Interview: Director Glenn McQuaid on horror anthology V/H/S
Contributions from horror genre's best upcoming directors, including Ti West, David Bruckner and Adam Wingard
Henry Northmore relives the joys of the VCR with director Glenn McQuaid to mark the UK release of new horror anthology V/H/S
You can easily argue that the VHS era was a golden age for horror. Directors like John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Dario Argento were still releasing innovative new films while franchise juggernauts such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser were cluttering the shelves of your local video store.
‘I was right there for the Video Nasties when they hit and spent hours just roaming around the local video shops before ending up with the likes of Inseminoid or The Deadly Spawn’, adds Glenn McQuaid who directed the feature I Sell the Dead and the short ‘Tuesday the 17th’ that makes up part of anthology horror V/H/S. ‘I loved the format, it’s hard to say how much is just nostalgia but what I did really enjoy about that era was you really had to hunt and gather your material. It wasn’t that easy to come upon a Lucio Fulci movie, you really had to go out of your way and dig deep, whereas now I think some of the magic has gone as everything is available at the click of a mouse.’
You can now access thousands of films almost instantly, but you’re not going to stumble across long forgotten gems like Surf Nazis Must Die or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers by mistake while lining up your Netflix queue. The horror section used to offer a treasure trove of bizarre delights, their covers transporting you to a world of trashy weirdness, usually they couldn’t live up to the lurid images, but that was half the fun.
There was a certain thrill in picking up battered copies of various movies that had made the infamous Video Nasties list from shady backstreet dealers while they were still banned. Mirroring the vinyl collecting market, videotapes are also making a comeback, with companies like Mondo putting out VHS reissues of obscure movies (including Beyond the Black Rainbow and Sledgehammer) while titles like House of the Devil and V/H/S itself have been released in ultra-limited VHS editions. You can also pick up plenty of strange exciting stuff if you are prepared to search your local charity shops, with most only charging a maximum of 50p per movie.
V/H/S helps to relive those heady days of illicit delights with a portmanteau of terror that reinvigorates the format pioneered by Amicus studios in the 60s and 70s, a format that perhaps hit its peek with George A Romero’s classic Creepshow in 1982. ‘I’m a huge anthology fan, and being able to tap into that heritage was very cool,’ explains McQuaid. 'The envelope story is a group of hoodlums break into an old house searching for a certain VHS tape, so they start to rummage through the tapes until they find the story they are looking for. Within each of those tapes is a short movie, and that’s how we dip in and out of the various segments.’
‘The actual explanation behind why these things end up on tape is down to them being physical objects. He’s a collector of snuff movies, and he keeps them containable in the VHS format so they can’t end up on YouTube or the internet.’
There are six stories in total directed by young horror talent including McQuaid alongside Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg and Radio Silence. ‘I was asked if I could submit a slasher-type segment, so went back to the slasher films I really enjoyed in the 80s, films like The Burning or Friday the 13th all the way up to Friday the 13th Part IV:, Jason Lives. I wanted to get back to that teens-in-the-woods scenario, that idea of campfire stories, but mixing it up by putting in digital glitches and haywire effects that represent the killer. A lot of that idea came from wanting to show what the killer did but not what the killer looks like. I thought it might be more interesting to leave the actual silhouette of the killer up to the mind of the audience.’
It’s easy to accuse the found footage subgenre of becoming the laziest in horror, but V/H/S uses this set-up incredibly effectively, immersing the viewer further into the action for one of the most creepy and entertaining horrors of recent years. The stripped-down format also helped capture some amazingly naturalistic performances from the actors involved. ‘Initially I went out with a script and a small crew, we recorded a load of footage, but I didn’t really like how it turned out – it looked very staged and not very authentic at all. So I scrapped it all and went back out with the actors and gave them the video camera and said "Just think of everything else we’ve done as a workshop" and redid everything in a really loose and improvised way. I just gave them the camera and they fecked off for two hours and I didn’t even look at that footage until I was in the edit room. It was a really cool way to work, normally everything I do is storyboarded, so it was pretty liberating.’
V/H/S (Momentum) is available from Mon 28 Jan.