To the spirit of the spooky season, the horror anthology series V/H/S takes you back to Y2K nostalgia with V/H/S/99 on Shudder, and the best of the “found footage” comes from filmmaker Maggie Levin’s “Shredding” segment, starring Canadian actor Verona Blue.
“Shredding” stands out as a highlight from the rest of the segments in V/H/S/99, taking you back to ‘90s riot grrrls when a punk band known for Jackass-esque antics decides to record a music video in a haunted venue and are terrorized by the spirits of the all-woman band “Bitch Cats,” who were trampled to death by their fans three years earlier.
Unlike some of the segments in V/H/S/99, “Shredding” isn’t the type of horror that makes you want to push yourself away from the story.
“There's something about the fact that Maggie, as a woman, has a very different perspective on horror and what horror is like, compared to a lot of other filmmakers who lean into making people really uncomfortable or unsettled, or having power over them,” Blue told Yahoo Canada during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “Maggie's segment really invites you into it.”
“Even though there's a real punk-rock, kind of loosey-goosey, free spirit to the segment, everything was, down to the last pixel, very carefully designed,” Levin explained. “I thought about every single moment in that film hundreds of times.”
“I started to think about my childhood experiences and what that time represents to me as an adult now, so both the best and the worst of what 1999 meant to me, and I really wanted to fuse those kind of see CKY skate video things that all of the boys that I had crushes on were making at the time. I also really wanted to dig into what was wrong with the sort of ‘any town USA mentality,’ which trickled down from above, and there's a lot of late ‘90s, MTV [inspiration] in there.”
Additionally, when it came to crafting this “Shredding” story, the riot grrrls aspect was particularly appealing to Levin.
“I also have long wanted to do a ghost rock band,” the director said. “Also, the meeting of late-‘90s, early-aughts misogyny core, against riot grrrls rock feminism, I wanted those things to go head-to-head and then, I'm playing favourites, so riot grrrls win.”
'This version of this character, on almost any other show, is a sex kitten'
Verona Blue, originally from Toronto, leads the Bitch Cats as Deidre, a band front-woman like you’re never seen before, largely attributed to Maggie Levin’s commitment to not over-sexualizing or glossing up the character.
“Maggie gave me so much freedom to make Deidre exactly the character that I sometimes sort of get invited to play on other shows, but she’s really glossed up by television standards,” Blue said. “This version of this character, on almost any other show, is a sex kitten, like the fishnets are torn in a very like inviting way, her makeup is black lipstick but it's sultry, and Deidre’s like, ‘hey, go f-ck yourself, do not get any closer, I will hit you.”
“There's not a real lot of representation of authentic, alternative people on television or in film. It's always this interpretation of like, they work at a Hot Topic, they hate their parents, they're a walking costume, they don’t have any depth to them… Being able to just be like, ‘Hey, can I make her scary? Not pretty, not cute, not a sexy rocker, but tough, really tough,’...that was really amazing.”
'A remarkable free space for female empowerment'
When V/H/S/99 premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), there was such excitement in the crowd, likely the most vocal audience of the festival. It speaks to not just the communal aspect of watching horror content, but the impact that the genre has on its fans, particularly women.
“Horror is such a remarkable free space for female empowerment and kind of always has been, I think in a sneaky way,” Maggie Levin said. “The concept of a Scream Queen goes way back and I think it lends itself beautifully to exploring the things in our world that I think deserve some catharsis.”
“There's a reason why women are particularly attracted to true crime and to really gritty, gory stuff. There's something about getting to go through the worst of the worst and then come out the other side of it, more alive than ever. So that's really what I adore about horror and also, you just get to do some weird, wacky stuff.”
“I think there's not a lot of opportunity to get to play a hero and a villain at the same time, or to have a switch in an interesting way, unless you're like a huge movie star in a thriller, ” Verona Blue added. “In horror, you get to meet a lot more variety of creatives, from writers and directors, because it tends to be slightly lower budget, and so it's more scrappy, you have more people whose scripts are not being micromanaged within an inch of its life.”
“They get to come in there and be like, here's my idea, people rework it a little bit to make sure it fits the budget and the timeline and whatever, and then you just get to run with it. As an actor, it's a very free space.”