With the V/H/S franchise, producer Brad Miska aimed to combine two mainstays of the horror genre: found footage and the anthology format. The hook here is that every grainy segment is written and directed by different people – often the biggest names in horror. And it’s a wild ride, with each film offering a mix of scares and gore. It’s tailor-made to be watched at one in the morning with friends.
But some segments are always going to be more successful than others, that’s the nature of an anthology film. So, disregarding the frame narratives that hold the films together, I’ve attempted to rank all 16 of the segments across V/H/S, V/H/S/2, V/H/S: Viral, and V/H/S/94.
It wasn’t easy, and I’d argue that all of the segments are worth watching. But I reckon there are clear winners. Let’s jump in.
16 – Dante the Great (V/H/S: Viral)
I’ll give this segment something, it was never boring. ‘Dante the Great’ follows a sleazy magician that finds himself the owner of a magical cape (one so powerful that even Houdini didn’t want it). It allows him to do all manner of crazy tricks but needs human sacrifices to work.
So the idea is cool and director Gregg Bishop does a lot of really fun things with the magic powers. A fight against a SWAT team at the end is particularly fun, and there’s a cool magician vs. magician fight that looks great, despite the obviously small budget. And it does look cheap at times. Unlike other segments, this one isn’t hidden behind crappy video recorders, static, and film grain. So it ends up looking a bit amateurish at times.
The biggest crime, and the reason this one is right at the bottom, is that it seemingly ignores the whole found footage idea in the third act. There are so many cool found footage ideas at first, with cameras on guns, in interview rooms, and fake news reports. Then, at the climax, the segment forgets the one rule and just has a vaguely shaky camera with no hint at who exactly is recording it.
Still, ‘Dante the Great’ is ridiculous fun if you enjoy camp horror. It’s certainly not scary.
15 – Second Honeymoon (V/H/S)
The second segment in the original V/H/S is entertaining, it just doesn’t attempt very much. It follows a recently married couple on their honeymoon across Arizona. We see them taking in the sights and just hanging out. And it’s weirdly enjoyable. Because it’s shot as a personal holiday video, more than any other segment, it feels like we’re really not supposed to be seeing this. And writer/director Ti West (who recently made the excellent X) really manages to capture the realistic feel, so much so that I wonder how much was just made up on the spot.
And it has a pretty fantastic moment about halfway through, as we see the couple being recorded on their camera as they sleep. It sends a chill down your spine, but it doesn’t come to much. The final twist is surprising, and there’s a bloody kill, but the whole segment feels like it could have been bigger.
There is a voyeuristic enjoyment to be found in this section, as we peer into someone else’s life. But it could have been spookier.
14 – Bonestorm (V/H/S: Viral)
Here we have another segment from V/H/S: Viral, which is the weakest of the installments (and is not helped by a pretty rough frame narrative). But there are things to enjoy. This segment is fun, even if it perhaps drags on a little too long. It follows a couple of skaters as they try and make the very best skateboarding video. It’s shot entirely through headcams and cameras on the boards and it goes to some pretty insane places.
The action in this segment sees the skaters taking on cultists down Mexico way, and it’s ludicrous but entertaining, as they knock the heads off Day-of-the-Dead-inspired cultists and zombies, all while riding around on their skateboards. There are also a few of those trashy effects transitions that you use to see on early-2000 skating videos. All it needed was a fisheye lens and it would’ve been perfect.
This segment demonstrates how exactly a couple of stoners would fare in this situation, armed with a handgun and their skateboards. Because of this, the skaters can get a little grating. And the short almost outstays its welcome, after taking a little too long to get going. But it’s inventive and the gore is well done.
13 – The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger (V/H/S)
Like a lot of segments in the V/H/S franchise, this offers us a POV that we may not have seen before. This one is filmed entirely over Skype chats. This was before any other film had really tried that, and as an early attempt, it’s impressive.
This segment sees Emily talking to her boyfriend, James, who is in a different part of the country. The calls become weirder and weirder as we learn that she had an accident when she was younger. And also that her house is haunted. These things eventually all come together in a twist that will determine whether or not you like this segment. Me personally? I liked it. It’s ridiculous, but I’d expect nothing less in these go-for-broke shorts.
This segment also has what I think is one of the outright scariest moments. Even though it quickly stops being frightening, seeing a ghostly figure behind Emily on the video call screen got me good. There’s also some pretty nasty body horror, as Emily goes nonchalantly rooting around in her arm with a fork.
It’s probably an example of a creator biting off more than they could chew. But it’s inventive and I enjoyed it.
12 – Tuesday the 17th (V/H/S)
As the title suggests, this segment is a V/H/S riff on slasher films like Friday the 13th. It follows a group of horny teenagers (who all fit into one horror archetype or another) as they head into the woods. It quickly becomes clear that there’s something not right with their new friend Wendy, as she keeps saying increasingly creepy things that become more and more difficult to laugh off as a joke. And things eventually take a turn for the slashy as a killer starts taking them out.
There’s nothing original about the premise, and the performances aren’t particularly memorable. What makes ‘Tuesday the 17th’ stand out is its killer. Identified in the credits as “The Glitch”, the figure is impossible to make out due to a series of tracking errors on the VHS tape. All we can see is a featureless red face or head, and the rest is obscured by technical errors. It’s inventive and effective, and it’s a great example of the film using its medium for maximum effect.
11 – Phase I Clinical Trials (V/H/S/2)
As the first segment in the sequel, this sets the stage for a series of experimental and out-there shorts. As such, this story is told entirely from the POV of Herman, played by Adam Wingard, and his new prosthetic eye (a nice touch: the eye is from a company called KPG, which features in Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s You’re Next and The Guest).
From there, the spooks come thick and fast, as the doctor warns him that he may start to see things that aren’t there. It’s left up to the audience to decipher what exactly he’s seeing and why it matters, but it’s hinted that Herman was in a car accident, resulting in the lost eye. Could these spooky dead people be victims of a careless driving accident?
With the help of another KPG patient, he tries to escape the ghosts and ghouls, but things never end well in this franchise. As a story on its own, it feels a little like it ends right when it really gets going. But it’s entertaining nonetheless, with some inventive scares.
10 – Slumber Party Alien Abduction (V/H/S/2)
This segment takes the film firmly into science fiction territory, as a group of teens comes face to face with horrors from outer space. This is another shot that feels like it was shot by its characters, i.e., it feels as if a bunch of kids filmed it. And I mean that in a great way. It begins with the kids playing pranks on their older siblings and is filled with juvenile jokes. But things get serious (and seriously tense when aliens arrive).
The aliens are the classic ‘little grey men’ (though not so little) but are absolutely terrifying thanks to the way it’s filmed. You don’t see much of them, but when you do, it lingers just enough for their creepy extended faces to stick in your mind. The segment also benefits from its POV, which is from a camera attached to the back of a little dog. It’s inventive and helps the short have real stakes, because no one wants to see the dog die. It may drag on a little too long, but it pretty much earns it.
9 – Terror (V/H/S/94)
This is the final segment in the fourth installment and is the one that perhaps best captures the aesthetic of the mid-90s setting. It follows a group of bumbling white supremacists as they prepare to unleash their new ‘weapon’. It’s probably the segment that captures the punk feel of the latest installments and doesn’t hold its punches in making these racists seem exactly what they are: drunk buffoons.
Aside from its timely themes and incredible presentation, ‘Terror’ also features some fantastic gore and creature design. It feels as if you’ve stumbled upon a tape from the last hours of the Waco siege, and it’s extremely satisfying to see these nutjobs get what’s coming to them. It also represents the first time that a segment connects to the overall frame narrative, which I really like from a world-building perspective.
Again, it perhaps suffers from being a bit long, or perhaps from its placement at the very end of the film. But it’s an excellent entry.
8 – A Ride in the Park (V/H/S/2)
I LOVE this segment. I’ve seen a few rankings have this towards the bottom because of its simplicity, but that’s what I appreciate. It knows exactly what it is and achieves exactly what it sets out to do. POV zombies, that’s the gist. After a fatal run-in with some of the walking dead, our protagonist reanimates and goes on a blood-soaked rampage through a family picnic with some other zombies, all told through GoPros strapped to their heads.
This one isn’t trying anything crazy narrative-wise, but it’s gory and a lot of fun. I was a little concerned when I first saw zombies, as I felt they were a little cliché for this franchise that is anything but. But ‘A Ride in the Park’ takes a concept we’ve all seen countless times and puts a V/H/S spin on it. Probably the most fun entry in the whole franchise. And it’s well placed, coming right before the insanely intense ‘Safe Haven’.
7 – 10/31/98 (V/H/S)
This is another entry that could seem a bit cliché on paper but does it in such an impressive way. It follows a group of guys going to a Halloween party in 1998. They turn up at the house and start to explore, assuming that it is a pretty standard haunted house for local kids and partygoers. But as viewers, we obviously know better. And the weird stuff quickly gets more and more difficult to explain, culminating in a pretty convincing exorcism in the attic.
It’s intense in the second half, but it only works because the guys seem like genuinely fun people to hang out with. You don’t want to see them get torn apart by evil creatures – which makes the final few minutes a real breathless experience. This is another segment where the special effects are implemented phenomenally, leaving me to asking – wait, how did they do that?
Shot by the Radio Silence collective, ‘10/31/98’ is a segment that ticks all the boxes.
6 – Parallel Monsters (V/H/S: Viral)
This is the segment that makes V/H/S: Viral worth watching. It does seem to be a divisive one, however. But I loved it. Directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo (of the excellent Spanish horror film ‘Timecrimes’) it begins with a scientist opening a portal to a parallel dimension. He’s instantly greeted by a mirrored version of himself, shot with some simple but effective camera tricks. They both agree to spend five minutes in each other’s world, to see the differences.
Now, obviously, something is going to be different in the parallel world. This is a horror film after all. But given an entire lifetime to try and guess, I don’t think I would have even got the right answer. The people of this second Earth all have hideously grotesque and sentient genitalia – which is a subject I never thought I’d type. There are clues hinting at what exactly this world is, but it’s mostly left up to interpretation. But the image is going to stick with you.
It all culminates in a bloody misunderstanding, brought about by the protagonist. In that way, it’s a nice companion piece for Timecrimes. But it’s also a deranged and surreal short film in its own right.
5 – The Empty Wake (V/H/S/94)
Series veteran Simon Barrett wrote and directed this one, which is probably the scariest of all the segments. At a funeral home, a young woman has been tasked with hosting a wake. Her bosses all go home and tell her not to worry, chances are no one is going to turn up. But the family of the deceased did have one request; the wake must be recorded. As if that’s not enough, there’s a tornado approaching, threatening bad weather and power cuts. It’s a perfect storm (pun intended) of a horror setup.
This is one to be watched behind a cushion, as knocks begin emanating from the coffin and the lights go out. It’s a masterclass in rising tension, as things go from bad to worse. And throughout it all, you never really know what to expect when that coffin does eventually come crashing open.
There is some excellent gore in this one too, and the central performance (it’s a one-woman show) really sells it. It has elements of The Haunting of Hill House about it, before becoming something completely different in the last few minutes. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.
4 – The Subject (V/H/S/94)
Another from V/H/S/94, this one sees the return of Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto after his and Gareth Evans’ entry in the second film. This one takes a strong left turn into body horror territory, as well as some fantastic action.
A crazed and disgraced scientist is attempting to create a human/machine hybrid, and it seems that he has finally managed it with his 98th and 99th attempts. Shot more or less entirely from the POV of his latest experiment, named ‘S.A.’ we see his experiments from her perspective. And with some impressive mirror shots, we see the extent of his work. But this body horror is only half of the segment. When the Police arrive and begin a raid on the doctor’s lab, it begins a sequence of kinetic first-person action. If you’ve seen The Night Comes For Us, you know that Tjahjanto has a talent for action and violence that often veers into the horrific, and ‘The Subject’ is no different. This segment will more than satisfy fans of insane gore. But in a reasonably short time, and despite some terrifying modifications, you want S.A. to escape, and Tjahjanto crafts a surprisingly heartfelt story amidst the carnage.
3 – Amateur Night (V/H/S)
This is the short segment that started it all, and it’s still one of the best. With a handy pair of camera glasses, a trio of horny guys embark on a bar crawl. Trying to pick up women, they get lucky (or so it seems). But one of the girls is a little stranger than the others, seemingly not able to speak more than a few words and with a wide-eyed, otherworldly look. When things start getting intimate back at the hotel, it becomes clear that there is something very different about this girl, and it’s not long before the guys are being thrown around the room and copious amounts of blood are being spilled.
The success of this one relies on the ethereal performance of Hannah Fierman as Lily, with some great body acting as she creeps around the motel after the lone survivor. It also works well as a parable, with these pretty gross dudes getting their comeuppance, beginning a theme of problematic guys that extends throughout the first film.
With a crazy ending, this short really set the bar high for the series.
2 – Storm Drain (V/H/S94)
This one was so close to taking the top spot, but that could really only be one segment. But this one is still incredible, doing a lot of spooky things in a short amount of time.
Shot as a faux 1994 news report, we follow a reporter and her cameraman as they journey further and further into an underground storm drain to find out more about local urban legend, ‘The Rat Man’. Firstly, it’s an insanely cool setting for a horror film. Even with the bright light of the camera, you can only see a few meters ahead within the storm drain, meaning that you’re constantly on edge, waiting for something to emerge. But the short goes to much stranger places than that, and has a monster design for the ages in the strange ‘Rat Man’ or ‘Raatma’.
What really sells this one is the ending. Just when you think it’s over, you’re back in the studio with the reporter, discussing her horror in the storm drain. But it becomes clear that she didn’t leave that place all in one piece. Cue one of the best face-melting effects I’ve ever seen, and a fantastic final shot.
1 – Safe Haven (V/H/S/2)
It was always going to be ‘Safe Haven’ taking the top spot. In just thirty minutes, directors Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto throw so much balls-to-the-wall insanity at you that you’re going to feel like you’ve just watched a whole film. Following a film crew investigating a strange Indonesian cult (inspired by Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate) this segment builds tension until you basically can’t take it anymore. Then it revs the engine up to a one hundred for a final ten minutes that will leave you speechless.
Stephen King famously described the three different kinds of scares. You’ve got the gross-out, the horror, and the terror. This segment runs through all these archetypes and doesn’t stop for breath. When you think it’s done, it doubles down with something even more insane. Shot with the same kind of kinetic style as Evan’s other films, it would truly be a disservice for me to try and describe everything that happens here.
V/H/S/2 is a great film on its own, but it is worth a watch for just this segment alone. A horror masterpiece.
Thank you for reading! With the upcoming release of the next installment in the V/H/S franchise, V/H/S/99, I will update this post in the coming months.