At the peak of the format’s popularity, the found-footage subgenre produced a handful of successful horror franchises. Arguably, The Paranormal Activity franchise was the most lucrative. Though much smaller in scale, the Hell House LLC trilogy produced decent, but diminishing, scares. Courtesy of Shudder, the V/H/S franchise has stepped forwarded as something of a new Halloween tradition. With six movies and two spin-offs to date, Shudder has gotten some unexpected mileage out of its mix of found-footage and the anthology format. In addition, the series has wisely assembled different, up-and-coming directors for each segment. Below is a ranking of the six movies comprising the V/H/S franchise, excluding its feature-length spinoffs.
6 – V/H/S Viral (2014)
Despite a wraparound story that seems better-suited to a viral social media world, V/H/S Viral is widely considered to be the weakest entry of the series. None of the individual segments are terrible – there’s nothing here that would qualify as outright bad. In fact, V/H/S Viral is a remarkably watchable movie from start to finish. But the three segments – as well as the wraparound story – won’t leave much of an impression on you. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s (The Endless) tale of skateboarders vs death cultists, Bonestorm, promises a bit of anarchy. And the segment comes close, but feels like it lacks the substance to justify its length. Of all the V/H/S movies, Viral easily ranks as the least memorable.
5 – V/H/S/99 (2022)
After Shudder surprised horror fans by re-visiting the V/H/S franchise – and making a better-than-expected sequel – V/H/S/99 felt like a small step backwards. There’s no outright downer of a segment. Even the middling stories have enough good stuff to keep this anthology afloat. And ditching the wraparound story keeps things focused. Anyone who appreciates good practical horror effects – or has a lot of nostalgia for the 90s – will enjoy V/H/S/99. Besides, Ozzy’s Dungeon alone warrants a recommendation for fifth entry to the V/H/S franchise. If there’s a dud in V/H/S/99, it’s The Gawkers, which also operates as the ‘sort of’ connecting fiber to the other stories. This American Pie-inspired tale of obnoxious teen boys looking to spy on their attractive new neighbour feels pretty perfunctory – there’s just no surprises here.
4 – V/H/S/85 (2023)
Well, it only took six movies to finally set the found-footage anthology series in the decade where V/H/S was the ruling format. Perhaps the series creators waited a bit too long. While V/H/S/85 is still a remarkably consistent, and good, sequel, like V/H/S/99, it feels like a step down from V/H/S/94. Arguably, Total Copy, the wraparound segment and tabloid news ripoff, is the only bit of this sequel that feels essentially 80s. Aside from a prescient warning about the dangers of technology, TKNOGD, all of the segments shoot for the moon with plenty of gore and gonzo twists. Both No Wake and Ambrosia offer particularly dark and nasty surprises. Everything here is good, but it’s hard to see where the V/H/S franchise goes next.
3 – V/H/S (2012)
A great collection of directors, a unique premise for an anthology movie, and mostly consistent segments alongside a creepy wraparound story, V/H/S is much better than its Rotten Tomatoes’ tomato-meter score. David Bruckner’s (The Ritual, The Night House, Hellraiser) story of a succubus turning the tables on predatory young men is the kind of wickedly dark fun you expect from anthology horror. In a surprising developing, Ti West’s (House of the Devil) Second Honeymoon is a bit underwhelming as is Joe Swanberg’s The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger. Neither of these segments is bad, or even weak. But they feel more like momentary diversions. Fortunately, Tuesday the 17th and 10/31/98 are both scary and innovative examples of horror.
2 – V/H/S/94 (2021)
Courtesy of Bloody Disgusting and Shudder, the V/H/S franchise found itself revived two Halloween seasons ago. In spite of its belated status, V/H/S/94 is a surprisingly edgy entry to the franchise. On one had, V/H/S/94 saddles itself with the weakest wraparound story of the bunch. It barely serves much purpose. As a result, the segments feel like there’s less holding them together. Dark humor and wickedly transgressive imagery propel the sequel past V/H/S and V/H/S Viral. Like V/H/S 2, there’s more consistency in quality across the story segments. But it’s Tjahjanto’s insane The Subject that pushes the limits and, ultimately, stands head and shoulders above everything else in the sequel.
1 – V/H/S 2 (2013)
Head and shoulders above the other movies in the series, V/H/S 2 is a case of bringing together the right mix of talent and settling into the concept. As compared to most horror anthology movies, you won’t find a weak segment among the bunch. Here, each story feels fresh, frightening, and compelling. Adam Wingard’s (Godzilla vs Kong) Phase I Clinical Trials is jam-packed with effective jump scares, while Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park puts a refreshing spin on zombies. Perhaps Jason Eisener’s Slumber Party Alien Abduction is the sequel’s weakest bit, and it’s still wickedly fun. And V/H/S 2 has the series’ best segment – Safe Haven. When Timo Tjahjanto (May the Devil Take You) and Gareth Evans (Apostle) join forces you wouldn’t expect less than this wildly bloody tale of a demon-worshiping cult.