Review: V/H/S/85 offers some of the most deranged moments in the franchise’s recent history, but occasionally loses steam as a product of half-baked concepts. David Bruckner and Mike P. Nelson stand out as the directors that utilize the form the best.
The V/H/S anthology franchise has become a staple in my October viewing schedule ever since Shudder chose to reboot the horror series a few years back. Under new guidance, these movies focus on a single year to categorize their short films that take place inside the runtime. It started with V/H/S/94 harkening back to 1994, and last year’s V/H/S/99 that similarly nodded to 1999. Now, they’re going back as far as they ever have, to 1985 with V/H/S/85 – a period headlined by video nasties and bludgeoning slashers.
V/H/S/85 is the strangest installment since its move to Shudder as the structure feels as loose as ever. The wraparound story is told by David Bruckner, who uses the runway to tell fragments of a story about an entity named Rory that watches too much TV. It’s unclear whether the following short films occupy the minutes of Rory watching television, but it’s not hard to infer the possibility given the outlandish and absurd contents of each entry.
And your mileage may vary for each of the fragments in this V/H/S/85 anthology. Expanding beyond Bruckner’s framing narrative, Mike P. Nelson (2021’s Wrong Turn reboot) kicks off this new entry with the first of a two-parter where a gang of young adults travel beyond warning signs to a remote lake for the weekend. It inevitably turns south in a pretty aggressive and unrelenting way, offering the most realistic gore and terror of any of these short movies.
Nelson announces himself as a filmmaker to watch moving forward because his section feels so authentic to start – before the inevitable supernatural twist that leaves the first half as a cliffhanger. The second half of his work feels equally unforgiving, but certainly could’ve been stretched into a feature length film and given the arch of a full movie – it feels underbaked to a fault, which is not a critique of the filmmaker, rather a critique of the medium and form that it’s being told in. I wanted more from this segment, and it doesn’t pay off after the initial premise is revealed.
In reverse, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s (Bingo Hell) natural disaster piece God of Death takes too long to develop, often feeling like a generic Rec remake. Guerrero does use the 1985 timeframe the best, using the real earthquake in Mexico City during that year to set the events of her story. It takes a demonic turn as the short film wraps up, but the final product could’ve been much more effective if it shaved off a few minutes and tightened the first leg of the movie.
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Next is Natasha Kermani’s (Imitation Girl, Lucky) TKNOGD, where a woman uses performance theater to show the possible advances in virtual reality technology. It’s easy to see how prescient the material is here, but much like Guerrero’s story, it feels thin besides a bloody, effective final few minutes. Chivonne Michelle is the main actress in this segment, and the quality hangs heavily on her ability to sell the terror. It works in most moments but doesn’t stick the landing in a very memorable way.
Scott Derrickson rounds out the collection with Dreamkill, offering an equally muddied segment similar to V/H/S/85’s more underdeveloped stories. The effective moments are obvious – Derrickson can stage and film a home invasion as well as anyone in Hollywood – but when this entry tries to answer the questions it establishes, the segment gets too bogged down in the technicalities. A profound police procedural this is not.
But then Bruckner’s framing narrative reaches its climax, where a slimy, monstrous figure wreaks havoc on the scientists studying it. Despite many issues I may have had with some of V/H/S/85’s more uneven segments, it’s all worth it for the final few moments, where the blob uses the bodies for one eerie final image – one that’ll surely stick with me as we get more and more of these movies.
So despite V/H/S/85 feeling like one of the franchise’s more hit-or-miss entries, the film is remarkably freaky and sadistic in its best moments. Mike P. Nelson deserves some praise for his work, even if it loses steam by splitting into two separate segments. Bruckner also delivers some of the film’s more unique and suspenseful elements. It probably won’t win over any nonbelievers or skeptics, but fans will be in the bag for it.
Where to watch V/H/S/85: Shudder
V/H/S/85 Film Cast and Credits
Jordan Belfi as Dr. Spratling
Miller Tai as Dr. Newell
K.T. Thangavelu as Dr. Porter
Alex Galick as Rob
Evie Bair as Ruth
Mike Lester as James
Chivonne Michelle as Ada
Gabriela Roel as Lucia
James Ransone as Bobby
Freddy Rodríguez as Detective Wayne
Dashiell Derrickson as Gunther
Composer: Stephen Lukach
V/H/S/85 movie on IMDb
V/H/S/85 movie on Letterboxd