(US/UK - 2020)
Directed by Joe Begos. Written by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle. Cast: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, George Wendt, David Patrick Kelly, Sierra McCormick, Tom Williamson, Travis Hammer, Dora Madison, Josh Ethier, Graham Skipper, Linnea Wilson. (Unrated, 91 mins)
Since his micro-budgeted 2014 debut ALMOST HUMAN, indie horror filmmaker Joe Begos hasn't exactly been subtle in his worship of the VHS glory days. Even his production company is named "Channel 83," a loud shout-out to David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME. Like a lot of today's young genre figures, Begos has a particular affinity for the work of John Carpenter, and if VFW was any more fanatical in its obsessive devotion, Carpenter would have to get a restraining order. In an era where the Carpenter influence is all over modern horror and cult fare, VFW is arguably the most slobbering tribute yet, with a hard-on for the legendary director that's as relentlessly throbbing as the incessant synth score by Zombi's Steve Moore. It's done out of unabashed love, and since Carpenter appears to have moved on from filmmaking, spot-on replicas like VFW are likely as close as we're gonna get to experiencing new ones. That's fine if they're done right, which VFW is for the most part (the mood is set with PRINCE OF DARKNESS-inspired opening credits that play out over the first 12 minutes). Begos followed ALMOST HUMAN with THE MIND'S EYE and the recent BLISS, but VFW is his first time working from a script he didn't write, which may help explain why it's his most accomplished directing effort to date.
Full Ellis, fancying themselves a skilled negotiator and saying something like "Relax, trust me, I can handle these guys" and actually makes it to the next scene alive?), but it also has fun with it (of course George Wendt is seated at the corner of the bar). The one big detriment of VFW is that once the power gets cut, many of the scenes take place in almost total darkness, and coupled with an occasional indulgence of quick-cut shaky-cam, some of the mayhem gets a little hard to discern on a handful of occasions.
NORM! And 81-year-old Fred Williamson can still kick your ass (don't miss a wild-eyed Hammer breaking open a brick of Hype and snorting it by the fistful to make himself impervious to pain before the final showdown). Most pre-fab cult films of this sort--even some directed by Joe Begos--are too self-consciously hip and fall victim to becoming an endless series of snarky references and knowing winks--not quite the SHARKNADO element but certainly in the ballpark. The closest VFW gets to that is Wendt's corner seat at the bar, but Begos doesn't even draw attention to it. He doesn't have Kove say something like "Fear does not exist in this VFW post." He doesn't have Kelly screech "Hyyyyperrrrs...come out to plaaaaaay!" Dumber filmmakers couldn't have stopped themselves, but Begos plays it a little smarter with VFW. Yes, the gore is absurdly over-the-top, but it's otherwise played completely straight and the cast of veteran pros gives it much in the way of credibility and gravitas. Props to Begos for realizing that making them a joke would negatively impact the film.