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As far as anthology films go, VHS and VHS 2 were pretty original in concept, although the first in the trilogy was the best in terms of thinking outside the box and the end of this particular franchise, VHS Viral feels like it should be the last time this topic is revisited. The first film came out in 2012 and the series came out with a new film in 2013 and 2014, essentially a new film each year. While the concept deals with home video footage, which increasingly becomes oriented towards more Jackass than Punk’d, the underlying theme is that video tapes degrade with repeated viewing.
Each film has a tendency to bleed, jump, fade and be overwhelmed with static, which is pretty much what happens to all older VHS tapes and one reason why that medium will never make a comeback. Certainly technology has improved enough to guarantee that all disc recordings will play just as crisp and clear as the first day the footage was recorded. The allure of this short series of anthology films, though, has nothing to do with this degradation of the footage, but is more about the unusual, scary, creepy and downright disturbing events caught on tape.
The first two films had the common denominator of Simon Barrett and the last film in the trilogy does not include Barrett in any of its credits. VHS Viral is the end of a unique and different sort of horror film and it does feel as though it is not part of the first films in the franchise. This last entry features more static and bleed through than any real new and groundbreaking stories. To be fair, though, a least one does have the old “Jackass” feel that the other movies brought out so well.
There are four basic tales in VHS Viral, an opening story that is interspersed throughout the film about a young man and his girlfriend. He is attempting to make a viral video in order, he says, to be part of something bigger than himself, this comes back to bite him in the butt later on. The second story deals with a trailer park magician who suddenly becomes famous for his amazing magic tricks. The man’s fame comes down to coming in possession of the great Houdini’s cape which requires a living sacrifice to it keep working. The third tale is about a man who builds a portal between alternate universes with dire results. The fourth story deals with a group of skateboarding youths who go to Tijuana and fall afoul of something horrific and deadly.
This last anthology in the series is quite uneven in its attempt to follow the previous formulas in the franchise. Some things in the film are never explained. For instance, why people watching certain videos begin to bleed from their eyes and nose. One aspect in the film deals directly with the public’s addiction to filming live events for YouTube. The recurring segments of the ice cream truck chase features a group of camera operating people. In this part of the film, it almost feels like a homage to the Jake Gyllenhaal film The Nightcrawler.
At one point in VHS Viral, a young man climbs the railing of a bridge to film the ice cream truck down below. The second he clambers up, other camera toting people on the bridge focus their attention on him. “See you on YouTube, b*tches,” he says just before he plummets to the earth and dies. On a side note, it is on this bridge that one of the crowd of potential YouTube uploaders appears to be a dead ringer of Danny Bonaduce from The Partridge Family.
By the end of VHS Viral, the film’s message seems to be that the world’s preoccupation with videoing everything and uploading it to the Internet is a deadly past time which will ultimately destroy the world. The movie is available to stream via Amazon.com. Prepare to be amused, entertained and annoyed at the amount of static and bleed through in this last installment of the VHS trilogy which most likely will not become viral.
By Michael Smith