With this cheery, gruesome multi-auteured anthology movie, self-referential horror gets so far into the labyrinth it seems to engage more with Scream, V/H/S and The Cabin in the Woods than Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm St, though it goes well beyond mainstream meta … even conjuring up the spectres of Hand of Death Part 25 Jackson’s Back and Behind the Mask The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It has a frame story – in fact, it has several entwined frames – in which are embdedded several skits of VHS-era horror schlock, with art directors, cinematographers and special effects folk lovingly recreating the overlit, fuzzy and gloopy look of Bad Taste, The Slumber Party Massacre or The Video Dead. In this universe, Joe Bob Briggs – who eventually appears – is God, and video rental store assistant clerk gigs are worth feuding over, which drags in slightly unhelpful undigested lumps of Kevin Smith that draw out the agony to a slightly baggy hour 103 minutes.
‘Cold Open’, by Emily Hagins (My Sucky Teen Romance), is about another Mike Myers (Jon Michael Simpson) who has a dull job ensuring horror movies run their expected course – tampering with roadsigns so the campers head for the abandoned insane asylum, giving a store-bought doll a haunted plaything makeover, ensuring lights flicker on and off on Halloween – but aspires to be a featured player, which might be beyond his skillset. Aaron B. Koontz’ ‘Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium’ is the main frame, and director-writer-overall concept maestro Koontz also delivers the most sustained sketch ‘Horror Hypothesis’ to pay off all the threads. Chad (Jeremy King) runs an all-horror video store and preaches the gospel of Joe Bob, while an unlikeable customer (Byron Brown) does his best to edge new hire Hawn (Hawn Tran) out of his gig.
In V/H/S style, other sketches are presented as tapes from the store’s stock, and they’re as hit and miss as you’d expect, with a certain repetition setting in after the third or fourth knowing pastiche of not-very-good splatter movies. Courtney and Hillary Andujar’s ‘Girls’ Night Out of Body’ is a ‘post-feminist slasher’ tribute, and has a refreshingly different look with a dreamier approach, while Baron Vaughn’s ‘So Much to Do’ feels most like a standalone short (it’s slightly more serious in tone). Otherwise, you get schtick from Anthony Cousins’ The Night He Came Back Again, Part IV: The Final Kill!, Chris McInroy’s ‘One Time in the Woods’ and Noah Segan’s ‘M.I.S.T.E.R.’ which sets the tone for the longer, more elaborate ‘Horror Hypothesis’. An abrasive tone, especially to Koontz’ segments, wears thin after a while, but embedded throughout are good gags, in-jokes and slime effects.