearly immediately he starts seeing ghosts and a young girl from the clinic shows up at his doorstep to inform him that it’s the implant that causes the extra sensory perception. Of the four segments, this unfortunately is the most predictable and uninspired, using a theme done to much better effect in the Pang Bros. successful 2002 film, The Eye (which unfortunately birthed that terrible Jessica Alba headlined 2008 remake).
Next, Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (producer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project) usher in the most comedic segment about a biker that stumbles onto a host of ravenous zombies. While there’s nary a scary moment here, it does make for some highly entertaining (and impressively shot) moments from the POV of the camera attached to our lead zombie protagonist’s bike helmet. Though hungry, he just may have enough humanity left in his infected brain to realize the errors of his ways.
The third segment happens to be the film’s strongpoint, an Indonesian set cult chiller from Gareth Evans (The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto. A group of young filmmakers making a documentary about an insidious and infamous cult deep in an Indonesian jungle are granted exclusive access to the cult’s leader. But once there, the group’s internal conflicts make them lose focus at the most unfortunate moments, and they find they’re about to witness a scared ritual that threatens to unleash a hellish power. Managing to be both funny and creepy, while also the longest segment included, this could very well have been an outstanding feature of its own.
Lastly, Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) helms the final segment, concerning a group of teenagers and their younger siblings left without parental guidance at a lakeside home. While a majority of the segment is spent on the setup, an entertaining bitchy bickering between the younger kids and the older ones, soon we discover there’s something more menacing in the water…and in the sky. Eisener manages to make an entertaining short treatment, filled with impressively shot sequences, mostly from the POV of a camera attached to the family dog’s back.
Overall, S-VHS, is an entertaining throwback to the silly and entertaining horror anthology films of years past. As per usual, it’s a collection that’s still less than the sum of its parts, and while varied, can hardly profess to have something for everyone. Worth the price of admission, however, has to be the Evans segment, which proves the director has the ability to combine style and substance (the latter lacking in his successfully received action flick, The Raid). Fans of the first anthology will most likely enjoy this enjoyable follow-up, but in the pantheon of horror film anthologies, S-VHS may suffer from the same anachronistic quality as the format from which it borrows its title.