The Film: V/H/S: Viral

The Director(s): Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorehead, Marcel Sarmiento & Nacho Vigalondo

The Writers: See Above

The Actors: Emmy Argo, Justin Welborn, many, many people…

Running Time: 97 min

US Release Date: October 23rd, 2014 (VOD), November 21, 2014 (Theaters)

The VHS-of-it-all gets mostly dumped in V/H/S: Viral, the third entry in the found footage, horror anthology series. But that’s cool, because this is the slickest, most entertaining film in the series. The pretense that what you’re watching has been natively captured and presented without comment by the “finders” of the footage is all but gone and that frees directors like Nacho Vigalonda to stretch his legs with an outlandish sci-fi riff that blends Amblin-esque cleverness with Frank Hennenlotter’s penchant for mutant genitals. Much as I love a found footage film that suspends my disbelief, I can’t argue with the inherent value of a venus flytrap vagina.

This time, the wrap-around story is about a YouTube-savvy young man who wants to film something that will go viral and the girlfriend who puts up with him. One night, a low-speed chase between the cops and an ice cream truck rolls through the guy’s neighborhood. What at first seems like a great opportunity to capture some carnage for his subscribers soon turns into a race through the streets of Los Angeles to find his missing girlfriend.

For a segment that’s meant to tie these disparate stories together, it’s okay. As Drew McWeeny pointed out in his review of V/H/S 2, there’s an increasingly apocalyptic nature to these shorts and the wraparound (entitled “Vicious Circles”) does yeoman’s work to provide a purpose to not just this installment, but the franchise as a whole. To that end, it’s fine, but easily the least interesting segment of the four.

The first “real” story, “Dante The Great,” signals a major departure for the kind of stories we’re used to seeing from this series. It’s a mockumentary about the titular Dante, who finds a magical cape that was once owned by Harry Houdini (before he got rid of it out of fear of the thing’s power) and becomes a mega-celebrity for his mind bending  magic shows. That’s right, ANOTHER anthology segment about a magical cape (see: The House That Dripped Blood)! The magic, of course, comes at a price and as Dante’s fame grows, so too do his homicidal tendencies.

I was prepared to dismiss this one outright, mostly for stretching the concept of found footage to the breaking point (the coverage of the action scenes goes from credibly “found” to traditional filmmaking in the blink of an eye), but it’s just too much damn fun. There’s a bit of Portal/Jumper physics introduced and the result is delightful. More so than the wraparound, this sets a tone for the rest of the film, establishing the emphasis on gory playfulness over dread or scares. In that way, this segment (and film) has a lot more in common with the moralistic anthology entries we’re used to seeing out of Tales From The Crypt. The price of fame and whatot. Still, there are nice ties to Lovecraftian elder ones (I think I heard Dante say “Shoggoth”) that make a solid case for a cape being something you might fear. As solid a case as can be made, that is.

The second segment, directed by Nacho Vigalonda, is a series highlight. It’s a parallel universe story and like I mentioned earlier, there’s a slick, homespun nature to the sci-fi premise that used to be commonplace when Amblin was still a going concern. The symmetrical storytelling is nailed here (right down to the ending), as two identical inventors swap places for 15 minutes to see how similar their lives are; obviously, they’re not and the slow rollout of information is clever, hilarious and just on the right side of disgusting. Someone at a major studio is going to watch this and wonder why they haven’t dumped a big bucket of cash in Nacho’s lap. Hopefully.

The third and final segment is about a bunch of skateboarders who drive to Tijuana to finish their skate video, only to accidentally engage in a blood ritual. That’s it! It’s simple and it delivers on the stoned, adolescent humor of the kids before getting appropriately wet when a Mexican death cult enters the fray. There’s a lot to like, from “gas-money kid” to using M-1000s to crack zombie skulls. Not much else to say here. It’s good too!

This was actually the first V/H/S film I’d been able to see in the theater and it was a far more communal experience than I’d expected. The audience was completely warmed up by the first segment. Once the killer cape started eating a screaming woman, it became clear that this is a film best experienced with a crowd. That’s not where I pictured the franchise going, particularly with its “final” entry, but I’m totally happy to have been proven wrong.