Psycho killer, ¿que es eso?: Sleep Tight is a Spanish bedtime story from hell

sleep tight luis tosar under bed
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Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes) tells the story of a chronically miserable psychopath whose only cure for mitigating his unhappiness is inflicting despair upon the lives of others. After watching this film, I began to wonder if its director didn’t have a similar predilection toward his audience.

Said director is Jaume Balagueró, the man behind one of the all-time best found-footage horror films (REC) and its sequel, REC2. Here, Balagueró has headier ambitions than a straight-up horror-and-gore frightfest. While billed as a horror-thriller, Sleep Tight is more an ominous narrative wound around one man’s psychopathic existentialism and moral degeneration.

Still, situational hallmarks of the REC franchise are apparent, as the near entirety of this film takes place within the confines of a live-in hotel building (with all other scenes taking place in other indoor locations). The intention here seems to be one of focusing on an interior life and sense of unforgiving claustrophobia. Or perhaps Balagueró is just cinematically agoraphobic.

Manuela Velasco in Rec

In Rec, Manuela Velasco plays a reporter working on a series called “While You’re Sleeping”—further proof that Jaume Balagueró is fixated on fucked up shit happening … while people are sleeping.

As Sleep Tight opens, we are introduced via monologue to César, a balding, fortysomething manager of a live-in hotel who seems to be teetering on the brink of suicide. “Happy. That’s exactly my problem. That I can’t be happy. I never have been. Not even when good things happen to me. You can’t imagine what it means to wake up every day with no motivation. The effort it takes me to find a reason, just one, to not let it all go to hell. And believe me, I give it my best shot. My very best. Every day of my life.”

Sounds like ol’ Cesar could just use a lounge chair, a shrink and a healthy dose of Prozac, no? But as the film unwinds, it gets clear the issue is more psycopathy rooted in sadism than a simple case of the blues.

luis tosar sleep tight

“You mad, bro?”

Cesar’s descent into the treachery that fortifies his emptiness begins somewhat innocently. He feeds a neighbor-lady’s dog food that makes it sick (psychos always gotta start with the fuckin’ pooches…). He frames a co-worker he dislikes to get him fired. And he goes to his mute, invalid mother for confessionals about his dastardly deeds, just to revel in the horror on her face.

But these are all just side items on Cesar’s main menuone which involves dismantling the psyche of Clara (Marta Etura), a beautiful, happy-go-lucky female resident at his hotel. To avoid giving anything away, let’s just say that he unleashes a series of attacks on her that channel the Plagues of Egypt. Chloroform is also involved.

marta etura sexy sleep tight

Marta Etura as Clara, who has very little chance of sleeping tight.

Sleep Tight is a tightly wound exercise in psychological horror and tension. It’s well-paced, genuinely distressing, and includes a terrific performance from Spanish actor Luis Tosar as the demented Cesar. Still, something is off here.

My main issue with the film is that, as creepily compelling as Tosar’s performance is, Cesar’s character lacks a backstory. Perhaps the main point of understanding psychopathy is that it lacks rationale. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for Balagueró and screenwriter Alberto Marini not at least attempting to delve further into the enigma that is Cesar. Apart from the fact that he’s unhappy, sadistic and gets fired often, we don’t really know much about the guy. In other words, he’s a pretty unremarkable, garden-variety psychopath.

luis tosar cesar most interesting man

“I don’t normally torment tenants, but when I do… eh, it’s actually pretty run-of-the-mill.”

There’s also a stylistic issue that seems a bit tone-deaf here. The heinousness of Cesar is celebrated by a soundtrack that turns to upbeat gleefulness when he’s at his worst. It’s unclear if Balagueró is trying to vilify his audience for their voyeurism a la Funny Games, or if it’s simply dark humor poorly misplaced.

I should also note that unless you’re fluent in Spanish, the dialogue can be a bit hard to follow at times, as subtitle work here lags several seconds behind (at least on Amazon at the time of this post). Not a fault of the film, obviouslyjust a heads-up for the viewer.

Complaints aside, Sleep Tight definitely does the trick if you’re in for a bleak, suspense psychopath flick. And its twist-ending is demonically pitch perfect. The main letdown is that much like its main character, Sleep Tight is just a few creative strokes away from completion.

IMDb: 7.2
GRADE: B / B+

-Sam Adams

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Scream n’ Stream: 11 Netflix Double-Features for Halloween

netflix halloween horror rundown 2015
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It’s that time of the year againa time when Mother Nature sheds her stillborn august growth and icy rains rattle windows in the coal-black night. Swirling winds snake about the skeletal limbs of decaying trees and crunchy auburn leaves turn to pulpy slop underfoot. Mist steals from the quivering forest bracken like an army of tattered ghouls, seeking predatory respite in the warmth of human flesh, and the forlorn laments of the howling departed cast a gray hell across the heavens.

Or perhaps living in Wisconsin and reading too much Cormac McCarthy has finally gotten to me.

The point is that the autumnal hour is nigh to binge on horror flicks (and depraved cinema in general), so I’ve scoured the bowels of Netflix’s streaming catalogue to come up with a gnarly little menu of back-to-back features. Sure, some of them are bigger-name titles you’ve already seen, but if you’re having a horror-a-thon with some folks less acquainted with the genre, a film like Silence of the Lambs is a perfect thematic gateway to something a bit more foreign and bleak, like the Korean revenge-torture fest I Saw the Devil.

So just as you pair your imperial pumpkin ale with a hearty stew, pair these 22 flicks together for one hell of a ravenous All Hallows Eve binge.

Bloodsuckers and the Badasses Who Bludgeon Them
stake land from dusk till dawn damici drinkingWhen George Clooney starred alongside Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Keitel in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), he was nothing more than a hunky TV actor (having spent the three years prior in residence on Friends, Sisters and Bodies of Evidence). Then Seth Gecko came along and fucked shit up with a full-scale vamp massacre at the Titty Twister bar just south of the Texas border. You’ve all seen it, so no need to divulge further. But when TMC and AMC are revisting Halloween 1-7, why not queue up the best action vampire movie ever made? Oh yeah, and Salma Hayek as Santánico Pandemónium… Nuff said.

As an encore, Stake Land is a killer treat for any of your movie-night friends who aren’t as well-versed in indie horror. The great Jim Mickle’s vampire road story plays out like a longer and more fully realized Walking Dead episode. That parallel should make it extremely accessible for any viewer with even the faintest interest in horror, and Nick Damici is just one mean muthafuckin’ vamp slayer. (See him also on Netflix in the werewolf tale Late Phasesnot as good as Stake Land, but totally worthwhile.)

Stake Land
IMDb: 6.5
GRADE: A-

From Dusk Till Dawn
IMDb: 7.3
GRADE: A / A-

Candid Camera Carnage
vhs2 devils pass found footageI think it’s fair to say at this point that “found footage” has undergone a renaissance over the past several years, moving it from schticky, attention-grabbing, Blair Witch piggybacker to a subgenre with considerable merit and at least a few more avenues to explore. A prime example of this is the “Safe Haven” segment in V/H/S/2, arguably the best 40 minutes of “found footage” ever shot. V/H/S/2‘s other four shorts also hold up admirably, and the visual upgrade to HD from the original V/H/S’ shoddy handheld format creates for a much more fully realizedand less nauseatinghorror fest.

I had zero expectations for Devil’s Pass, a film about a documentary crew looking to unearth deathly secrets in Russia’s Ural Mountains. So I was surprisingly pleased with what amounted to essentially the poor-man’s found-footage version of The Descent. Sure, there have been better efforts in the subgenre recently (see: Contracted, Rec, Quarantine), but in terms of what Netflix has to offer, this is a nice diamond in the roughreplete with a healthy mix of gore, “jump scares” and ambitious CGI. (Side note: The Last Podcast on the Left covered the Dylatov Pass Incident rather hilariously, if ye ask me.)

V/H/S/2
IMDb: 6.1
GRADE: B+ / A-

Devil’s Pass
IMDb: 5.7
GRADE: B

Zombie Lockdown
day of the dead la horde zombie moviesIf it weren’t for George Romero, The Walking Deadand cinematic zombie culture as we know itwould probably be operating out of some cutesy, Twilight-style Christian chastity parable, with Selena Gomez and Zac Efron chewing at one another’s undead lips.

Thanks to Romero, we have unadulterated goreand the prototype for the haggard, flesh-hungry walker that gave birth to iterations such as 28 Days Later’s rabid, running walker and Dead Snow‘s militaristic Nazi walkers. While Day of the Dead isn’t Romero’s masterpiece (unfortunately Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead aren’t on Netflix, nor is 2007’s much-slept-on Diary of the Dead), it showcases the type of zombie makeup and special effects that infected the entire genre to present day. Sure, the dialogue and acting can be a bit stilted, but when the gates bust loose and the zombie bunker turns into an all-out war zone, Day of the Dead is just as entertaining as its modern-day counterparts.

If you want more of a no-nonsense zombie thriller full of gore and action that’s less of a nostalgic history lesson, the 2009 French film The Horde hits all the right notes. As I wrote in my original post on The Horde, it’s “basically the perfect film for Walking Dead fans who enjoy that show for the zombie-body-count factor.” (Last Walking Dead comparison today, I promise.) The tale of two warring factions—French cops and French thugs—joining forces to plow down zombies in a high-rise is a simple backdrop for an insane amount of lecherously good carnage. This movie isn’t heady. But never is there a dull moment as the body count piles in ways that makes World War Z look yawn-inducing.

Day of the Dead 
IMDb: 7.2

The Horde
IMDb: 5.9
GRADE: B

Serial Psychos
hannibal silence of the lambs i saw the devilSilence of the Lambs isn’t a horror movie, so why am I recommending it around Halloween, ye ask? For starters, it’s the most fucked up movie ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture (and at its time, arguably the best movie to win the award since The Deer Hunter 13 years prior). But more importantly, Anthony Hopkins’ iconic character of Hannibal Lecter (first introduced on celluloid via Brian Cox in Brian DePalma’s gloriously 1980s-as-fuck Manhunter) is one of the best portrayals of a homicidal psycopath in big-screen history (thus the avalanche of sequels). Further, watching Lecter in all his demonic genius for two hours sets the perfect stage for the chianti I’m pairing with these blood-red fava beans: South Korean director Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil.

In Devil, we meet Kyung-chul (played by Min-sik Choi of Oldboy fame). Choi, it should be noted, is basically the poster child for the bleak and magnificent South Korean torture-revenge thriller movement that includes such classics as Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (all on Netflix), The Man from Nowhere (also on Netflix) and The Chaser. As the homicidal Kyung-chul tormentsand is tormented bya young cop to whom the mission is quite personal, Devil unfolds as one of the best dark thrillers from any land made in the past few decades. Psycopaths, cannnibalism and mesmerizing, blood-spattered cinematography—they’re all here. The nonstop madness of this film should also quell the complaints of those who “don’t do subtitles.”

Silence of the Lambs
IMDb: 8.6
GRADE: A

I Saw the Devil
IMDb: 7.8
GRADE: A- / A

Campy Carnage Camp
zombeavers tucker and dale vs evil
If we’re going the campy, comedic route, options abound on Netflix. Both Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead are damn fun genre flicks, with the former leaning a little more toward horror and the latter a little heavier on self-parody. Housebound and Grabbers are also totally worth a ride, but for a perfect concoction of gore and guffaws, I’m gonna start with  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Zombeavers.

Tucker and Dale is pretty much a cult classic at this point. Its tale of two amiable rednecks unwittingly engaging in war with some “dumb college kids” camping in the backwoods is akin to Deliverance and Evil Dead meeting Joe Dirt. I personally liked Tucker and Dale even better than Cabin in the Woods (another film that pokes fun at what happens when dumb college kids go camping), meaning its easily one of my favorite horror comedies of all-time.

As for Zombeavers (also about wilderness-vacationing college kids)… I mean, it’s a movie called fucking Zombeavers. And that’s about as seriously as you should take it. If you come looking for nothing more than redneck jokes, t & a, bad puppet gore and an overload of “beaver” puns, you won’t be let down. This is definitely a movie to watch with a big group of people. My advice: the more booze, the better.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
IMDb: 7.6
GRADE: A- / B+

Zombeavers
IMDb: 4.8
GRADE: B / B-

Slashers and Home Invaders
scream_and_you're_next_slasher_movies
You’re Next is arguably the coolest movie on this list. It’s got just about everyone in the Ti West crew: West, Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard (directing), Simon Barrett, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, etc. Basically, it’s a cast of creatives who could walk into a coffee shop in Paris in the 1920s and fit in like a black-and-white striped shirt. What I’m getting at is that while I used to despise these hipsters for their mumblecore pretention, West and his counterparts are actually at the forefront of making good, modern horror movies that pay stylish homage to the genre’s past. And You’re Next—A home invasion thriller about an Australian survivalist girl who meets her boyfriend’s parents at the dinner party from hell—is arguably the collective’s best piece of work. (The Sacrament, V/H/S/2 and The Guest are all awesome, all from these folks, and all on Netflix, by the way.)

While there are movies from the late, great Wes Craven I much prefer to Scream (namely The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and The People Under the Stairs), Scream was his biggest commercial success, far outgrossing A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was also one of those things when I was in junior high where if you were the last kid in class who hadn’t seen Scream, someone was bound to shit in your gym shoes. The movie has obviously spawned a host of horrible parodies and lesser sequels, but at least from the vantage point of a ’90s kid, its a slasher OG, and well, I just can’t really think of any slasher movie on Netflix that pairs as nicely with You’re Next. (Heads up: Scream leaves Netflix streaming on 11/1/15.)

You’re Next
IMDb: 6.5
GRADE: B+ / A-

Scream
IMDb: 7.2

People Said His Brain Was Infected by Devils (Possessed)
taking of deborah logan scream
When I posted my rather comprehensive list of the horror movies to watch on Netflix if you’ve already watched all the best ones, I can say in hindsight that there was one glaring omission: The Canal. Redditors (props) pointed me toward this slow-burn Irish chiller about a film archivist dealing with paranormal home events, and it turned out to be one of the eeriest damn movies I’d seen all year. Like I said, slow, but probably one of the most genuinely frightening movies on this list.

Also full of “jump scares” and a litany of mysterious chills, I was immensely impressed with the found-footage flick The Taking of Deborah Logan, about an Alzheimer’s patient who falls prey to demonic forces. Definitely in my top five as far as found footage goes, and also worth watching simply for one of the most awesome pieces of CGI imagery in any recent horror film.

The Canal
IMDb: 5.9
GRADE: B+

The Taking of Deborah Logan
IMDb: 6.5
GRADE: B+ / A-

Spawn of Satan
rosemary's baby mia farrow starry eyes
If Roman Polanski and R. Kelly have one thing in common, it’s that… they make great art! (Pedo-what? I said “art”…. Art I said!) Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and Frantic were to thrilling and chilling cinema what, say, 12 Play, Double Up and Black Panties were to landscape of modern gangster R&B.

In all seriousness, I’m throwing Rosemary’s Baby on here because a lot of people see it as one of the greatest horror films of all time, and I ain’t arguin’. Even nearly half a century and a few Swedish extraditions later, Polanski’s classic about the seeds sown by a demonic cult still measures up to the genre’s heavyweights.

As for Starry Eyes, I’m including it here mainly because Netflix just stripped us of House of the Devil (shame on you, Netflix). Still, if you’re in the mood for a little bit of Ol’ Beezlebub getting up your knickers, Starry Eyes is a grotesquely creepy flick about a would-be Hollywood starlet and her quest for fame. The parallel drawn between everyone in Hollywood being a fame whore and devil worship is perhaps a little heavy-handed, but give credit to Alex Essoe for one of the best horror performances this side of Essie Davis in Babadook. Put bluntly, this is some sick, twisted shit—and a pretty fun ride for those who can stomach it.

Rosemary’s Baby
IMDb: 8.0

Starry Eyes
IMDb: 6.0
GRADE: B / B-

Tastes Like Chicken (Cannibals)
Robert Carlyle in Ravenous
My favorite thing about Ravenous is the film’s fever-dream atmosphere, created in large part by Daniel Lindholm’s haunting melody that plays as a bloodied Guy Pearce trudges through the snowy Sierra Nevada wilderness. Part Jack London, part Cormac McCarthy and part Cannibal! the Musical, Ravenous’ admixture of existentialist pioneering, survivalist bloodbaths and tongue-in-cheek historical-fiction comedy create for an extremely fun, weird piece of cannibal folklore. And Guy Pearce (The Proposition, Memento), Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting), Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers) and Jeffrey Jones (The Pest) simply could not have been cast better.

If you want to go back-to-back cannibal (coincidentally Jeffrey Dahmer’s favorite coital position) and all you have is Netflix, you’re gonna have to run with We Are What We Are. I say that somewhat disparagingly because yeah, it’s my least favorite movie on this list. The tale of flesh-eating hilljacks preserving an old way of life is as predictable as can be, but… But! It’s directed by the great Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Cold in July), who uses an atmosphere of permanent torrential downpour to tremendous cinematographic effect here. It’s also got side roles from Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State) and Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases), which should pique the interests of any modern horror fan worth their salt.

Ravenous
IMDb: 7.1
GRADE: B+

We Are What We Are
IMDb: 5.8
GRADE: B- / C+

Party in the USA!
american psycho american mary movies
Where so many attempt to carve a cult-classic novel with a maniacal protagonist into a a serviceable film, so few succeed. There are exceptions however, such as Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There’s also Mary Harron’s brilliant adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ apathetically savage tale about vapid consumerism and narcissism. Like Fear and Loathing, American Psycho, the movie, can be watched and quoted ad infinitum without it ever growing tired. And Christian Bale simply embodies Ellis’ character of Patrick Bateman in one of the finest antihero performances of all time. (I’ll let the reader judge if Kevin Spacey really deserved that Oscar for American Beauty in 2000).
American Psycho Patrick Bateman business card gifWhile reveling in an old favorite is always fun, if you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen American Mary, tripping you are. Katherine Isabelle’s role as a med student who turns to the blackmarket of body modification (all while taking out her vengeance on a seedy underworld of the upper-crust) is arguably the sexiest lead horror performance since… I’m gonna go with Eliza Dushku in Wrong Turn (great movie, by the way). Like American Psycho, Mary is also savagely and stylistically delightful, finding humor in the bleakest blood-spattered corners of our human fabric.

American Psycho
IMDb: 7.6
GRADE: A

American Mary
IMDb: 6.3
GRADE: B / B+

Creature Features
open water movie sharks blanchard ryan
I include Open Water on this list not because it’s horror, but because I’ve never been more genuinely terrified watching a movie on the big screen than I was when I saw this in theaters a decade ago. Through the guerilla lens of shooting at night in actual shark-infested Bahamian waters, director Chris Kentis creates serves up arguably the most viscerally infectious shark movie ever made. It’s not about big fins knifing a b-line through the water at unsuspecting maidens; Open Water‘s dread lies in nibbles on the feet, hazy outlines on an eye-level horizon of eternally foreign sea, and small splashes and flickering tails that all signal the most mindfuckingly awful death this side of what went down in George Sluizer’s 1988 Dutch thriller Spoorloos. This deserves a big screen, pitch black and utter silence.

Want more creature? The Host is another one I was lucky enough to catch on the big screen. I remember this vividly (despite being stoned out of my mind) simply because it had the best creature CGI I’d ever seen. As a mutant river monster wreaks havoc on Seoul, a family struggles with all the hallmarks of South Korean cinema—bitter anguish, bowel-churning pain and a quest for revenge. The story meanders a little toward the end, but it’s worth it for the creature effects alone (which hold up very nicely 15 years later, stoned or not).

Open Water
IMDb: 5.7

The Host
IMDb: 7.0

-Sam Adams

NOTE: I left several films ungraded simply because they weren’t fresh enough in my memory to be subject to such biased scrutiny.

NOTE 2: IMDb ratings for horror movies are criminally low. If it’s above a 6 and isn’t a critical darling (Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) or a blockbuster (Oculus), it will most likely be better than 90 percent of the movies nominated for an Oscar this year.

V/H/S and V/H/S/2 on Netflix Instant: Found footage not to be frowned upon

V/H/S and V/H/S/2 on Netflix Instant
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“Found footage” has grown to carry a rather negative connotation amongst horror fans. Much of this is for good reason, what with the innumerable low-budget, low-quality and utterly braindead derivatives of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity (including several of the half-assed Paranormal sequels themselves). But recent strides have shown that there’s still sustenance waiting to be milked from this zombie-cow of a sub-genre.

cannibal holocaust found footage

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The grandaddy of found footage and one of the most gruesomely warped movies of all time.

Highlights among these modern additions include REC, the great George Romero’s Diary of the Dead, Trollhunter and 2014’s The Taking of Deborah Logan (the last two of which are available on Netflix Instant). Bigger-budget films like Chronicle and Cloverfield were also impressive, although I’d file them more under sci-fi-suspense than horror.

The psychology—not economics—behind why found footage films have become so successful is rather simple. On one level, we live in a culture that is unhealthily obsessed with voyeurism. On another, I would argue that this sub-genre caters to horror fans who, like myself, have trouble suspending their disbelief (e.g., I don’t believe in ghosts, so it’s hard for me to take exorcism or haunting stories seriously unless they get really damn creative.)

Watching a horrific tale unfold in what appears to be a more organic way works—at the very least—as a device that heightens the plausibility of such stories for viewers. Or put more plainly, the lifelike stylization of a movie within a movie overwhelms my ape brain, enabling it to quickly succumb to ideas I might have previously scoffed at. … At least that’s my two cents.

rec movie zombie

Zombie rabies: somehow much more believable when shot with a shaky handcam on night vision.

So as a horror lover who believes found footage is by no means an exhausted fad, one might ask what took me so long to get toV/H/S and V/H/S/2. The answer, quite simply, is that they have absolute shit scores on IMDb. The first installment carries a lousy 5.8, and the second is just slightly higher with a 6.1.

I’ve warned readers several times that horror scores on IMDb are usually at least a point below what a non-horror movie of equal caliber would draw. Still… I can only think of a handful of movies that ever ranked at a 6 or below that were worth my while (Here’s to you, Beer League). So why did these two really good horror flicks score so low? Chalk it up to moral outrage from non-horror fans translating into IMDb lowballing. Which is a good segue for a more specific look at our first recommended film in this post:

V/H/S
Hannah Fierman V/H/S Amateur Night

V/H/S opens through the lens of a group of hipster jackasses going around and filming themselves in acts of torment and destruction. Their first “prank” is a pseudo-rapey act in which they attack a couple in a parking garage.

I’m fairly sure quite a few of those negative scores on IMDb came from viewers who couldn’t make it through the first 20 minutes of the movie. While the actions of these small-time goons is certainly morally reprehensible, the shoddy, shaky, handheld recording quality of the film in the opening sequences is even more of an affront to the general public. It makes Blair Witch look like it was shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki.

Emmanuel Lubezki Children of Men six minute shot

The brains behind Children of Men‘s famous uninterrupted six-minute action shot, Emmanuel Lubezki also killed it with Birdman and Gravity. Too bad he wasn’t available for V/H/S

For those who can exercise a bit of patience, V/H/S quickly takes a turn for the better as the criminals get a cash offer to break into a house and recover a video tape of unknown origin. As the baddies start popping movies into VHS players, they realize they’ve stumbled on a treasure trove of what are mainly supernatural snuff flicks.

Here, V/H/S begins its anthology format, diving into five shorts by five different directors. Thankfully, the earlier narrative goes largely by the wayside, and we’re treated to a series of immensely harrowing found footage tales, all shot in at least slightly superior quality to that barely watchable intro.

V/H/S isn’t the first horror movie to embrace the anthology format (Creepshow and Three… Extremes immediately come to mind), but it is a novel idea for the found footage genre. It’s particularly refreshing when pitted against all that Paranormal Activity jive in which we typically have to wait through about an hour of cabinets banging, chandeliers rattling and lights going on and off before we actually get to see the shit hit the fan.

paranormal activity

Paranormal Activity: Proof that you can make hundreds of millions by screening footage of people sleeping.

If you’ve ever been irked by comedies that are hilarious for the first 45 minutes and then fizzle out due to that whole “narrative thing,” V/H/S is exactly the antidote, except in horror form. The first short, “Amateur Night,” introduces us to more rapey dudes who go bar hopping and bring some drunk girls back to their hotel. Of course, said bros are looking for love in all the wrong places, and date rape quickly turns into a date with destiny.

“Amateur Night” is the strongest of the five shorts in V/H/S, but the other stories—about a couple being stalked on a honeymoon in the Grand Canyon; a demonic backwoods retreat; a Skype chat gone wrong; and a Halloween party from hell—are all intensely creepy shorts.

V/H/S may not be reinventing the wheel, but outside of come choppy camerawork, it’s about as entertaining throughout as a horror film could be. And it also gets some kudos for being the predecessor to one of the best found footage movies ever…

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 5.8

V/H/S/2
V/H/S/2 Hannah Hughes

The recipe for V/H/S/2 is essentially that of its prequel: gallons of blood, lots of boobs and an ever-present nobody-walks theme. However, it’s as if the directors came back and fixed every kink. For one, the main narrative—a dickhead private dick and his sexy sidekick looking for a lost kid and stumbling on more VHS tapes—actually weaves through the films shorts in a way that makes it more than just a castaway excuse for an anthology film.

V/H/S/2 would also probably be more aptly titled H/D/CAMCORDER, as all of its sequences are shot in much higher definition than the original—lending some strong visual appeal to the horrific bleakness of each. And the second installation is a bit more concise than the first, with four shorts instead of five, and 22 minutes less of run time. (Note to indie filmmakers: Editing is not your enemy!)

V/H/S/2 a ride in the park

I see dead people… in HD.

V/H/S/2 also has the crowning achievement of creating what’s at least debatably the best half hour of found footage work ever made. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, the third sequence in the film, “Safe Haven,” is far and away the pinnacle of both V/H/S films.

The (comparably longer) short begins with a documentary crew filming a notorious Indonesian cult leader. Eventually, they persuade the sinister guru to let them bring cameras into his lockdown camp to expose the truth. Seeing as Ti West and Joe Swanberg have a heavy hand in both V/H/S films, it’s worth noting that this initial set up is eerily similar to that of The Sacrament, West’s 2013 found footage riff on the Jonestown Massacre, which stars Swanberg. (The Sacrament is on Netflix Instant, and is a totally worthwhile horror flick.)

safe haven

“Drink the Kool-Aid, motherfuckers.”

But where The Sacrament leaves your typical doomsday cult scenario, “Safe Haven” takes it a giant, cloven-footed step further. The end result is simply one of the most gloriously gory and innovative executions that modern horror has to show for itself.

The other three segments in this blood-red mosaic don’t disappoint either—both in terms of execution and innovation. Adam Wingard’s “Phase I Clinical Trials” is viewed literally through the eye of a guy with an ocular implant that records his surroundings and allows him a closer connection to the paranormal; “A Ride in the Park,” by Blair Witch alums Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez uses a GoPro to capture a carnival of carnage in a quiet forest; and arguably the second-best short in this film, Jason Eisener’s “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” well, the title is kinda self explanatory.

Slumber Party Alien Invasion

A PSA from “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”: Dear Signs, you sucked.

In all, V/H/S/2 delivers more shocks and excitement over its 96-minute run time than the entire Paranormal Activity saga combined. It’s not only one of the best found footage movies of all time, but also arguably one of the best and most creative horror flicks of the past decade.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.1

-Sam Adams