Less turns out to be much more for "S-VHS," a sequel to last year's uneven indie horror omnibus "V/H/S"; this one is shorter and has fewer segments, but also earns a much higher batting average.
Less turns out to be much more for “S-VHS,” a sequel to last year’s uneven indie horror omnibus “V/H/S”; this one is shorter and has fewer segments, but also earns a much higher batting average. In fact, there’s nary a dud among the four main tales (not including the titled bookends), which each whip elements of terror, macabre humor and the fantastical into a giddy frenzy. This rip-roaring good time for genre fans should easily build on the first edition’s modest success in all formats (and more territories), with further franchise extension a no-brainer.
The connective tissue, titled “Tape 49” and written and directed by Simon Barrett, has Lawrence Michael Levine and Kelsy Abbott as slightly shady P.I.’s sent by a concerned mother to search her college-student son’s place after he goes missing. Once they get in, the joint looks abandoned (as in the first film) save for myriad viewing screens and piles of noncommercial videotapes. While he pokes around, she watches some of the vids for clues of junior’s whereabouts.
The first “tape” is “Phase 1,” in which rocker-looking dude Herman (helmer Adam Wingard of “A Horrible Way to Die” and Barrett’s collaborator on “You’re Next”) is outfitted with a prosthetic eye after a car accident. It’s an experimental model, equipped with a p.o.v. camera to record its early performance for the manufacturer. Once home, Herman starts seeing dead people — scary, angry ones. A fellow implantee (Hannah Hughes) turns up to explain how to control them. Unfortunately, she also brings her own ghoulies, and things rapidly degenerate in this most straightforwardly frightening episode.
Next, original “Blair Witch” alums Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park” demonstrates that sheer gusto can sometimes recharge even the most conceptually plain spin on horror trope of the day, zombie mayhem. The helmet-cam of a mountain biker played by Jay Saunders all too soon captures his hungry afterlife once he’s attacked by roving undead. Gruesome in an over-the-top, funny way, this brisk miniature is unmindful enough of good taste to climax in a gory assault on a children’s birthday party.
“Safe Haven,” from Timo Tjahjanto (“Rumah Dara”) and Gareth Huw Evans (“The Raid”) ups the game with an elaborate, intriguing narrative that easily could be expanded to something longer: A bilingual TV crew finagle entrance to the gated compound where Indonesian emigre “Father” (an impressively crazed Epy Kusnandar) promises followers immortality. Alas, their visit reveals a Jonestown-like cult; and that today is Kool-Aid Day isn’t even the worst news. Though its digital f/x aren’t top-shelf, this wild dive into mass hysteria and apocalyptic horror is packed with queasy developments, arresting images and bloody excess.
Finally, self-explanatory “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” from Jason Eisener (“Hobo With a Shotgun”) sees two factions — teen Jen (Samantha Gracie) and her heavy-partying friends; two little brothers (Rylan Logan, Cohen King) and their own juvenile posse — waging prank warfare after mom and dad drive off for the weekend. These hijinks are interrupted, however, by visitors who shift the mood to something a bit more akin to full-on panicked chaos.
In the coda, the private eyes discover that nothing good can come from watching too many videos, and the series’ overarching mythology is developed a bit further.
While one might expect four back-to-back, high-energy tales of first-person jerky-cam to be fatiguing (if not migraine-inducing), all but the most motion-sickness-inclined horror fans will have a blast. Each seg makes smart and diverse-enough use of the found-footage conceit, and within that framework is smartly assembled on all levels.
Produced by Chris Hardman. Directed, written by Simon Barrett. Camera (HD), Tarin Anderson; editors, Adam Wingard, David Geis.
With: Lawrence Michael, Kelsy Abbott, L.C. Holt.
Produced by Hardman. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay, Barrett. Camera (HD), Seamus Tierney; editor, Wingard.
With: Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, John T. Woods.
A Ride in the Park
Produced by Kyle D. Crosby, Jamie Nash. Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale. Screenplay, Nash. Camera (color, HD), Stephen Scott; editors, Sanchez, Bob Rose.
With: Jay Saunders, Bette Cassat, Dave Coyne, Wendy Donigan, Devon Brookshire.
Produced by Kimo Stamboel. Directed, written by Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans. Camera (color, HD), Abdul Dermawan Habir; editor, Evans.
With: Fachry Albar, Hannah Al-Rashid, Oka Antara, Andrew Lincoln Suleiman, Epy Kusnandar, R. R. Pinurti.
Slumber Party Alien Abduction
Produced by Robert Cotterill. Directed by Jason Eisener. Screenplay, Eisener, John Davies. Camera (color, HD), Jeff Wheaton; editor, Eisener.
With: Riley Eisener, Rylan Logan, Samantha Gracie, Cohen King, Zachary Ford, Josh Ingraham, Jeremy Saunders, Tuyler Ross, Hannah Prozenko.