Flickering Myth had the opportunity to speak with V/H/S/99 filmmakers Flying Lotus, Johannes Roberts, and Maggie Levin, who contributed segments to the latest instalment in the found footage franchise, streaming now on Shudder…
Few horror film franchises hit new strides by the time they enter their fifth installment — let alone in the found footage subgenre, which is plagued by retreads, reboots and off-shoots that ride the coattails of the original. And yet, it’s been nearly a decade since V/H/S initially graced (or defiled) our screens with flying demons and glitchy serial killers, and the series is still conjuring genuine frights and delights from those who behold its horrors.
One could make the case that its enduring appeal comes down to two core elements: its maximalistic, the sky-is-the-limit approach to horror storytelling and its revolving door of seasoned horror filmmakers and zestful newcomers alike. In Shudder’s V/H/S/99, the long-running series brushes up against the turn of the century and invites six new filmmakers (across five segments) to take up the camera and tell their horror short stories.
Flickering Myth had the opportunity to speak with three of the directors who contributed to V/H/S/99: Flying Lotus, Johannes Roberts, and Maggie Levin.
Flying Lotus, a music producer and DJ by trade, made his first foray into feature filmmaking in 2017 with the off-kilter, surreal Kuso; he continues to show off a proclivity for the wacky and extreme with “Ozzy’s Dungeon.” The segment plays like a twisted riff on the Nickelodeon game shows of the 90s, including Double Dare, and focuses on the fallout from an onscreen moment gone awry.
Levin draws on her 90s riot grrrl inclinations with her contribution “Shredding,” in which a quartet of punk rock, Jackass-wannabes break into an abandoned music venue to play a show — only to stumble upon some unexpected terrors. Her horror resume includes directing an episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark and several horror shorts, as well as working second unit on future V/H/S director Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone.
Lastly, Roberts is the horror veteran of the bunch, having spent the better part of the last decade directing such high-profile films as 47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey at Night, and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. (The critical response for the latter of which may or may not have led him back to his stripped down, horror roots with his V/H/S vignette, “Suicide Bid.”) The anthology film is rounded out by directors Tyler MacIntyre (“The Gawkers”) and Vanessa & Joseph Winter (“To Hell and Back”).
In speaking with Flickering Myth, the filmmakers recounted how they were approached to direct their respective shorts, being given free rein to bring their visions to life, and their favorite found footage movies.
Over the past decade, VHS has emerged as one of the foremost horror found footage franchises and this great creative outlet for horror filmmakers. So first off, how were you approached for VHS and why was signing on such an appealing proposition to you all?
Johannes Roberts: I was speaking to Brad at Bloody Disgusting, and we were actually chatting about how bad the reviews for Resident Evil had been. And he was like, “Do you fancy doing something different?” I think he described it as a pallet cleanser. And I was like, “Yeah, do you know what?” [Brad said,] “Just go out there and do whatever the fuck you want.” And so it was a very appealing concept.
Maggie Levin: I was approached when they were making V/H/S/94. We were talking a little bit about me being involved, but I was shooting second unit for The Black Phone at the time and couldn’t join. And the V/H/S fellows very graciously kept me in mind and then approached me when they knew they were going to do 99 to see if I had any ideas, and oh boy did I. I am a maximalist as a creative, and I feel like this series is often maximalist by nature. I was thrilled and honored. Like you said, the series has such a legacy, big shoes, it’s broken a lot of people in for the first time. And so really I continue to feel honored to be in the presence of the alumni of this series.
Flying Lotus: I’ve been a fan of it since the beginning, and I did some work with Shudder in the past on this film, Kuso. Sam Zimmerman from Shudder hit me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. I’m working on a feature for next year and it’s pretty serious sci-fi stuff, so I saw this as an opportunity to get silly and do something really fun. Blow off some steam a little bit.
As you’ve mentioned, the V/H/S franchise is very loud, unabashed and in-your-face. What was it like leaning into that maximalistic mindset — working generally without boundaries and just allowing yourself to bring your full vision to the project?
Maggie Levin: It’s so cool. It’s the best. There’s nothing like it other than independently producing your own stuff. Everything else has, in my experience, stricter mandates. And so to just get to open up and be encouraged to do the most is pretty incredible.
Flying Lotus: It’s a lot of fun just to know that you can go there, and it would be accepted. It’s so much fun.
Johannes Roberts: Totally. I second that.
Flying Lotus: When it was time to put an idea together, the idea was also ‘What will I have fun working on for however long it takes?’ Because this shit is hard, too. And you get really emotional over parts of the process. You want to just make sure you’re working on something that you’ll have fun with every day.
Johannes Roberts: Do you know what? That’s the one thing no one ever talks about with this is. This was fucking hard work. It’s actually quite a lot goes into this from everybody, the prosthetics to editing and what have you.
Maggie Levin: Oh yeah. And we all did almost everything practically. Of course, there’s an amazing VFX team as well. If I can speak for the group, a lot of what we shot is real and in camera a lot of times on old camera formats. And then working to really give it that analog look. That requires a lot of precision, attention to detail and fighting for the precision, attention to detail to be maintained through every part of the process. Making a big mess is serious business.
Flying Lotus: Especially with all these different filmmakers as well. I think for the producers, I’m like, “Man, I don’t know how y’all deal with us.” Because I know that I have my quirks and everyone’s got their shit. So I’m like, “Yo, the fact that these things happened, it’s pretty crazy.” Just the things that I would throw at people. Like, if everyone’s doing this then this is a lot.
Maggie Levin: I think I heard a lot that you [to Flying Lotus] and I were both having similar battles for clearances.
Flying Lotus: We did, just trying to clear songs.
Maggie Levin: I wanted to jam pack mine.
Flying Lotus: I gave up in the end and was just like,” Fuck it, I’m just writing this shit.”
Because the year is 1999, you get to make these little horror period pieces. And of course, that’s a year that you all lived through, so how much of your own personal experiences of growing up in 1999, and specifically the media you consume back then, influenced your respective segments?
Maggie Levin: Massive personal influence all over “Shredding” for sure. And from different eras of my own life and the lives of my friends at the time and family. I hope that the sort of MTV video mixtape element is coming through because it was definitely meant to be cut in that style. I worked really closely with my editor Andy Holton, to make sure that everything has a philosophy to it that comes from that time [period] down to the last [note of the film].
Johannes Roberts: I think I’m probably the oldest person on this. I think at some point you just stop. So to me, like 1999 is just yesterday. So these are the movies I grew up on and that’s what I made and lived. But it doesn’t actually feel that long ago to me now. It just feels like that’s the world I’m in. So it didn’t feel too much of a stretch to go back there.
Flying Lotus: For me, I feel like I was most switched on in the 90s. I was paying attention to stuff, really paying attention to media and just really absorbing stuff. So I always find that era fun to pull from just [for] my own personal ideas. But when it comes down to it, I do know that I took a lot of inspiration from my family. The whole character of the mom is based off of my mother as if she were a horror villain basically. So in a way, it was the easiest kind of thing to make and write. I was just like, “Oh yeah, she would totally be crass and do these sort of things.” And just using things from life.
Out of curiosity, did you watch Double Dare when you were younger?
Flying Lotus: Hell yeah!
Okay. Because I got major Double Dare vibes from “Ozzy’s Dungeon.”
Flying Lotus: Oh yeah. All the Nickelodeon stuff, we know all that.
My next question’s for Maggie and Steve [Flying Lotus], both of your segments are very music heavy. And Maggie, I know that you had original music made for it that’s in that grungy, 90s, riot grrrl tone. And then Steve, you scored your segment as well. So what was it like creating that music for your respective pieces?
Maggie Levin: Well, it’s very controversial to put music in a found footage film. I just want to say straight up, I know that there are some found footage devotes who will not be thrilled that there is a music, even though it is diegetic. Dressage, who is actually not the actress who’s singing in the movie, but somebody who I collaborate with frequently — I worked with her on [my Into the Dark episode] “My Valentine” — we talked about both creating these original songs, a lost Blink 182 song, which is called “We Hate the Same Things,” and then “Diamonds Turned Black,” which is the Bitch Cat riot grrrl song. But then there’s also this sneaky score presence that she built throughout. And I really do think that Dressage is an absolute genius.
There was a notion of the whole tape itself eventually becoming haunted by the ghosts of this band. Every time the spirit world is affecting the camera and then directly interacting with the camera, their natural music starts to come through.
Flying Lotus: For mine, because there was a TV show, I had an excuse to make some music. And it was really interesting because I always knew that, “Oh yeah, I’ll be able to do that. No problem. Let me just shoot all this stuff and then I’ll deal with the music later. No problem.” And then when it came down to it, I got really stressed out in that process of making this stuff because I was like, “Wait, I don’t know if I’ve ever made game show music before.” It’s got its own little challenges about it, but it was a lot of fun. Always in the back of my mind I was like, “Well if it sucks, I’ll just blame it on the TV show. It’s not my fault the show just has shitty music.” No, but I really, really enjoyed the process. I’m actually finishing some stuff now so I can put it out on the [day of release], and have the [game] show music out the day the movie drops.
Lastly, as our time wraps up, if you were to name a favorite found footage movie, what would it be for each of you?
Maggie Levin: Oh, I’m going to go classic and I’m going to say Blair Witch. That movie had a giant impact on me. Just incredible and groundbreaking.
Johannes Roberts: I saw one, Lake Mungo that… was pretty weirdly creepy. I don’t get creeped out a lot. And I was like, “Do you know what? There’s something quite disturbing about that one.”
Flying Lotus: I haven’t seen that one.
Johannes Roberts: Worth digging out, actually.
Flying Lotus: I like Creep. That was cool. I ain’t trying to kiss ass, but I do think the second V/H/S is really up there. That hit at a certain time too just, that was perfect.
SEE ALSO: Read our review of V/H/S/99 here
V/H/S/99 harkens back to the final punk rock analog days of VHS, while taking one giant leap forward into the hellish new millennium. In V/H/S/99, a thirsty teenager’s home video leads to a series of horrifying revelations.