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The Untold Truth Of V/H/S

Some of the best horror films shock you with visceral brutality, while other stand-outs like to cut loose and have fun. "V/H/S" is one of the few horror franchises that is able to do both at the same time.

The "V/H/S" films all follow the same basic template. First, a wraparound segment is introduced, which stars some unfortunate souls who discover a collection of tapes. Through these tapes, the viewer is subjected to a sampling of distinct and bizarre horror vignettes. The first film, which was released in 2012, developed quite the following and quickly spawned multiple sequels, spin-offs, and even a miniseries. Over the course of these many installments, the "V/H/S" series showcases nightmarish entities including demons, ghosts, serial killers, cults, and zombies. Given the eclectic and creative nature of the saga, there are many interesting facts about "V/H/S" just waiting to be learned. This is the untold truth of "V/H/S," one of horror's most unique modern franchises.

Making V/H/S was a trust-fall exercise

Filmmaking is an extremely collaborative medium, which means that ample trust is needed among creators and crew. Brad Miska, the producer of "V/H/S," has offered interesting insight into how that fact came to affect this project. In a 2012 interview with IndieWire, Miska called the process of making "V/H/S" "kind of like a trust fall, if you will, of moviemaking." He and his collaborators contacted trustworthy filmmakers he had connections to through Bloody Disgusting, the horror website he co-founded. Aside from basic suggestions and ideas, each director was given free reign to do whatever they felt like. The fact that the wraparound segment was developed first and the shorts second made the production a "a 'fill-in-the-hole' type project," which encouraged further creativity.

This level of faith and trust is precious in filmmaking. Making "V/H/S" in this style was no doubt a calculated risk not everyone was entirely sure of 100% of the time, but it definitely paid off in the long term. The film's main strength is its unique style, and how distinct each short feels when they're all placed side-by-side.

Amateur Night was inspired by an experimental film

The short that kicks off the first "V/H/S" film is "Amateur Night," which tells the story of a boys' night out gone wrong. It unfolds from the perspective of a pair of camera glasses, fully immersing the viewer in the action. Many horror (and even non-horror) films have adopted this sort of style for their narratives — 1960's "Peeping Tom" offers one vintage example. However, the direct inspiration for "Amateur Night" has been confirmed to be the 2009 experimental film "Enter the Void" (via Complex).

"Enter the Void" concerns an American drug dealer living in Japan who dies, but continues to follow the film's events as a disembodied consciousness. It's a film that has been described as both provocative and extreme (via The Guardian), characteristics that definitely stood out to "Amateur Night" director David Bruckner. Bruckner wanted to emulate that film's ability to "completely [attack] your auditory sensory system." He most definitely succeeded: Despite its shorter length, "Amateur Night" has several viscerally shocking moments. Needless to say, both "Enter the Void" and "V/H/S" are extremely creative films.

10/31/98 returned Radio Silence to their found footage roots

After the conclusion of the wraparound segment, "V/H/S" rolls into one final short, entitled "10/31/98." This vignette focuses on a trio of friends on their way to a Halloween party who arrive at the wrong house. Things soon take a turn for the worse, and it becomes clear that they have stumbled across a legitimately haunted house. It's the perfect cherry on top to an already crazy flick, and closes out "V/H/S" in satisfying fashion. 

This frantic finale comes courtesy of filmmaking trio Radio Silence, who many know better as the folks behind "Chad, Matt & Rob." Whatever name they're going by, they're three of the best horror directors in modern film. The trio started out making viral videos that blend genres, ensuring potent scares. If you go back and watch one of their "Prank Gone Wrong"-style videos, you can spot plenty of parallels to "10/31/98." From the utilization of the handheld camera to the balance of horror and comedy, the continuity of their style is evident.

V/H/S made it into Sundance at the very last minute

The Sundance Film Festival serves as a proving ground for some of film's most subversive and intriguing work. Mindful of this, the creators of "V/H/S" worked right up until the festival's submission deadline to have something ready for it. As Miska told Complex, the copy of the film they submitted was "not even a work-print cut ... we probably shouldn't have sent it when we did, but we were right up against the deadline."

Luckily, this last-minute gambit paid off: "V/H/S" was accepted, and made its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It received positive write-ups from various critics and festival-goers, with many praising its unique format and attention-grabbing creativity. The Film Stage hailed it as "a rejuvenation in the found footage area," and "a lively, well-constructed horror experiment". Praise like that is quite remarkable, given the film was constructed under such free-form circumstances.

One V/H/S character received her own spin-off movie

The "V/H/S" saga is unique in many ways, one being its lack of recurring characters. In stark contrast to classic franchises like "Friday the 13th" or "Child's Play," it doesn't even feature a signature monster, evil entity, or serial killer. However, one character quickly established herself as a fan-favorite: Lily, the weird, wide-eyed girl introduced in "Amateur Night." Played by the incomparable Hannah Fierman, Lily quickly reveals herself to be an alluring and sinister succubus-like creature who is very much not to be messed with. 

Lily is such a fascinating character, she went on to receive her own spin-off film just four years later. 2016's "Siren" is a bigger-budget adaptation of "Amateur Night," with Fierman reprising her terrifying role. It's a solid flick with creative kills, good performances, and interesting new lore built around Lily. Despite the film's limited release, it received solid reviews. Many highlighted Fierman's performance as particularly compelling.

V/H/S/2 was rushed into production so fast, it had a different name

"V/H/S" proved to be a financial success, bringing in a $1.9 million gross worldwide. This success resulted in a quickly greenlit sequel, which was rushed into production with a whole new slate of directors signed on. Adam Wingard, director of the first film's wraparound segment, returned for the sequel. He was joined by the likes of Gareth Evans ("The Raid") and Eduardo Sanchez ("The Blair Witch Project"), among other horror luminaries (via The Hollywood Reporter). 

This follow-up was announced so quickly, it was temporarily promoted under its original title, "S-V/H/S". This title is a reference to a now-antiquated video format developed in 1987, known as Super VHS. Fairly quickly, the film's title was changed to the more simplistic "V/H/S/2". This simple fact might seem trivial, but it's a potent symbol of just how drastically a film can change en route to its official release.

A dog gets top billing in V/H/S/2

"V/H/S/2" wraps up its mayhem with its most simplistically titled short, "Slumber Party Alien Abduction." It follows a group of kids who are left alone for the night, entirely free of authority. What ensues is a raucous sleepover complete with a swim in the nearby lake, late-night pranks, and eventually, an alien attack. 

This short's perspective is incredibly unique: The camera has been mounted on a Yorkshire Terrier. Putting a camera on an animal isn't a new concept, but it's rarely used in theatrical horror films — even innovative found footage flicks typically have the camera operated by one or more human characters. Here though, we get to see insane extraterrestrial horrors play out from the perspective of a tiny canine. It's an impressively handled format choice which gives this short its own unique flavor. For that reason, it makes perfect sense that the dog, known as Tank, is given top billing.

The Angry Video Game Nerd was originally going to be in V/H/S/2

If you've been an internet user since the 2000s, then the name James Rolfe might be familiar to you. His most popular creation is "The Angry Video Game Nerd," a series in which Rolfe, playing the titular Nerd, reviews horrible video games from his childhood. This catapulted Rolfe into the limelight, and cemented him as a legend of the '00s internet. He's also dedicated ample content, most notably his Halloween "Monster Madness" reviews, to his affinity for horror. Given his massive following, it's only natural that someone would eventually try to cast Rolfe in a legitimate horror film.

As Adam Wingard revealed to Bloody Disgusting, the "Clinical Trials" segment of "V/H/S/2" was originally written with Rolfe in mind for the lead role. However, Rolfe was deep into production on "The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie," rendering him unavailable. One can only wonder what colorful expletives the Nerd would've had for the gruesome ghosts of that short.

There's a V/H/S miniseries on Snapchat

You might be familiar with the three main "V/H/S" movies, and perhaps even "Siren," their spin-off. But even the more diehard horror fan might not know about "V/H/S: Viral Horror Shorts," a miniseries that premiered on Snapchat (via SyFy Wire) as a Snap Original series.

This unique production hit the platform in October 2018. Its four short vignettes, "The Nest," "Stray Dog," "Rearview Window," and "First Kiss" were helmed by Ben Franklin, Anthony Melton, Gustavo Cooper, and Emily Hagins. Snapchat is a surprisingly great venue for horror shorts, especially found footage. Interestingly, though the franchise is mainly associated with handheld filmmaking, this miniseries breaks that tradition. "First Kiss," for example, is filmed like a traditional young adult-centric horror movie, which helps it stand out. Rest assured, however, that "V/H/S: Viral Horror Shorts" definitely adheres to the series' tradition of self-contained scares and stylistic variety.

All the V/H/S movies take place in the same universe

Much like Stephen King's bibliography or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the "V/H/S" films all take place within a shared universe. They don't make this quite as blatant as the MCU does, granted, but there are several moments to be found that justify this theory. 

The first Easter egg backing this up is present in the wraparound segment of "V/H/S/2." When the investigators first enter Kyle's apartment, they check his abandoned laptop for any clues. We briefly see the wraparound segment from the first film on the screen. This is also the first clue that these mysterious and disturbing video tapes might be part of something bigger. Additionally, in "V/H/S: Viral," we're shown a distorted reel of glitches depicting Lily from the first film. Then, during the film's final moments, we see a collection of other videos being uploaded, including ones from "V/H/S/2". It's mild universe-building, to be sure, but it proves that these vignettes aren't actually isolated, and might be building to something grander.