Checking the credits and- YES! There’s no involvement from my arch-nemesis this time around, so I can sit back and try to enjoy the latest in the anthology series without worrying that Ty West will pop his head around the corner to ruin my film watching experience. It’s a fun little anthology premise and the story wrap-around seems to have a much more cohesive narrative than the previous entry so let’s just keep our fingers crossed, shall we?
The wraparound features a pair of private detectives hired by the mother of a missing teen to check on his welfare. They locate his house, stacked high with video tapes and monitors and other equipment but no sign of the teen. One of the detectives sits to watch the series of tapes, while the other continues to check out the house for any additional clues. The story is generally creepy and the tension builds with each successive tape, and the handheld camera techniques are actually pretty smooth without too much of the “shaky” cam effect so successfully parodied by that one South Park episode. That one cracks me up… and this story actually cracked me up. More on that later, though.
The first story features a character receiving an implant replacement to his left eye. The lead lost his eye is in an accident that never gets a fully fleshed story. He’s seeing phantoms, though and these ghosts seem to have gained the ability to interact with him through the implant as well. It’s a pretty short piece and would have worked better with some additional exposition, but the story in itself works very well. I’m not so sure the high-tech eye implant really does much to further the “VHS” themed narrative, but it was a good story either way.
The second story is my favorite by far. A young man takes to a biking trail for a morning ride only to be attacked by zombies. Yes, I know many people are just going to dismiss this because they know my affinity for zombies but that was actually the least interesting aspect of the story in general. This film take the best advantage of the VHS theme by giving our lead a helmet cam and establishing that he enjoys recording these morning rides. It’s a digital recording but I can really forgive that, because it’s the one video that seems to have the most legitimately “filmed for home use” feel to it. As the lead character goes through his ordeal, we establish who he is and we understand what is happening to him and we are able to slide ourselves into his shoes for a long period of time. There’s a sense of riding along in his head for long moments, living through his experiences, and the end is ultimately the most perfect one that could be imagined. This short made the whole movie worth-while.
The third story is longer- and maybe too long. A group of investigative journalists are doing an in depth piece on a cult in some unnamed Asian or Asian Pacific compound and- I don’t want to spoil anything, but the whole thing sort of builds to a predictable climax and is both the most entertaining and most fiercely annoying “short” in the film. Actually, most of the movie is this short and it’s got the added promise of coming to us from the team that brought us “The Blair Witch Project”… great gory effects, some interesting concepts, but probably one of the single doofiest monsters I’ve ever seen in the last revealing shot. I couldn’t stop laughing and had to stop the film because of how moronically stupid the monster looked. Still, there were momentary sequences and blips throughout the story to give a person some decent nightmares through the night.
The final story is probably the weakest and most overblown. It establishes the first person narrative to be coming from a “doggy-cam” attached to a mini pooch that the family members use to spy on one another and play pranks and all that kind of stuff. Some teens have a slumber party, the dog wanders about with a couple of bits leading up to an alien invasion. Yes, an alien invasion that features a bunch of grey-skinned, thin, creeping “monsters” that pose elaborately as they approach whoever might be dragging the dog along with an eruption of electro-bass audio looped back on itself while too-bright lights flash in the background to frame the aliens in shadowy outline. We get that same jump scare eruption of sound at least five separate times.
My final thoughts on the film are this: it’s not nearly as serious an attempt as the last one. There were some serious scares in the previous entry, an attempt to utilize the restrictive thematic structure to create an interesting dynamic but this one seems to flout those limits and dismiss them at a whim. There’s massive use of digital after-effects in some of the shorts, they don’t tend to utilize an actual VHS recorder in nearly any of the shorts, and nearly every film has some sort of a “punchline” for its finale. They seem to be played for laughs rather than for scares, which is well and good if that’s what you want to sell or buy. It just didn’t seem to be following the narrative established in the previous film in the anthology series. I recommend it for a good Halloween fright flick this season, it’s fun, and there’s a lot worse you could do. The “Ride in the Park” is probably worth the time in and of itself, but it seems to go downhill from there. The wraparound story itself followed the entire structure of the film… it started off strong, it was building a decent tension, and then it finished with what amounted to a punchline that fell a little flat for me. There was a visual effect in this movie that seemed plastic and fake, especially under the lights of the shakey-cam effect we were seeing it.
4 out of 5.