House of VHS
Six young people find an old VCR in an abandoned French house. The machine turns out to be magical... or is it cursed?
October 11th, 2016
Petur Oskar Sigurdsson
I fondly remember renting a VHS camcorder when I was a teenager – on numerous occasions – and making several innovative horror films with my best buddy. We did our share of crap, but we had a great time. And I also recall having friends over and watching movies together – and recording our interactions and reactions to the film on the screen… sort of an early version of today’s film commentary.
Now, unless you’re in that group of my high school chums, these videos may well prove to be something of a bore. I mean, of course they would – they’re home movies.
I was reminded of these days of yesteryear, when I popped in (okay, I watched it on my computer) my screener of the new French horror film, House of VHS — now titled Ghosts in the Machine. It had the same amount of intrigue for me, which you might have while watching a bunch of my nerdy high school friends quoting Pump Up the Volume and snickering over the film’s “he must have hair on his palms” dialogue. In other words – you’d find nothing of value with those tapes, just as I’ve found nothing of value with House of VHS. Nothing.
Six friends, all from varying countries of the world – Australia, Britain, Italy, The United States, France and Belgium, converge for a week of frivolity and relaxation at an abandoned mansion in the French countryside. They discover a collection of VHS tapes, and an ancient VCR, which serves to entertain them in what is supposed to be a home with no electricity. Spooky, right? Anyway, they soon discover that the movies they are watching somehow procreate with one another and make some of the weirdest match-ups in film history – a zombie western for example. But when they find an old camcorder and record themselves with the intention of becoming part of the tapes themselves… well, things don’t go well.
I’ll be the first to point out (and I’ve said this before on numerous occasions) that I love a good ensemble flick. Much of my own writing revolves around mis-matched groups of people in powder-keg situations. I LIVE for this stuff. But when a writer sits down and starts tooling around in the world they’re attempting to create, said writer has to make their characters interesting, unique (in everything they do and to easily tell characters apart from one another) and fun.
Apparently writer/director Gautier Cazenave didn’t get this important memo, or simply decided to ignore it. The bottom line here, is that making your characters very worldly doesn’t establish personalities or garner audience sympathies. And it certainly doesn’t help that your “American” guy is from Iceland – which is not to say he’s bad (he is) – but his US accent was atrociously done. I didn’t believe it for a second.
The acting was bad all around. And there’s not much more to add. No standouts – even negative ones. They were all terrible.
And there were unanswered questions. How do these people know one another? It’s never explained, there’s zero chemistry and in the beginning, it seems as though some of them are meeting for the first time. Huh? The house, according to the French guy – has never had tenants since he was a kid, and yet the place is well-stocked with non-dusty furniture, perfectly displayed book-shelves and manicured lawns.
I was reminded of one of my favorite films; Neil Marshall’s The Descent. Not because House of VHS worked on any of those remarkable levels, but because it took about the same time to “get to the good stuff” as The Descent. I remember very clearly that The Descent has its first big interaction with the crawlers at minute 55. But in the meantime, we’ve gotten to know, love and fear for these six women. There have been other perils which they’ve had to overcome, before the big (ahem) meat of the story finally arrives. In House of VHS, it’s an hour of wasted time. Montage after montage. Boring exchange after boring exchange. And flimsy, two-dimensional character after flimsy, two-dimensional character. Ugh.
This could have been and should have been a short film. There is certainly not enough mileage in here for a feature – and a very short feature at that. The movie has no scares, no suspense, no build… no reason for existing.
You know, I’ll generally give a little extra “star power” as far as my rating – if the film offers a little something. And with the few good images and a decent idea at the film’s core – I still can’t give this film anything but a half star. You can’t give us underdrawn characters – one after the other – and 10 minute montages of people watching movies – and expect a couple of good things (in the last 20 minutes of your film) to bring you up from the depths of crap you’ve just put your audience through. Why, during the first hour, I was unsure if this actually was a horror film. It tried to be goofy and rom-com-y. The tone was bizarre, unclear and off-putting. And the wretched score from Matthieu Huvelin was 95% of the time inappropriate to the action. There was a scene of two of the guys pulling down the massive chest – filled with VHS tapes – from the attic, set to something which sounded like it belonged in some sort of a car-chase.
Interestingly, several of the films shown on the tapes were familiar. They used footage from Carnival of Souls and an ‘80s film I recently reviewed; Bloody Wednesday; among many others.
With but one or two interesting ideas (far too late in the game) and maybe one cool visual (as a creature emerges from the television), there is very little of merit in House of VHS. With flat performances and a lackluster story, this truly was a painful and irritating movie-going experience.
Okay, actor Ewen Blumenstein as the Australian Guy was kinda cute. Annnnnnd, that’s it.
But, since I can’t recommend this, I don’t want to leave you high and dry! I do have other options for you, coincidentally; also VHS-related. I could dig up my tapes of my friends and I laughing and going on about Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume. So, there’s that – and you know what, it’ll be better than this drivel, I can guarantee it.
House of VHS arrives on DVD (how ironic) on October 11th, 2016.