Video Killed Horror: Shockingly terrible "V/H/S: Viral" sends series down the tubes

V/H/S: Viral (2014)
90 min., rated R.
(On Demand October 23rd, In Select Theatres November 21st)

2013's anthological found-footage horror sequel "V/H/S/2" surpassed 2012's "V/H/S" in terms of unnerving frights and danger, but both would make a fantastically creepy double feature on Halloween night. "V/H/S: Viral," on the other hand, tries to do something different by turning deadly videos into a global epidemic and ends up being more of a piece with the inferior, sophomoric "ABCs of Death" bombardments. Barely bothering to even take advantage of the whole VHS-tape conceit, this is a slapdash, ineffectual and heavily disposable knockoff, which is enough to make fans angry and less forgiving. Allegedly the third in-name-only installment from Brad Miska's anthology concept, it embarrassingly doesn't even deserve to belong in the same canon. It's as if everything this fun little series had going for it—and could have led to—gets washed right down the tubes.

Similar to the first two films, "V/H/S: Viral" crisscrosses between three unconnected micro-movies and one wraparound story, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. In the wraparound segments, titled "Vicious Circles" and directed by Marcel Sarmiento (2008's "Deadgirl"), teenager Kev (Patrick Lawrie) is obsessed with filming girlfriend Iris (Emilia Zoryan) at their favorite make-out spot. One night, he notices a police chase after an ice cream truck circling the Greater Los Angeles area and flocks to the street, only to see his girlfriend disappear into his phone but then continuing to tail the runaway truck. It starts out involving, and there's a neat idea here about these types of videos going viral, but it's disjointed when it should be the connective tissue for the three tales that follow. Even when this bookend seems to be headed to a creepy payoff with the use of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," it makes little to no sense. As the "meat" of this sandwich gets underway, these short yarns start out dumb, only to grow more inane. The first is "Dante the Great," directed by Gregg Bishop (2008's "Dance of the Dead"). Dante (Justin Welborn), a trailer-park illusionist wannabe, becomes famous and unhinged when he stumbles across a cloak powered by dark forces and formerly owned by Houdini. The cloak demands human sacrifice, and when his pretty assistant, Scarlett (Emmy Argo), finds tapes of Dante and his cloak's murders, it sets off a big stand-off. Strangely shot as a mockumentary with interviews and an interrogation between Scarlett and a detective, this evil-magician story has some decent gotcha effects involving the cloak's bloody rampage, but it throws the found-footage angle out the window completely and doesn't add up to anything. 

Next up is "Parallel Monsters," directed by Nacho Vigalondo (2014's "Open Windows"), wherein scientist Alfonso (Gustavo Salmerón) makes a machine that allows him to meet another version of himself in a parallel world. Both Alfonsos swap universes for fifteen minutes, but the real Alfonso meets a version of wife Marta (Marian Álvarez) who isn't quite right. This particular tale is plenty weird and gruesome, but what it comes down to, with glowing eyes and long, gross and hairy appendages, is more schlocky than freaky. The fourth, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's "Bonestorm," is neither good nor bad. It involves a group of skateboarders with GoPros on their helmets going to Tijuana, Mexico, where they end up taking on a Mexican cult of hooded skullheads and ruining their plans for a sacrificial ritual in an empty reservoir. Skulls are bashed in and the ultra-violence has a giddiness about it, but over-the-top repetition quickly sets in and the chintzy effects don't help. After that, a fourth minor segment is introduced, in which a young woman in a cab strips down for a sleazy amateur pornographer before turning the tables on him. Just as the tension is being raised, this one gets cut short by the wraparound. 

The insurmountable problem of "V/H/S: Viral" is that nothing ever feels grounded in you-are-there immediacy; the viewer seems to always be aware he or she is just watching a movie. The noisy tracking glitches are back, despite everything being shot on cell phones and digital cameras, but none of the free-standing segments are on the same wavelength as "V/H/S" and "V/H/S/2," which were actually interested in scaring the hell out of anyone who watched them. There are even literal flashes of the first two movies, primarily memorable segments "Amateur Night" and "Safe Haven," but nothing really comes of those. While there is no pleasure in taking down a filmmaker, the shockingly piss-poor efforts by these so-called "visionary directors" (the one-sheet's words) manage to turn the "V/H/S" series into a complete joke. Todd Lincoln (2012's lame "The Apparition") is credited, but unfortunately, his thread was not used in the final cut for whatever reason. The patchy "V/H/S: Viral" doesn't pull its punches with the gory money shots, but to an almost offensive degree, it feels half-assed and immature in never once ratcheting up the fun, creep factor, or tangible tension like its predecessors. Here's a quick tip: watch those on the Netflix to get this one's bad taste out of your mouth.