The Violent Homicidal Serial Killer Tape

We here at Really Awful Movies are keen aficionados of those old, oblong receptacles of movies yore – the VHS cassette. Ah, those halcyon days of walking into a video store, scouring the aisles and aisles of tapes in the horror section, each one with box art promising lurid thrills and chills galore, before making that evening’s entertainment selection.

As horror movie vessels, VHS occupies a lofty place in many a horror-hound’s heart, with nostalgic collectors oftentimes paying big bucks on the secondary market, sometimes upwards of hundreds of dollars, to secure their favourite chiller or slasher in VHS.

Calgary, Alberta’s Susan Voorhees, artist/filmmaker and head of Exhumed VHS, is also nuts for the format, so much so that she’s given us the uber-indie effort The Violent Homicidal Serial Killer Tape, an unhinged, 26-minute obvious labour-of-love. Shot using a VHS camcorder, the film follows the titular tape (V.H.S. for short), an anthropomorphic videocassette with a skeletal head and arms, who carves his way through 23 brief vignettes of terror.

Each titled-segment is more depraved than the next as a plastic antagonist utilizes machine guns, machetes, and sometimes plain-old vehicular homicide to dispatch his myriad prey.

Certainly not high-art, the short is as extremely lo-fi as you might imagine, but it’s also awkwardly charming and morbidly hilarious – sort of a demented, throwback Faces of Death-flavoured cross between Robot Chicken and the “Meat Man” segment of Bob’s Burgers. There’s something perversely thrilling about watching V.H.S shoot a literal Ken-doll boyfriend point-blank before dragging the prone body of his Barbie-doll girlfriend to be fed to a wolf, all before mutilating the poor piece of plastic. In another vignette, we witness V.H.S carving the face and extricating the brain of another unfortunate plaything, all while a minimalist pseudo-Carpenter score bubbles in the background.

And while there’s scant to be found in terms of plot, the brevity of the film works in its favour. The film is over before the thin novelty of the concept can wear off.

With the most minimal of expectations, The Violent Homicidal Serial Killer Tape will deliver.

**1/2 out of 5


Director Mike Flanagan is a bit of a two-hit wonder. Not unlike Rob Zombie, who hit it out of the park with The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1,000 Corpses, but whose other work is largely forgettable, Flanagan has directed inspiring Stephen King-linked work like Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep, but has largely faltered elsewhere. That is the case with Hush, made all the more disappointing by the lively, frenetic opening that descends into silliness.

Co-starring and co-written by Flanagan’s wife, Kate Siegel, Hush invites us into the world of deaf-mute horror novelist Maddie Young.

She self-exiles to her cottage writing retreat in order to top the success of her debut novel. And her sole interaction comes from neighbour Sarah, who is boning up on her ASL to better connect with her friend, leading to some spirited and touching miscommunication.

When Sarah takes leave, Maddie, tapping away at the keyboard, experiences writers’ block, even adding funny little notes of self-doubt into her manuscript like “develop characters,” “get money.”

Suddenly, a masked crossbow-wielding assailant turns his medieval weaponry on Sarah and things go haywire, and sideways – at least according to the folks behind this site.

While it’s intriguing to see a deaf protagonist in horror using her wits while at a considerable physical disadvantage, director Flanagan doesn’t use silence to amp up the frights.

By contrast, in Watcher, a Romania-lensed horror about an apartment stalker, the filmmaker omits subtitles in order to recreate the confusion felt by the unilingual newcomer, deepening the empathy and inviting viewers into her perspective.

Another missed opportunity is a somewhat pedestrian creeper who bears a superficial similarity to rapper, Eminem. Ordinary can be extraordinary, evil can be banal (see, Joe Spinell in Maniac) but this antagonist sits in a no-man’s land of neither ordinary, nor scary enough.

Also, not having the antagonist use his unconventional, and inherently terrifying weaponry from the outset, is a shame: after all, being shot at by arrows is a scary proposition. However, when the masked maniac offs Sarah, he does it with a knife, and stabs sideways, straight out a stage play.

It’s underwhelming, to say the least, and detracts from some of the film’s numerous pluses, like dynamite performances, place setting and atmosphere, at least once the assailant cuts the power to the home.

As far as home invasion flicks go, check out Death Weekend or perhaps You’re Next instead.

*** (out of 5)