by Steven Wandling
Joe Begos (Bliss, The Mind’s Eye) films are the kind of scuzzy brilliance that feel like the cinematic equivalent to something only found in the dingy punk rock clubs of old a la CBDB, and his latest VFW is certainly no exception. The director’s latest slime infested scuzzfest opus should come with a warning: if you aren’t ready for a movie to grab you by the throat and assault your senses for a gleeful 90 minutes then just don’t bother. Begos is very well adept at telling intense violent stories populated by complicated characters whose behavior mimics the neon lit urban shadows setting they exist in.
Partnering with horror genre mainstay Fangoria, Begos brings audiences an early John Carpenter (Assault on Precint 13, Escape From New York) by way of the grindhouse horror-action thriller that’s filled with some of the best character actors in the history of film.Throughout 92 minutes, an all night showdown ensues between a group of senior veterans trapped in a rundown VFW post and nearby drug dealers and their army of mutant, zombie-like opioid addicts. VFW, like Begos’ other films, pulls off the rarest of feats by wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve while also rising above the simple throwback label. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t filled to the brim with badass characters that hearken back to the glory days of the action film, but there’s also a great story at the movie’s center about the power of bonding between soldiers that plays most heavily into the way the more than capable veterans handle themselves when trouble comes calling early and often throughout.
The cast really does so much in making the audience feel invested when they watch VFW. Anchored by Steven Lang (Don’t Breath, Avatar) and filled out by Fred Williamson (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn), William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight), David Patrick Kelly (The Crow, Twin Peaks), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid) and George Wendt (TV’s Cheers), the motley crew knock it out of the park as vets who find themselves trying to survive the night trapped in their own seemingly safe outpost. Teenage outcast Lizard (Sierra Mcormick) steals nearby drug dealer Boz’s dope causing him to lead countless drug-addicted freaks, punks and mutants to descend upon the the good guys. That’s when the fun really begins.
VFW fires with both barrels from the start and never really lets up, save for a few intimate moments in the down time of the fighting. This movie should draw in any fans of early 80s horror/action cinema from the likes of a young John Carpenter. VFW takes place in a near supposed future in which the world has gone even further to shit than anything slight of a pandemic. The opioid crisis has gotten even worse than anyone thought imaginable, with new drug hype causing people to become brain dead zombies (or hypers) that bare resemblance to the infected movie theater denizens in Lamberto Bava’s Italian horror shocker Demons (1987). The creature effects are creepy as hell, and VFW manages to be visceral and still leave plenty to the imagination.
Driving home the 1980s tone and feel of this movie is the adrenaline-pumping score from Steven Moore that is soaked in paranoia and dread. The music then gushes over into a more classic sounding driving melody that never falls into simple nostalgia. It’s as good a score as anything from the earl 1980s era that people are most associating with VFW. Fans of Begos’ other films are going to love seeing mainstays like Graham Skipper (Beyond the Gates, The Mind’s Eye) and Dora Madison (Bliss, The Loft) play part of Boz’s (Travis Hammer) inner circle. Madison is always a standout and remains so in VFW as sword-toting assassin Gutter, a role that requires a lot more physicality and badass posturing than delivering memorable dialogue. Travis Hammer is eerily reminiscent of a young James Remar in 48 Hours with his shirtless, open leather jacket attire and the homicidal mad look in his eye. He plays Boz with the right amount of blind rage rage and calm, calculated restraint.
VFW is a beautifully shot film if, like me, you think that grainy footage and dingy dark barroom neons are something to marvel at. Through Joe Begos’ lens, they are, and the film looks gorgeous in a very scuzzy kind of way. The darkness feels deep and infinite and the bar lights make the VFW post seem like the last refuge of humanity against a never-ending horde of the undead. The performances from everyone involved, but especially from the veterans forced to fight alongide a young sharpshooter just home from the Middle East. are stellar. The camaraderie on screen and the amount of fun Lang, Kove, Kelly and Williamson all seem to be having with VFW make it all the more worth your time.
The amount of jaw-dropping moments of gleeful spatter and blood spray on full view in the movie is incredible. Begos knows how to film a lot of the more violent aspects in a way that builds up the suspense while still giving you healthy amounts of gore. The characters are well rounded and feel like they really could exist, thanks to the performances from the top notch actors portraying them. Joe Begos gets all the praise here though for crafting a beautiful, dirty film that rocks and could work as a double feature with the also-brilliant Begos vampire film Bliss or something as obvious as The Terminator. VHS is a visceral thriller that barrels through its 92 minute runtime with an intensity that matches the performances on screen. It’s well worth a watch to see who is going to fight the night, and stay alive.
Thanks so much for reading. VFW is now available for rent and purchase through all streaming platforms and VOD. Check it out and share this with your horror loving friends! Follow creepylovely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you would like to write for us just shoot us a private message or DM on social media. Stay lovely! Stay creepy!