The ‘V/H/S’ Franchise: An Ode to Found Footage

Growing up as an 80s baby, I had heavy console televisions equipped with burnt-out picture tubes, usually with a smaller television stacked on top. It was a classy joint! I loved watching any movie really, but I was always drawn to the world of horror features and shows.

I can still smell the nicotine walls.

What Was It Like?

At the end of the twentieth century, a new niche was born. The Blair Witch Project (1999) transcended the experience of indie and B horror. I was officially a found footage fanboy.

There was no big character arc, no masterly shot Kubrick cinematography, and no Carpenter-composed synthesizer. You just held a tape of someone’s final moments and instantly were dropped into their sick and twisted situation. It was Punk-Rock, and love at first sight.

“What was this?” I thought, “Is this real? Did they really find these tapes? Were these based on real events?” The world was concerned about Y2K, and I’m tripping about the reality of Burkittsville. 

“I’m afraid to close my eyes. I’m afraid to open them”.- Heather (Blair Witch Project-1999)

This newfound footage subgenre brought luster to tired eyes and my imagination was fired. It shored new experiences of indie sequences and anthologies like REC. (2007), Paranormal Activity (2007), Grave Encounters (2011), As Above So below (2014), Afflicted (2015), and Hell House LLC (2015). Even new major production flops like Cloverfield (2008). Ok, Actually that one made a lot of money.  *Cue the crying Jordan meme*

The Blair Witch Project

What happened?

The dilemma is, after a few decades of found footage, the echo chamber of my fellow horror goers began to sound like, “Nothing ever happens.” “They’re just talking for hours.” “It’s too dark and shaky.” “Boring.” “Where’s the quality of production? Do they think we’re stupid?!”

I created my own echo chamber of rebuttals to try and convince people to “Just wait, they’re setting things up.”  It’s like bad jokes: if you have to explain it, well you get the idea.

Time passes and a plethora of many accessible streamers flood the inventory. I had to concede. Not all found footage lands, but that’s the subgenre, right? It’s true to its nature. You like them or you don’t. The formula until now has managed to keep excessive fat while leaving much on the bone to be desired.

Creep– (2015)

What’s It Like Now?

Good ideas are simple, yeah? Perhaps less is more? Just cut the fat, and get to the meat. Hmm, maybe trust the fans and give them what they want? What would Sinister Seymour, Elvira, or the Crypt Keeper do?

Yes, it can be that simple. Shows like Tales From the Dark Side (1983), The Twilight Zone (1959), Fright Night (1970), Movie Macabre (1981), and the successes of the recent reboot Creepshow (2019) tell us so.

We don’t always need another 90-minute wannabe original take on someone’s final moments found on a memory card. Give me the campfire ghost story. Drop me into a messed-up world briefly, then rinse and repeat.

These early successors captivated horror fans with direct original short stories. Yes! That must be it. The answer is VIGNETTES! (Secret Time: I said “short stories” here, until I Google-discovered “vignette.”)

The Crypt Keeper (Tales From The Crypt-1989)

Enter V/H/S

Indie writers, producers, and directors remembered our old friends and brought us the V/H/S anthology. *Insert Wayne and Garth “We’re Not Worthy” gif* 

In  V/H/S – or Vignette Horror Stories as I’ve personally coined it – *pats self on back* – our would-be protagonists always seem to discover a box of VHS tapes. Each tape contains a new twisted 15-20 minute found footage vignette that’s can’t be unseen. Each one is darker, weirder, or deadlier than the last. The success of the franchise has even spawned a couple of spinoffs: Kids vs Aliens (2022) and Siren (2016) They wouldn’t be my first choice of vignettes to develop, but no one comes to me for the answers.

However, V/H/S 2 (2013) joins an elite company of sequels outshining their forerunners. It’s outscored its predecessor by most fans online and I agree. Okay, it’s perfect.

V/H/S debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012

V/H/S Evolves

The franchise seems to be generously inclusive regarding the writing and directing, being that each short story is given its own credited writer/directed tandem. The V/H/S anthology evolved the subgenre by combating the critical echo chamber with its straight-to-the-point, no useless characters, no supplementary dialogue attitude.

My mission at PopHorror is to help guide our readers and fellow horror fans. I’d be remiss if I didn’t come out and say some of the vignettes didn’t work for me in the anthology. That’s ok! It was twenty minutes. I didn’t waste two hours building resentments. Sometimes.

The V/H/S franchise enabled me to adopt the characters instantly for what they are. While maintaining the journey of the next bizarre antagonist concept: demon, ghost, zombie, cult, vampire, or alien, might be. I couldn’t help but imagine myself in all these situations, even days later. V/H/S had me like a kid again with my first Blair Witch Project tape.

  • Is there stunning cinematography that will push your OLED screen to the max? Well, no.
  • Is there a brilliant score that’ll engage you to the edge of your seat? Definitely not.
  • Will these films be nominated? Nah, but we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
  • But, is there a zombie cam and a Ratman? Hell yes there is. 
Raatma – V/H/S ‘94

V/H/S – Final thoughts

So may I suggest? If you’ve grown weary of the found footage subgenre, I’d encourage you to give yourself permission to interrogate this indie franchise. Experience these vignette horror story experiences while remembering your childhood horror fan roots!

Check out the newest installment V/H/S’99 trailer below. Streaming now on SHUDDER. Of course, you know we can’t wait for V/H/S/ ’85!


About Sean Stewart

Father. Artist. Writer. Horror Fanboy.

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