Veteran New York Observer film critic Rex Reed attracted controversy this month by submitting a vicious pan of the anthology horror sequel “V/H/S/2,” admitting in his review that he walked out after the movie’s first segment. With all due respect, that makes Reed wrong on two counts. Professional critics should not attempt to review movies they haven’t finished. And, after a lackluster start, “V/H/S/2” shifts into a higher gear — and vastly improves over its 2012 predecessor.
Both “V/H/S” films are experimental anthologies that offer thin excuses for name-brand horror directors to test demented ideas in blood-soaked short films. But the pedigree of the filmmakers recruited for this second effort impresses, helping the individual stories graduate beyond the shock-and-slash antics of the original film.
The sequel also earns points for cooking up a better, though still vague, framing story to explain why we’re watching these horror shorts in the first place. Private investigators Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Ayesha (Kelsey Abbott) are hired to find a missing college student, and they break into his apartment and begin surfing stacks of tapes in his living room. From there, as in the first “V/H/S,” we fast-forward and rewind through four inventive segments helmed by strong voices from the contemporary horror community.
“V/H/S” was a good concept that was wasted due to substandard execution. “V/H/S/2” corrects several of its predecessor’s mistakes. Three of the four shorts in the sequel maintain a high level of quality as they offer up flesh-crawling scares.
Eduardo Sanchez’s “A Ride in the Park” is the strongest chapter. The “Blair Witch Project” co-director puts us into the shuffling shoes of a flesh-craving zombie for his riveting segment, revitalizing what has become a bloodless, derivative genre.
Adam Wingard’s acerbic “Phase I Clinical Trials” takes an unconventional approach to the “I see dead people” cliche by introducing the recipient of a haunted eye transplant. Gareth Huw Evans plays it more serious, relying on the same run-and-gun action techniques he rolled out for “The Raid” for this film’s most disturbing segment, “Safe Haven.” It follows a team of journalists on a futile attempt to escape the brainwashing tactics of a bloodthirsty, ritualistic cult leader. I just wish Jason Eisener’s finale, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” was as clever and fun as its title.
“V/H/S/2,” like all noteworthy sequels, elaborates and expands. It’s more confident in what it can attempt. The directors, for the most part, aren’t married to the grainy, stomach-churning jiggles we associate with found-footage horror. They predominantly use first-person point-of-view while discovering creative ways to plunge us into the action.
Sequels to moderately successful horror films are as commonplace as ants at a picnic. But quality usually dips with each progressive installment.
The gory and grotesque “V/H/S/2” marks such a drastic improvement over its predecessor, though, that I’m actually eager to see who signs up for the inevitable third endeavor. With the right people in place, the blood-red sky could be the limit for this resourceful horror franchise.
O’Connell is a freelance writer.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains language, nudity and graphic, bloody horror imagery. 96 minutes.