2013 - 96 minutes
Directed (Written) by:
Tape 49 - Simon Barrett (also written by)
Phase I Clinical Trials - Adam Wingard (John Davies)
A Ride in the Park - Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale (Sanchez, Jamie Nash)
Safe Haven - Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto (Evans)
Alien Abduction Slumber Party - Jason Eisener (also written by)
Though it surpasses its predecessor in nearly every way, “VHS 2” isn’t a landmark leap for the franchise. What began as an interesting concept – a collection of found footage horror tales committed to VHS tape – the first film turned into a jumbled, incoherent, overlong endurance test; while the second film has moved up to tolerable and mildly entertaining bit of genre. “VHS 2” is considerably shorter than the first film, wisely cutting the number of stories from 5 to 4, but still can’t overcome inherent problems of the horror anthology.
The framing story loosely holding things together follows two low-rent private investigators (Lawrence Michael Levine and Kelsy Abbott) as they break into a missing college student’s home to have a look around. They find a peculiar setup with TVs stacked on top of each other and VCRs and VHS tapes strewn about. There’s also a cryptic video message from the student on his computer explaining in very little detail what these tapes are and what they do. The female P.I. starts in on viewing the tapes as her partner cases the rest of the house...the first tape she pops in:
Phase I Clinical Trials follows (or, more accurately embeds us into) an accident victim who receives a new type of eye implant that allows him to see more than he bargained for. The eye also includes a camera and a chip that will provide the implanting company data for whatever reason. Nothing very interesting is done with this concept and what starts as a creepy look though someone else’s POV quickly devolves into a ghost story with figures lurking in the darkness. In short – this new eye sees dead people. Easily the weakest of the four segments.
A Ride in the Park adds a bit of gruesome humor to the mix as an avid bike rider with a camera strapped to his helmet is bitten by a crazed zombie. He quickly becomes a member of the undead himself and stalks through the woods to a kid’s birthday party in a cabin. The story is simple and interesting as we see things from the zombie perspective. It’s entertaining, though nothing that lingers. Certainly nothing like director Eduardo Sanchez’s “The Blair Witch Project,” a truly terrifying film that started the whole found footage horror craze.
Things start to pick up in the horror department considerably with Safe Haven, where a filmmaking crew is granted access to a secretive Indonesian cult and their creepy leader. Filmed with documentary cameras as well as ones hidden on the filmmakers, Safe Haven effectively sets up a distinct atmosphere relatively quickly and feels like it stands on its own as a complete story. During filming, the cult has reached their time to “move on” as the filmmakers run through the compound treated to shocking acts of violence in service of a greater good and deeply nefarious plot. Some disturbing moments and images in this one; by far the most successful short film until a tonally strange ending.
The final short is Slumber Party Alien Abduction, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the plot. There are interesting elements, including a camera strapped to a dog’s head for real reasons and not arbitrarily. Shots of the dog’s hair whimsically sticking into the frame contrast the numerous jump scares when aliens leap from the darkness with loud noises and bright lights. There’s also an effective claustrophobic moment when someone trapped in a sleeping bag is thrown into a lake, water seeping in slowly. Despite some scares, the short never rises beyond its concept.
This is a general problem through the first two “VHS” films. Each short sets up a scenario, adds a quick twist and then plays it out to a “gotcha” ending. While some of the concepts are interesting, their length prevents them from leaving any type of serious impression, while the film as a whole is never elevated with a solid through-line that becomes more than the sum of its lackluster parts.
© 2013 by Blake Crane