Most horror franchises tend to peter out over time, growing stale and more dependent on formulaic fan service with each installment, and the third film often being the turning point where the films start to deteriorate into stagnance. The V/H/S series, however, has bucked that trend, with each installment improving on and learning from the sins of its predecessor. The result is the utterly epic V/H/S: Viral, the third and best installment of the found footage anthology franchise.
In fact, Viral isn’t just the best in its own little world, but may just be one of the best found footage movies, and even one of the best horror anthologies ever. It’s rollicking, propulsive, EC Comics style entertainment — a pure shot of giddy madness rocketing through 98 minutes of unadulterated, grin-inducing insanity.
The main takeaway from VHS Viral is that it is fun. Just pure, straight fun. It’s not the scariest horror movie in existence, though it has a handful of good jump scares and at least one bit of cringe-inducing grossness. But it’s a blast; a short, sharp shock of a film that barrels through three highly imaginative short stories and a wraparound with gleeful abandon, and if you just want a good fucking time at a horror movie, you could fare far worse.
The best story comes first, as Gregg Bishop (Dance of the Dead) delivers “Dante The Great”, a madcap tale of a magician who receives a cape that grants him real magical powers. Bishop largely eschews the found footage format we’ve grown used to in V/H/S films, mixing reclaimed footage with mock-doc talking head interviews. Like all the stories, it’s best to avoid saying too much to avoid spoilers, but it climaxes with a blast of fantastical space hopping nonsense that must be seen to be believed.
The next two stories — Nacho Vigolando’s (TimeCrimes) “Parallel Monsters” and Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson’s (Resolution) “Bonestorm”– both suffer from the same problem, starting off a little too slowly, but they ramp up the speed to breakneck levels in their respective stories of a man who builds a door to a mirror world and skaterpunks who tangle with a Mexican death cult, culminating in climaxes that are eye-popping orgies of craziness. And, in a rarity for anthology films, the wraparound story is just as strong, bringing the mythology of the V/H/S franchise to greater thematic and apocalyptic levels.
The first V/H/S suffered from a thematic sameness that rendered the whole thing a sometimes uncomfortable exercise and the second avoided some of the controversies of the first, but felt constrained by the familiarity of its use of campfire tale-esque boogeymen (with the exception of Gareth Evans’ insane “Safe Haven”.) However, gloves are off with V/H/S Viral, which explodes with a newfound imagination and adherence to giving the audience a damn good time.
VHS Viral: 4.5 out of 5