By: John M Jerva
STARRING: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Tom Williamson, Sierra McCormick, Travis Hammer, Dora Madison and Martin Kove
DIRECTED BY: Joe Begos
Official Synopsis: A group of war veterans must defend their local VFW post and an innocent teen against a deranged drug dealer and his relentless army of punk mutants.
THE REVIEW: In the past few years, I have been a staunch advocate for films that have had a distinct throwback feel to the glory days of VHS and video stores when action and horror flicks ruled not only the shelves at your local rental shop but the cinema screen as well. Some filmmakers today simply get what fans want and that is the nostalgic feel of a time long ago when genre cinema was at its peek.
With that in mind, I give you the glorious 80’s bloodbath throwback that is VFW. The name stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars which are bars that cater to soldiers who have served our country.
The cast alone for this movie which was helmed by Joe Begos just screams 80’s and it has the feel of an Expendables type flick. First off, you have the always great Stephen Lang who leads the charge as Fred Parras, a gruff vet who’s only joy in life is his VFW bar and his friends that frequent the establishment. We have Die Hard 2’s William Sadler as his trusted number two man Walter Reed and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson as Abe Hawkins who even well into his 70’s still packs a punch. To top it off we have David Patrick Kelly of The Warriors and Commando fame as Kelly and the awesome Martin Kove who needs no introduction as Lou Clayton. This cast is perfect as the aged vets who must deal with a lethal new threat when their bar and lives are thrust into danger. Begos just gets the type of film he was making and he stacks his movie with a who’s who of 80’s action and horror.
The plot itself just screams Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 with our beloved vets’ VFW bar besieged by a horde of drugged up mutant gang bangers led by Boz played by Travis Hammer and his lethal and deadly sidekick Gutter played by Chicago Fire’s Dora Madison. The city is in decay just like the universe inhabited by Kurt Russell’s Snake Plisken and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. There may be no wall up here like in Carpenter’s classic action flick but it sure is heading in that direction.
It seems that when the sister of a young girl named Lizard dies at the hands of Boz, she steals a butt load of product named “Hype” which when inhaled transforms anyone into a ravenous killer. Unfortunately for our unlikely heroes of the VFW, Lizard picks their establishment to try to get away from the riot and now they all must defend their building in a blood soaked winner take all war.
These grizzled veterans might not have asked for any of this and they didn’t start it but they are damn sure gonna finish it and last until daybreak.
When watching the film, you even get the vibe of a VHS flick as it has a grainy feel to it and although it’s dark in many places, it serves the atmosphere just right and you feel transported back 30 years while watching it. Low budget was the only way to go with this film and it enhances the look and feel perfectly.
The music score alone just screams John Carpenter and you have to do a double take to realize that it isn’t him doing the music but Steve Moore who has put together a great homage to Carpenter and his iconic films. It starts with the opening credits and flows all through the film until the very last credit rolls. It’s that good and it is perfectly placed for the type of film this is.
Lang is solid in anything he does and I’ve been a fan of his ever since I first saw him in Michael Mann’s Band Of The Hand all those years ago. He’s got the gritty, gravitas character down to a tee and he’s great at playing a hard ass with a heart of gold. Sadler, Kove, Kelly and Williamson all get their moments as well and even though they all don’t make it through the night, Begos still finds enough for them to do. Tom Williamson is also solid as a younger soldier just back from Afghanistan who walks into the wrong place at the right time.
The action is exactly what you’d expect from a film that hails from Fangoria Productions and that’s bloody, brutal and savage. There’s enough axes to the head and other body parts to satisfy the horror crowd and while the fight choreography isn’t pretty, it’s perfect in all its bloodletting glory. Once it starts, it doesn’t let up and it’s surely not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.
Unfortunately the one drawback to the film are the villains. Led by Travis Hammer as Boz, he’s just not that memorable and he comes off as just a dude in a motorcycle jacket with no shirt. This cast of heroes deserved someone of Hans Gruber’s quality but unfortunately he just doesn’t match up. Dora Madison fairs a little better as Gutter and she does a great deal of damage and she has one of the film’s best death scenes. It truly is depraved and gory in its own right.
The script by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle is also perfect and it features some of the best lines ever for a film that is a blood soaked love letter to a bygone era. Sadler’s Walter gets the best of the lines and he delivers them with gusto and you can tell that everyone is having fun with the material.
All in all, VFW makes no mistakes about what type of film it is and it relishes in its own blood. You know that you’re getting into when you turn this movie on and if you’re the proper audience for it then you’re going to have one hell of a time with it. I know I did. Aside from weak bad guys, Lang and company come out with all guns blazing and all axes swinging and if you leave your brain at the door, you will love this flick as the cult classic it’s destined to be.
VERDICT: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
VFW is now playing in select theaters and Digital Platforms.