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V/H/S: Viral | Review

Headcleaner: VHS Series Gets Third Installment Blues

VHS Viral PosterPerhaps after this third installment this franchise can enter the same void for the format which it’s named, as this is by far the least thematically inventive anthology of the trio. A quintet of five up and coming horror directors spackle this latest omnibus, once loosely geared to tickle our nostalgic fancy for the retired home video format from an era where gritty and scary films used to be more prolific.

Interweaving between its three sordid tales is the wraparound segment, “Vicious Circles,” from director Marcel Sarmiento, better known as the helmer of “D is for Dog” from the first The ABCs of Death film and his feature, Deadgirl. Beginning with a tense teenage couple, whereby the young male filmmaker stumbles upon a high speed Los Angeles chase and uses the opportunity to snag some YouTube footage that will make him famous, we continually revisit the couple to find that some kind of vague karmic collusion is going on with groups of people exploiting the misery of others for their own gain, which, of course, is a predicament that goes viral. While this is the only portion of this franchise entry to remotely deal with this motif, it’s also the least effective, lacking in any real kind of cohesive design both as a standalone segment and as a connection between the other films. One wishes Sarmiento had been commissioned to hone his own standalone segment instead.

Gregg Bishop, perhaps the least noted name of the group, directs “Dante the Great,” which explores the fantastic achievements of a famed new magician (Justin Welborn) that apparently has supernatural forces when he wears a special cloak. This leads to madness and mayhem, and since the magician insists on filming everything, his tendency to murder his pretty young assistants comes back to haunt him. Feeling like the first segment of a “Tales From the Crypt” episode, Bishop’s exercise doesn’t seem as complete as it could, actually rather hampered by the insistence of this digital footage p.o.v.

Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo returns to the time travel themes that dominated his first film, Timecrimes (2007) with his segment, ‘Parallel Monsters.” Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron), an inventor, builds a portal to a parallel world, which opens to a universe that’s exactly like his own. He trades places with the Alfonso on the other side of the door and films it, an experience that quickly turns out to be a big mistake as it turns out the other Alfonso and wife Marta (Marian Alvarez) are into some pretty extreme sexual practices.

The last segment, “Bonestorm,” is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose feature debut, Spring, has opened to incredibly positive reviews at its Toronto Int. Film Festival premiere. Basically a group of skateboarders travel to Tijuana and ignore a bunch of obvious signs that something is awry as they skate past a bloody faced woman situated near the peculiar looking signs etched in the pavement where they’re flopping around. Zombie attack and shootouts ensue.

While the other two VHS installments had their share of forgettable segments, they also had fun little bits, like David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night,” and Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven.” Arriving now at the internet age, where amateur footage is equally unsightly as the home videos of yore, perhaps we can lay this theme to rest and invent another.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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