Since Creepshow (1982), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and the childhood terrors of Goosebumps horror anthologies have always shared a special place in my heart. Although certain modern attempts at the genre such as ABCs of Death crumpled under the weight of their own ambition, the V /H / S series thus far has delivered compact, entertaining movie events, functioning as show pieces for established and upcoming horror directors. While the previous two segments showcased narratives ranging from supernatural date rape, mass cult suicides and a go –pro zombie madness, the third installment of V/H/S:Viral fails to remedy a continuing problem within the franchise of the base story linking the horror shorts together. In the first few installments of the franchise these linking stories were often simplistic atmospheric environments but in Viral the story is a short itself called Vicious Circles. An epic chase narrative exploring the incessant need to film everything and become a viral sensation, dramatized through a live television police chase of an ice cream truck and kidnapped girl.
The directors assembled for this V/H/S segment are impressive from Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) and Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl) to Gregg Bishop (Dance of the Dead) and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Resolution). However, The shorts themselves also reflect a tonal change in direction for the franchise with the first segment ‘Dante the Great’ flitting between documentary talking heads and retrospective storytelling in the story of a working class hick who is endowed with occult powers after discovering Harry Houdini’s ancient cloak. While a little silly and lacking scares, the film does take full advantage of its premise with a last stand Swat team set up–that sees the V/H/S franchise go full on Harry Potter on us, with superfluous CG fireballs seeming a little alien in a franchise previously defined by low – fi terror.
The second segment – Nacho Vigalondo’s Parallel Monsters – reminds us of the potential the series has, utilizing the director’s love of daft sci –fi and black comedy to entertaining effect. In premise, the segment follows a character who discovers a parallel universe through a machine resembling Brundle’s teleportation pod from The Fly. Conversing with his alternative self through the portal, the two characters agree to briefly cross the divide to explore one another’s worlds with camera in hand. While revealing any more would spoil Vigalano’s tricks this is undoubtedly the cleverest segment in the movie. Skateboarders – vs – cultists short Bonestorm is not quite so clever, possessing the manic go – pro style from V/H/S 2 zombie short and supplanting it to Mexico with re-animated skeletons while linking narrative Vicious Circles ends the film as disappointingly as it first started.
As a result of this dissatisfying conclusion, the disparate elements fail to gel as a single entity leaving V/H/S : Viral feeling a little short and disconnected from the main series. While the previous entries into the franchise such as Gareth Evan’s Safe Haven produced genuinely disturbing situations, Dante the Great, Bonestorm and Vicious Circles and their fast paced video game dynamics leech atmosphere away from the film as a whole, with Vigalondo’s segment lost among the mess. If the physical shift from VHS tapes to mobile phone cameras in Viral is an indicator of the franchises attempt to innovate and cater to the ‘viral generation’, the essential horror core of the V/H/S brand could be lost in the process. While labelling V/H/S: Viral as the horror anthologies equivalent of Creepshow 3 may be a little farfetched, its poor changes in tone and disparate structure suggest the series is unfortunately heading in that direction.
Directors: Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento & Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Blair Redford, Carrie Keagan, Emilia Zoryan, Jessica Luza, Justin Welborn
Runtime: 97 mins