In the mid-2000s, the Saw franchise became an annual Halloween tradition. Once box office numbers dwindled, the Paranormal Activity franchise took over from Jigsaw and a new yearly October tradition started. But nothing lasts forever and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension marked the end of the series until Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin skipped a theatrical release due to COVID in 2021. After an initial three-year run from 2012 to 2014, the V/H/S franchise took a hiatus for several years. Now, over the last three years, Shudder has resurrected the found-footage anthology series. In what seems like a new Halloween tradition, V/H/S/85 is out and seems to continue the streak of quality entries for the franchise.
It’s officially October and the V/H/S franchise returns on Shudder with V/H/S/85. Five new stories from horror’s best and upcoming filmmakers take horror fans back to the 1980s. Mexican gods, a bizarre family tradition, virtual reality, a strange lake, and recorded murders that haven’t happened yet come together in a terrifying trip back to the 1980s.
V/H/S/85 a Remarkably Consistent, and Often Gonzo, Horror Anthology
Most horror anthology movies suffer the same problem – wild shifts in consistency from segment to segment. There’s always one bit that drags the pacing to a halt. What’s impressive with V/H/S/85, the sixth movie in the franchise, is just how largely consistent each segment is compared to the next. Director Mike P. Nelson’s (The Domestics, Wrong Turn) opening, No Wake, throws out plenty of misdirection before taking a shocking turn. To a large extent, this story sets the tone for the movie – it’s quick, wildly gory, and shoots for fences in its final moments. Maybe its conclusion feels unfinished, but just be patient. There’s a bit of crossover in some stories.
What’s impressive with V/H/S/85, the sixth movie in the franchise, is just how largely consistent each segment is compared to the next.
God of Death, directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, similarly takes audiences on what feels like a mix of disaster movie and survival horror. Once Guerrero has you thinking you’re watching one story, she switches gears and takes off with a gonzo finale. More spectacular (and practical) gore effects should have diehard horror fans howling. Though it’s less reliant on visceral shock and gore, Nelson’s Ambrosia bristles with dark, uncomfortable humor, which is slowly built up in the short bit. Not surprisingly, Scott Derrickson’s (Black Phone, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) Dreamkill mixes disturbing handheld footage with an interesting supernatural twist. Like the other segments, the gore is plentiful and the twist feels appropriately shocking.
V/H/S/85 Is Consistently Good, But Still Can’t Make the Wraparound Segment Work
Not surprisingly the Total Copy segment, which serves as the framing story, is the weakest part of V/H/S/85. Riffing on the tabloid news shows that characterized the 80s, Total Copy starts off well enough. First, it’s the only bit in this anthology that actually makes use of the 80s setting. There’s also some genuine mystery emerging from the quick snippets of a strange looking humanoid character, Rory, as the ‘narrator’ offers only ambiguous background. However, each successive bit lurches towards what ends up feeling like an inevitable conclusion. It’s not a bad segment – just underwhelming given what it promised. Moreover, the lack of connection to the other segments feels like a missed opportunity.
However, each successive bit lurches towards what ends up feeling like an inevitable conclusion. It’s not a bad segment – just underwhelming given what it promised.
In what’s an uncharacteristically consistent anthology, Natasha Kermani’s (Lucky) TKNOGD veers closest to being the weak link. And that’s not to say that this is a bad segment. Kermani’s addition is trim, never overstays its welcome, and has an appropriately dark sense of humor. Like the other stories in V/H/S/85, TKNOGD also goes for broke with the gore and sheer ‘out there’ quality to the story. Nevertheless, the opening drags, even for a short entry, and never goes anywhere all that exciting. It’s a perfectly fine but otherwise forgettable segment.
V/H/S/85 Continues a Consistently Fun New Halloween Tradition
Now six movies into the series, the V/H/S movies are about as reliable as a horror franchise gets. Maybe the producers are on to something with letting up-and-coming and established horror filmmakers get experimental for 15-20 minute timeslots. On one hand, V/H/S/85 doesn’t really use the 1980s setting for anything other than its tabloid news knockoff wraparound segment. Yet there’s a remarkable consistency to all the segments, which is unusual for a horror anthology. And the segments are absolutely bonkers with blood, gore, and ironic twists. Only the wraparound segment and TKNOGD disappoint with No Wake and Ambrosia standing out. There may be no where else for the series to go, but if this is the last V/H/S movie, it ends things on a high note.