In October of 2010 I reviewed NIGHTMARE ALLEY (my review). This film was written and directed by Scarlet Fry and Laurence Holloway. If you recall this one, I wasn’t too impressed by this attempt at a horror anthology. Here’s my summary of that one:
The fundamentals just weren’t there; the storytelling was deeply flawed, the acting was uncomfortable to watch, the soundtrack was hard to hear when the characters were talking outside, and the special f/x were pretty uninspired … There’s no doubt that Holloway and Reuther love the horror genre and maybe with time they will gain the experience to execute a solid offering. But with NIGHTMARE ALLEY all we’re left with is a mind-numbing flick that is sorely lacking in basic filmmaking fundamentals.
Not the most glowing review but more than anything, I feel that I owe it to my readers to give them an accurate and fair critique of all the films I watch. So when I had the chance to watch and review Fry’s newest horror anthology, DEATH BY VHS (which he co-directed with Jacob D. O’Neal and David Sabal), well I jumped at the chance. As I wrote in the NIGHTMARE ALLEY review, there’s no doubt that Fry loves the horror genre. He makes films in the genre because he genuinely loves the genre. He’s not just out to try and make a quick buck off of horror fans. It’s also been three years since I watched one of Fry’s films so I was looking forward to seeing how he’s grown as an indie horror filmmaker. He has grown, right? Right??
DEATH BY VHS started it’s life with the title, SCREAM MACHINE. This is a horror anthology with the wrap around story of a VHS player that plays graphic, horrifying videos that have a drug-like effect on it’s viewers and ultimately kills them. I’m assuming with the success (hhmmm) of the recent anthology, V/H/S (my review), that Fry changed the title to DEATH BY VHS. I’m only guessing, but it feels right. Here we get five horror stories that range from zombies to She Freaks to a serial killer dressed up as the Easter Bunny. Fry still has his lighthearted approach to the genre but unfortunately not too much has changed since NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
One of the first criticisms I get about my reviews of some indie horror films is that I don’t “get them.” That I can’t appreciate a low budget, indie horror film. Well that’s just bullshit. I’ve watched, reviewed, and loved many indie horror low budget flicks. Immediately I think of LONG PIGS (my review), a film who’s budget was estimated at around CAD 250,000 and VINDICATION (my review), whose budget is even less. These films are brilliant indie horror films that look like big, well-financed films. “Low budget” should never mean “cheap”; it just means the filmmaker(s) make the most of their modest budgets. Unfortunately DEATH BY VHS just feels kind of cheap. The stories all feel hastily thrown together; the special f/x are extremely amateurish and laughable; the overall audio is terrible where the external scenes are hard to hear because the background noise and soundtrack music is louder than the dialogue; and the acting is very amateurish. I don’t mean to be so hard on DEATH BY VHS, but I’d feel pretty bad if any of my readers spent their hard-earned money on this one.
The first story, “Suburban She Freak,” is the story of a profoundly ugly girl who buys some magical elixir over the internet that makes her beautiful. Think there’ll be side effects? This story should have been fun but it plays out exactly as you expect it to with nothing new or fun thrown in. You’ll be five steps ahead of this one right from the beginning. The one I was really looking forward to, “Christman Krampus,” is an unbelievable letdown. In it a retarded “boy” (more on this in a second) gets some revenge on his abusive, neglectful parents. The retarded “boy” is caucasian yet his parents are clearly Hispanic. The “boy” is wearing a beanie with a propellor on top. Really? I guess this is to let the viewer know he’s retarded. And finally his parents want to put him up for adoption even though the “boy” is clearly 25-26 years old. Throw in a horribly cheap looking mask from your local Spencer’s store and you’ve got a really terrible short.
The final story in the anthology (I’m gonna just skip the two zombie stories) is “Lepus.” This is the story of a guy dressed like a bunny (the Easter Bunny?) who yells stuff in German and hacks people up. Most anthologies save the best story for last. Not here. The story and editing are so choppy I had no idea what the hell was going on. We get no motive for the killer which usually doesn’t bother me, but the way the story unfolds suggests the killers victims are really poignant. They’re not. It’s random. I hated it.
If you like Scarlet Fry’s other horror anthologies than chances are you’ll enjoy DEATH BY VHS. The writing, acting, f/x, editing, and sound editing in DEATH BY VHS are exactly like his previous films … amateurish and sorely lacking in the fundamentals. Can someone tell me why there’s 15 (FIFTEEN) producers listed for this?? DEATH BY VHS is not a good representation of what the indie horror scene is all about. Definitely skip this one. Seriously.
Director: Scarlet Fry, Jacob D. O’Neal, & David Sabal
Plot: 0 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls (horribly executed)
Zombie Mayhem: 1 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer