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Exclusive Interview: The terrifying team behind “V/H/S/85,” Part One

Friday, October 6, 2023 | Interviews


After traveling back to the ’90s for the last two installments, the V/H/S franchise has now landed squarely in the Golden Age of its titular format with V/H/S/85. As always, a distinctive team of filmmaking talents was assembled to create the quintet of segments, and RUE MORGUE got to speak to them all.

V/H/S/85, debuting today on Shudder, consists of: “Total Copy,” the framing story by David Bruckner (THE NIGHT HOUSE, HELLRAISER), about a scientific investigation into a mysterious being; “No Wake/Ambrosia,” by Mike P. Nelson (WRONG TURN), in which a group of friends’ outing to a lake goes violently awry-and then into very unexpected territory; “God of Death,” by Gigi Saul Guerrero (CULTURE SHOCK, SATANIC HISPANICS), set during the Mexico City earthquake of ’85, which leads to the discovery of demonic evil; “TKNOGD,” by Natasha Kermani (LUCKY), a video document of a performance art piece that becomes a cyberpunk nightmare; and “Dreamkill,” by Scott Derrickson (SINISTER, THE BLACK PHONE), about a Goth teenager’s bloody nightmares that presage real-life murders. Our group interview begins with Brucker and Derrickson, with Kermani and Nelson joining in midway…

Could you each talk about how the 1985 setting influenced your approach to your segments?

SCOTT DERRICKSON: I was interested in this project immediately upon hearing the year, because that period was the first era of consumer home-video cameras. That has a look and feel that I really enjoy, as opposed to things getting high-resolution the later you go. And also the limitations of closed-circuit TV for security cameras and that sort of thing. That was all interesting to me, using that for narrative purposes. And also just the era; that was a fascinating time I lived through, and I was interested in trying to capture something about that era that was not typical. It’s a very fetishized period of time, especially with young characters, like in STRANGER THINGS–which I love. But the teenager in my film is a Goth kid from the ‘80s, and we all had two or three of them in our schools, you know? I was more interested in that kid than any kind of Spielbergian, nostalgic look back on young life at that time.

DAVID BRUCKNER: We did the wraparound last, so we took a lot of our inspiration from the other shorts, and where the filmmakers had found themselves and what they had responded to in the ’80s. Something that was really exciting about this V/H/S, and maybe contrary to some of the pop ’80s vibes we’ve seen over the last several years, is that this was much darker, and had a much freer edge to it in many ways. So there was a starkness and a kind of reality to the other shorts that we found very interesting, and that inspired us. But I will say also that I and Evan Dickson, who wrote the wraparound and he and I wrote the story together, couldn’t resist pulling from the movies we loved at the time. That was very much based on my childhood in the mid-’80s, because I was probably seven years old in ’85. A lot of those movies were the very first films that scared me. So we went back and watched some key pieces that inspired us, and all that found its way in the short.

It also seems inspired by tabloid TV and things like IN SEARCH OF… that are very ‘70s and ‘80s. Were those influences as well?

BRUCKNER: Yeah–I mean, obviously the Robert Stack UNSOLVED MYSTERIES was a bit of an inspiration. And we did take some direct inspiration from IN SEARCH OF…, where you’d see Leonard Nimoy walking in front of the various pictures of the scientific mysteries. We pulled directly from that, and we watched a lot of era-specific TV documentaries, which are a lot weirder than you might think. If anything, we were a little more conservative [laughs].

DERRICKSON: What I like the most about your segment, David, was that I worked for my dad during high school, for his car dealership, and I would see these industrial videos, these corporate videos they would make for training salespeople and stuff like that. It was all new technology, and everybody was just starting to use video for business purposes and, in your case, recording stuff at medical facilities. “Total Copy” really feels like that, like one of those tapes you would find, in an old vault somewhere with the earliest videos a hospital might have access to. There was something about that that to me felt very real to that period of time.

BRUCKNER: Some of the joys of found footage also emerged there, which I’m sure we all felt–things like trying to justify [the presence of] the camera. We have a cameraman in ours who’s never seen; he’s only a pair of shoes, and seen in a very specific way, toward the end of the movie. We spent a lot of time talking about where he would put the camera and why, and how hard he was trying as somebody who was new to the format, attempting to make the best documentary that he possibly could.

And, of course, you’re seeing the footage as it was cut together by a TV news program, and then later some of it in raw format. There was a story behind this that our DP, Alex Chinnici, got very involved with, where he put a lot of thought into why the guy would pick this corner of the room if he was following subjects, if he would be behind the action, if he had to run in and get ahead of them, set the camera up on a tripod and you’d come in late. All that stuff puts a matter-of-fact quality into the segment that I think you can only do in found footage.

Scott, in addition to the vintage video, your segment has kind of a Super-8 film aesthetic to it, which ties it into SINISTER.

DERRICKSON: Yeah, to SINISTER and THE BLACK PHONE; the dream sequences in BLACK PHONE were done on Super-8 as well. In fact, there’s a little Easter egg in there that nobody seems to have found, when James Ransone’s character is talking about Gunther, who has these prescient dreams, and he says his sister killed herself and Gunther’s cousin Gwen has the same gift and she hates it. That’s referring to Gwen from THE BLACK PHONE. Because the dreams are the same, it’s someone having these weird, surreal nightmares of real things, and the murders are sort of similar.

And also, before I even had a story idea, I knew that if I was going to do this, I was going to try to bend the rules, not break them. I never break the rules. I read a review this morning, and David knows about this, that really irked me, because it was saying that there are places in “Dreamkill” where I don’t adhere to the rules of found footage, where there are objective camera angles where there would be no operator. That’s false. I wanted to stick to the rules where everything in the movie has to exist for justifiable reasons. The murders, that just appear on the videotapes are the magical part of the movie; there is no operator for that footage, they’re just the dreams Gunther’s had.

That was interesting to me, because I feel that if you’re going to do a sixth installment of V/H/S, and you’ve got four or five segments in each one, oh my God, shouldn’t we evolve–you know, evolve or die? Part of the thrill for me was trying to not ignore or break the rules, but adhere to them in a way that stretched them in a creative way. I love it when Freddy Rodriguez gets the third VHS tape given to him in the interrogation room, and he holds it up and goes, “You want to tell me what’s on this one?” And Gunther says, “You should just watch it.” Anything can be on that tape, you know, and you’ll still be within the rules of V/H/S. I thought this was a way to expand on the format, and the idea that these terrifying dreams of murders appear on tape before they happen was the whole concept that made me want to make the short.

Can you talk about working with special effects, and how much you were able to do practically given the format?

BRUCKNER: Everything in “Total Copy” is prac. Of all our tentacles, I believe we have one in the background that we had to CGI-replace. So in keeping with 1985, other than a few fadeouts and some basic 2D stuff, everything’s real. That’s part of the fun.

Natasha, your segment incorporates digital effects while being set in an era when digital effects weren’t really a thing.

NATASHA KERMANI: Yeah, that was fun. We wanted to create a world that obviously has a bit of a TRON energy to it, a little bit LAWNMOWER MAN. We wanted the environment to feel of that place and time. It was an interesting balance, and I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work out. David actually talked it through with me a little bit. We wanted the creature herself to be kind of not of the ’80s, so her look and her feel specifically are a little bit removed from the rest of the segment. We wanted to layer in some different aesthetics, and actually pulled her apart from the environment and ran her through some more analog processes. It was a lot of trial and error, getting it to a place where we all felt like, cool, this is different. We’re not exactly sure what’s happening, and there’s a little bit of the uncanny valley. It’s kind of surreal and it was very much an experiment, finding it as we went. Honestly, one of the cool things about this project was that it gave me the space to experiment, and find the balance that felt exciting to me as a filmmaker, and it was a rare treat to be able to do that.

Mike, you had to stage active makeup effects, a) from a subjective unbroken camera and b) out in the middle of a lake. How did you tackle those challenges?

MIKE P. NELSON: Well, I’ll never forget having one of the first calls about the short with David, and him just saying, “This is gonna be hard, Mike!” And I was like, “Yeaaaaaaah, I know.” [Laughs] But it was worth it, and we ended up figuring it out. And it was a challenge, but when you have the right people and a team that’s willing to go all in and make it work, you can pull it off. Every department, as small as our departments were on this, just gave it their all, and we went about 90 percent practical. Really, the only thing that we did VFX-wise was just cleanup. That can be so much of the magic of VFX that I don’t think is given enough credit: that often VFX can make practical effects look amazing, because they can actually disguise the magic trick a little bit, and that’s great.


Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).