It’s safe to say there’s no horror franchise much like V/H/S. Sure, found footage was exploding in popularity by the time the first film came out, but as the subgenre began to fade into obscurity, V/H/S lived on, constantly trying to one-up itself and push the boundaries of what found-footage has to offer. It’s a bit hit or miss – as any anthology franchise is bound to be – but the highs of the series is VERY high. The horror anthology series has created a cult of its own with its ever-ambitious, scary, and hyper-violent tone and I want to share the love I have for this series.
Today, I’m going to be ranking every segment from all films (including the newly-released V/H/S 99) from worst to best. I won’t be including (most of) the frame narratives, as they usually aren’t as developed as the segments and are just meant to be the transitions between each segment. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
21. Dante the Great (V/H/S/Viral)
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
In my Under the Skin review, I consider that film to be a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime piece of art that left me a changed person by the end. Same can be said about V/H/S/Viral, but in the exact opposite way; this segment is proof of that. Viral is already unanimously considered the worst entry in the V/H/S franchise, but this segment is especially heinous and insulting. Presented as an investigative crime documentary (only to later become whatever the hell it wants), this short follows a magician named Dante, who uses his knacks for magic and the sleight-of-hand to commit vicious crimes. His assistant catches wind up Dante’s evil and the two duke it out in a bad Marvel fight.
“Dante the Great” takes a radical departure from the V/H/S formula by not being remotely scary. No semblance of dread or tension can be found here; in fact, the only constant threat throughout this story is a sentient cloak, which isn’t exactly a very scary presence believe it or not. This is undoubtedly the worst, messiest, and least-scary segment V/H/S has produced. The only way this could get worst is with your imagination, but even that could be an improvement.
20. Second Honeymoon (V/H/S)
Directed by Ti West
“Second Honeymoon” follows a married couple on a romantic vacation, only to have to deal with a sinister, mysterious stalker preying on the couple. Things slowly escalate, as the stalker goes from being a looming presence to filming the couple in their sleep, to increasingly juvenile acts such as rifling through their belongings and dipping their toothbrush in the toilet. As the untrusting couple begins to turn on each other, the stalker’s antics may have a deadly turn.
It’s a bit saddening to see such an accomplished director deliver on something so tiring and, dare I say, boring. Ti West is an excellent filmmaker whose work includes House of the Devil and the A24 X saga, so it’s upsetting that this short film is not up to snuff. “Second Honeymoon” is a long and tedious grind, offering up a slow burn to a brutal conclusion, but the build-up to said conclusion is just so dull and bland. It’s got a good throat stabbing in the end, so I’ll give it that. Compared to Ti West’s filmography, this is at least leagues above his embarrassing minute-long endeavor in ABC’s of Death.
19. Bonestorm (V/H/S/Viral)
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead
A gang of skateboarders wants to take their skating to the next level. They travel to Tijuana, Mexico in hopes of taking things to the extreme. Instead, they are confronted by a skeleton cult who wish to bring harm to the skaters. What ensues is an extreme fight for extreme survival.
This segment isn’t without its moments of fun, but I found this to be an annoying and excruciating test of patience. The mind-numbing editing and sloppy makeup create a segment that I truly cannot stomach. It delivers what it promises: a group of shitty foul-mouthed kids beating up a demonic cult, which is funny in concept but excruciating in execution. One of the worst.
18. Gawkers (V/H/S/99)
Directed by Tyler MacIntyre
“Gawkers” is the frame narrative of V/H/S/99. Though I said I wouldn’t take frame narratives into account, this one is fleshed-out enough to warrant its own full segment. In here, a group of horny and abrasive teenagers is smitten with their next-door neighbor who they peep at from their bedroom. They crack a scheme to spy on her more efficiently, but this may just have fatal consequences.
Not a fan at all , sadly. Felt like a worse version of the first movie’s own frame narrative, but far less entertaining. You’re just watching shitty boys do shitty things until they die in a rather unsatisfying way by an uninteresting monster. It has an authentic home video feel to it, which is something I guess, but it’s not enough to save this slop.
17. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (V/H/S)
Directed by Joe Swanberg
One needlessly long title later, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (or TSTTHTEWSWY for short) predates the likes of Unfriended by two whole years by being a desktop/Skype horror film, meaning we can stop calling Unfriended the first of its kind. Unfortunately, that’s about the most novel idea this segment has. “TSTTHTEWSWY” follows a young woman named Emily, who has mysterious paranormal activity occurring at her apartment. Framed in Skype calls with her long-distance boyfriend James, the nights get increasingly hostile and terrifying, as the audience questions what the spirits want with Emily and how the hell a Skype call got on a VHS tape.
Despite its feat and presentation, this is a wholly uneventful and uninteresting short film. The payoff is vaguely intriguing, but on its own is really unsatisfying. There’s a moment where Emily is digging around a golfball-sized hole in the lump in her arm that can get a physical reaction from the toughest of stomachs, but that’s about the only scene that got any response out of me that wasn’t out of boredom.
16. Parallel Monsters (V/H/S/Viral)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
In this short, an inventor created a device that allows him entry into a parallel universe. Within it is his garage, where he meets a parallel, identical version of himself. Overcome by curiosity, they decide to spend fifteen minutes in each other’s world. Things appear to be exactly the same, only for the inventor to realize he opened up a gateway to a nightmare: a twisted parallel universe where Satanism is the dominant religion of the world and where everyone has demonic genitals. Yup.
Right off the bat, this is such an original and ambitious concept for a V/H/S segment, only for the legitimately great idea and build-up to be ruined by juvenile humor such as the aforementioned demon genitals. After that point, any semblance of tension is gone. On top of that, the visual of the denizens of the warped universe having glowing eyes and mouths is also ruined by the actors sporting obvious plastic masks to achieve such an effect. I was left pretty disappointed by this one because it had so much potential to be way more.
15. Tuesday the 17th (V/H/S)
Directed by Glenn McQuaid
“Tuesday the 17th” is a simple short slasher movie that follows a group of unwitting 20-somethings taking a trip through the woods. Their camping is interrupted by a string of past murders, verified by one of the group members, Wendy, who informs them all about a killing spree that took place in these woods. Predictably, this story is passed off as a morbid joke, but the hapless friends might just find out the story is true.
The most intriguing aspect of this short is the presentation of the killer; whenever they’re caught on camera, the killer is buried underneath visual glitches and static, so you never truly get to see them. This makes every appearance they have on-screen to be quite exhilarating and captivating, which distracts from the overall messy pacing of this segment. All the kills here are impressive and brutal, with a creepy and inventive killer to boot. A solid segment all-around.
14. Shredding (V/H/S/99)
Directed by Maggie Levin
Party and prank-obsessed punk-rock band R.A.C.K. break into Colony Underground, an abandoned music venue that burned down after a freak electrical mishap. The only ones who perished from the fire were the up-and-coming punk outfit Bitch Cat. As R.A.C.K. settle into the venue and begin tastelessly replicating the incident that occurred there, zombified versions of Bitch Cat emerge and slaughter the wannabe punks.
I liked the buildup, even if it took way too long to get things going. I always appreciate it when V/H/S does the monster cam POV moments, they do those extremely well. The monster designs looks pretty good, and the concept of zombie punk band members is a solid one. If it weren’t for such a slow start, this segment could’ve shined. Really good music, though!
13. Suicide Bid (V/H/S/99)
Directed by Johannes Robert
A college student entering a sorority must first undergo initiation. Said initiation leads her to a cemetery, where she must spend a night buried alive in a buried coffin. She’s told this is meant to replicate the urban legend of Giltine, another freshman, who was dared to commit the same initiation for the sorority 20 years ago, only to be forgotten by her classmates and her coffin was found empty, rumored that she entered the underworld.
This one was extremely good and scary; really expository at the beginning, but this one is really damn effective. All the danger here seems practically done, from laying in an enclosed coffin to the actress enduring spiders crawling all over her; it really crawled under my skin, especially with the main actress really undergoing some real stress and discomfort. I was really let down by the incoherent twist at the ending, though, as the segment had some really effective and creepy moments up until it was all too much to be comprehensible.
12. Phase I Clinical Trials (V/H/S/2)
Directed by Adam Wingard
The first real segment of V/H/S/2 and what a doozy it is. In this tape, a man is outfitted with an advanced eye transplant after damaging his right eye in a car accident. He’s warned that there may still be some glitches with the eye. This proves to be a drastic understatement, as he begins to encounter supernatural threats roaming around his needlessly dazzling and expensive-looking home.
Definitely my least favorite of the tapes here, but “Clinical Trials” is still a pretty effective horror short. From the start, it sets up a solid foundation. It’s definitely a sharp contrast to go from grimy, cheap VHS cameras that one would grow used to in the first movie to a crisp, sharp camera in a state-of-the-art eye transplant. Things pick up by the time the ghosts show up, but the actual look of said ghosts don’t feel quite right to me, likely due to their admittedly shoddy makeup. Decent build-up to some good scares, though. Can be genuinely unnerving, especially when the main guy is running away from the supernatural threats through his dazzling home. The concept of the main character having sex just to ignore the horrors around him is really, really funny though.
11. Ozzy’s Dungeon (V/H/S/99)
Directed by Flying Lotus
Beginning with a family game show called “Ozzy’s Dungeon”, a pair of children are tasked with getting past an obstacle course, only for one of the contestants to violently break her leg. Instead of stopping the show, the eccentric and apathetic host Ozzy merely keeps the show going while mocking her and her family in the process. Time then passes, and Ozzy is being held prisoner by the same child’s family in their basement. Tortured and forced to go through the same obstacle course (but smothered in fecal matter), Ozzy eventually gives in and offers the family the game show’s big prize.
As to be expected from a V/H/S film, this one mixes comedy and horror quite well. I liked the hook for this one, as I grew up watching ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ as a kid. Unfortunately, this had a bad case of bad endings, as it left the more grounded, disturbing setting to be much more ridiculous. It ultimately left me with more questions than answers, but the effects at the end are top-notch.
10. The Empty Wake (V/H/S/94)
Directed by Simon Barrett
“The Empty Wake” has a simple, yet very effective, premise. A woman is hosting a wake for a man named Andrew Edwards, who committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a church after uttering some gibberish. The woman is all alone, and notices the coffin moving, much to her shock. Despite being there all night, the woman notices Andrew has gotten very few visitors, and whatever visitors he has gotten seemed… abnormal. Later that night, however, Andrew’s corpse comes to life and stalks the woman at the wake.
This tape perfectly captures that dreadful feeling you get when you’re alone somewhere at night, and you can’t help but feel the constant presence of someone – God forbid, someTHING – watching you. Subtle, quiet, and chilling, while not having as much going on in it to make it truly memorable. Despite that, “The Empty Wake” proves that subtlety is key in horror.
9. 10/31/98 (V/H/S)
Directed by Radio Silence
As the finale of the first V/H/S, this one offers up some good scares and thrills. This one follows a group of friends out together on Halloween night. They’re on their way to a Halloween party, but wind up getting lost and entering the wrong building, where they witnessed a horrifying sight: a group of men surrounding an agonized woman, supposedly performing some kind of exorcism on her. The boys manage to free her, unwitting to the horrifying evil they unleashed on themselves.
This is a fun one; really gives off some haunted house vibes, which is appropriate given the Halloween framing. There’s some great visuals to behold in this; as they all make their way out of the building, there are some really eerie shots of arms coming out of the walls and floors, and the home-video format makes it all look terrifyingly real. It’s also the only segment in this movie where the obnoxious white dudebro main characters are actually upstanding and helpful. Overall, a good segment that sadly doesn’t really pay off in a satisfying way in the end.
8. To Hell and Back (V/H/S/99)
Directed by Vanessa & Joseph Winter
The closing tape in V/H/S/99 and the latest segment to come out of the series so far. On New Year’s Eve 1999, two videographers are ordered to film a ritual taking place at a witch coven. Though skeptical and think it’s some kind of prank, they’re soon proven otherwise as the two find themselves transported to Hell. There, they find a feral woman who offers to guide them back home, but they must take a dangerous hike through Hell first.
Loved this one. I appreciate just how experimental and ambitious this one is, with it having home video footage of the characters being in Hell and the camera working for some reason. Cool monster designs, though the environment itself could have been a lot more memorable and spectacular; they ARE in Hell, after all. The best that 99 has to offer.
7. A Ride in the Park (V/H/S/2)
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale
This follows a guy taking a bike through the woods, Go-Pro on-hand. One dubstep montage later, he finds himself in a zombie encounter and is unfortunately bitten. Everything is caught on-camera, as we are witness to his zombification. A nice, short description for a charming and simple horror short film.
Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale are actually the geniuses behind The Blair Witch Project, and arguably the pioneers for the found-footage subgenre as a whole. So it’s really cool to see them make a grand return to found-footage horror in here. What’s so cool about this segment is how we get to see the zombie transformation in real-time, as the camera on his bike helmet captures every moment of him losing energy and eventually getting zombi-fied. The zombies look generic and acts as a standard zombie movie, but the whole charm of this tape is the novel concept of seeing a zombie first-person perspective on film. It’s a genius idea, and the attack on the children’s birthday party hammers home just how hilariously twisted this short film is.
6. Storm Drain (V/H/S/94)
Directed by Chloe Okuno
A news reporter is covering a story on a mysterious cryptid known as the Rat Man, who has reportedly been lurking in the storm drain underneath the town. The reporter and her cameraman venture into the sewers to debunk the legend. They find several homeless people living in the storm drain, including one covered in some black slime who murmurs “Raatma”. The reporter and cameraman try to escape but are captured by a cult who introduces them to this “Raatma”.
As the first segment of V/H/S/94, This tape has a solid opening with the reporter and cameraman interviewing the denizens of the town about the rumored Rat Man; it gives off Blair Witch Project vibes as we learn more about this creature. With most of the segment taking place in a cramped storm drain, “Storm Drain” offers up one of the most haunting, atmospheric environments in the franchise. The tension is constant, and it all cumulates in a disturbing reveal of Raatma and genuinely one of the all-time greatest face-meltings in all of cinema. A great tone-setter for what the rest of 94 has to offer and just a quality short film on its own.
5. Terror (V/H/S/94)
Directed by Ryan Prows
A white supremacist extremist group known as the First Patriots Movement Militia are plotting to blow up a government building in order to “take back America”. Set in a snowy and isolated compound, the place is well-guarded, armed to the teeth, and holds a prisoner; a vampire who they regularly kill in order to drain his blood and becomes explosive in the sunlight. After a successful test explosion on a poor bunny, the militia have a night of celebration on their makeshift blood-bomb that will help them bring back “old America”. Unfortunately, a drunken binge leads to some intoxicated members freeing the vampire. The vampire proceeds to hide in the compound and enact his revenge on these hillbillies.
“Terror” is an absolute blast. The idea of vampire blood exploding like a bomb is such a cartoonish and devilishly delightful idea and makes for some amazing moments of comedy. After all, these are depraved racists we get to watch stumble over themselves, watch explode, and killed by a vengeful vampire; they’re this movie’s equivalent of the Proud Boys, which makes for a wonderful time. The vampire itself is such a cool design, taking clear inspiration from The Thing; definitely one of my favorite monster designs in this franchise. Utterly absurd, a great twist on a classic monster, and amazing gore effects make this segment gold.
4. Amateur Night (V/H/S)
Directed by David Bruckner
The very first real segment in this franchise. Amateur Night follows three friends – Shane, Patrick, and Clint – who rent out a motel with the intention of bringing women over for sex. They intend to secretly shoot an amateur porn video by outfitting a hidden camera over Clint’s glasses. At a bar, they encounter Lily, a shy and timid young woman, and Lisa, another young woman. They bring them to the motel, and during their planned shoot, things suddenly turn deadly as Lily reveals herself to be some sort of succubus, killing Shane and Patrick in the motel. Clint makes a run for it, with Lily chasing after him.
This segment has a lot of slow build-up centered around completely awful people, which can be grating but seeing them all brutally killed by the end is very satisfying. The presentation here is interesting, as it’s essentially in first-person as we’re seeing these events through Clint’s eyes. Lily is a dreadfully terrifying creature, with impressive use of makeup and CGI. For the first real segment in the franchise, it’s a good introduction to this universe. I really appreciate just how gross and grimy the first movie is, as it has much more of a home-video type of authenticity to it. Amateur Night is a strong display of that, with the segment eventually getting its own full feature-length film called Siren in 2016, though with original director David Bruckner not being involved.
3. The Subject (V/H/S/94)
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
The same director of V/H/S/2’s sublime “Safe Haven” returns in another brutal tape. In this, a mad scientist holds man and woman against their will for horrifying and inhumane science experiments where he tries to create the perfect fusion of flesh and technology. He winds up creating a par of monsters: the man being a freakish giant that looks like a nighmarish hybrid between Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Chainsaw Man, and the woman, known as S.A., is a perfect cyborg outfitted with a built-in gun and understands human speech. They break free just as a wave of police offers come in to kill the scientist and destroy the robotic survivors. What ensues is a bloodbath from the perspective of S.A. as she wipes out the police in order to escape the lab.
“The Subject” starts off with the shocking image of a man realizing his body is gone and replaced by robotic spider legs. That is merely a taste of what is to come. This tape is a brutal, twisted, and chaotic ride that ceases to stop. The violence is off the charts here and will surely satisfy any hardcore action fan with a taste for blood. “The Subject” doesn’t last very long, but it gives you that taste it needs as it accomplishes its goal of being a total splatter-house. “The Subject” will kick your ass in such a short amount of time.
2. Slumber Party Alien Abduction (V/H/S/2)
Directed by Jason Eisner
As the final tape in V/H/S/2, it’s appropriately insane and overbearing. This follows a group of kids who spend a weekend together when one of the kids’ parents are out on a romantic getaway. Pranks and tomfoolery ensue, but later that night are visited by hostile aliens who abduct them one-by-one. Directed by Jason Eisner (best known for his savage 2007 grindhouse splatter-fest Hobo With a Shotgun), the sequence builds itself up with subtle creepiness until it explodes in a ludicrous climax as the children are desperately trying to escape the aliens.
In keeping up with the movie’s theme of different perspectives, this segment has us looking through the lens of a camera fitted to a dog. I honestly find this really hard to watch. Like, this short is totally badass and loud and horrifying, but it’s honestly rough to see this small dog having to go through some shit. Otherwise, this one goes inexplicably hard. The alien designs are simple but due to how they are presented, they prove to be effective at being horrible, genuinely terrifying monstrosities. It also goes without mentioning that the sound design here is top-notch. This is a total gem of a sequence.
1. Safe Haven (V/H/S/2)
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans
I mean, was there any real doubt? Just what else is there to say about this tape? It’s the absolute best segment this franchise has ever created. This masterpiece follows a film crew wishing to do a documentary on Paradise Gates, an Indonesian religious cult with some dark rumors behind it. The crew infiltrates the cult with cameras, both displayed and hidden, to uncover the secrets of this infamous cult. During their visit, the cult leader known as “Father” initiates the “time of reckoning” and things from there, go from insane to totally deranged at whiplash speed.
Directors Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans (the latter being the mastermind behind the sublimely ass-kicking Raid films) crafted an absolutely chaotic and ferocious short film that’s created my love for this series in the first place. This is a stomach-churning, riveting piece of horror with a shocking moment at every turn. As the film crew is taking in the unorthodox lifestyle and iconography of the cult, so is the viewer in an utterly discomforting and uneasy build-up until the segment eventually drops a nuclear explosion of events. Everything builds up to a brutal finale and an epic chase across the entire cult location. Undeniably and without argument the best short film V/H/S has or possible ever will produce. Gareth Evans needs to do more horror. Perfection.