VFW  *****

Directed by Joe Begos.

Starring Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Travis Hammer.
Horror, U.S., 92 minutes, 18.


Reviewed as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow, March 2020.


VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars and is the latest blood-soaked movie from Joe Begos. Set in the very near future America is in the grip of a crime epidemic mainly caused by the drug Hype, a highly addictive drug that turns its users, or Hypers, into psychotic lunatics desperate for their next fix.


When teenage runaway Lizard, Sierra McCormick, plans revenge for the death of her sister by stealing a stash of Hype from crime lord Boz, Travis Hammer, she seeks sanctuary in the VFW across from the disused cinema that Boz uses as his base of operations.


Regulars of this lodge have seen action in wars ranging from Vietnam to an unspecified one as yet to happen. Old they may be but they are more than happy to dish out some payback when put into a corner.


It is a simple premise that is perfectly executed and interestingly Begos for the first time is directing from a script that is not his own.  Where his previous film BLISS was an intimate exploration of artistic obsession, with copious amounts of blood letting and bad language, this is his biggest project yet in terms of scale when it comes to action and size of cast. And what a cast!


In a rare leading good guy role, Stephen Lang as Fred makes a gruff hero, in terms of physical appearance and timbre of voice, who gives as good as he gets. Likewise, William Sadler as his friend Walter impresses in his most physical role since DIE HARD 2. The two veterans have great chemistry as they reminisce, drink, fight side by side and improvise with bar supplies to come up with lethal weaponry. Fred Williams proves that his charisma and fists are still forces to be reckoned with while Martin Kove is a particular stand out as a sharp-suited car salesman who would rather use his negotiating skills to cut a deal. Rounding out the motley crew is David Patrick Kelly whose mere presence adds to THE WARRIORS vibe that runs throughout and George Wendt who seems to be sitting in the same spot of the bar as he did in CHEERS.


The lead villain Boz, played by Travis Hammer, struggles to make a lasting impression against his veteran counterparts. However, Dora Madison, solidifying her horror credentials after BLISS, steals the show from her boss as a faux hawked, sword-wielding bad ass who makes you wish for her post-apocalyptic spin-off wandering a Hype ravaged America.


Much has been made of the similarities to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, but as Begos himself made a point of saying at the Q&A afterwards, Carpenter himself lifted archetypes and plots from Howard Hawk’s westerns. This is no mere Carpenter cover version. There are nods to Walter Hill, John Woo and Sam Peckinpah here which are filtered through Begos’s neon-drenched, blood-splattered vision. Notions of masculinity and honour are placed right at the forefront here, themes that seem to have been missing from American action cinema since the heyday of those directors mentioned earlier.


Given the prime Saturday night slot at Glasgow FrightFest, the film went down a storm. If given the chance, it is a film that should be experienced on a large cinema screen, particularly with an eager crowd. With each film, Begos has expanded his canvas and skill set, putting himself forward as one of the most exciting directors in the genre today. For genre fans, VFW is a pure uncut hit of action horror that reminds viewers of today that by looking back we can move forward when it comes to gory kick-ass entertainment.


Iain MacLeod.





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