See my interview with director Joe Begos here.
In the near future, society has crumbled. A new drug, known on the streets as Hype, has contributed to this decline and its ensuing lawlessness. On the edge of town, a group of former soldiers gathers in the VFW post to share a few drinks and plan a night out. Across the street in a dilapidated theater, a ruthless drug dealer and his gang have set up shop. A random act of senseless cruelty sets these two groups on a collision course from which none will walk away unscathed.
So begins VFW, the fourth film from Joe Begos (and his first released under the relaunched Fangoria Films banner). I first saw VFW last year during Fantastic Fest as part of a double feature with Bliss, and found both to be gory, full-tilt fun. Begos gathers a number of previous Channel 83 contributors in front of and behind the camera. Fans of the director’s earlier films with recognize a number of familiar names and faces, many of whom wind up the recipients of wildly bloody death scenes.
In addition to long-time collaborators like Josh Ethier and Graham Skipper, VFW is populated with Begos’s largest ensemble cast to date. Dora Madison (Bliss) and Sierra McCormick (almost unrecognizable here after her starring turn in The Vast of Night) play pivotal roles in the movie. The film’s defiant, beating heart has to be the group of vets assembled to defend the VFW hall. Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe) is the de facto leader of the group, both when they were active military men and in the bar. He’s joined by a veritable who’s who of stars from years past—William Sadler (The Mist, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey), Martin Kove (The Last House on the Left, The Karate Kid), Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, Hammer), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Twin Peaks), and George Wendt (Bliss, House). These seasoned actors bring a sense of history and camaraderie to their roles which imbue them with an immanent likability. You believe that these men share a history and have built a friendship through their shared experiences. They are joined by a younger solider, played by Tom Williamson, whose skills will be put to the test if the group is to survive the night.
VFW runs a lean and mean 92 minutes, and its time is packed full with what you’ve come to expect from a Channel 83 film. The blood starts gushing before the title hits, and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. In between, bodies are battered by almost every method imaginable—guns, axes, power tools, improvised weapons, even a taxidermied deer head gets in on the action. As with his previous films, Joe Begos focuses on practical effects. Heads explode, limbs are severed. If you come looking for the red stuff, you won’t be disappointed.
VFW uses all of the skills that Begos and his Channel 83 crew have built during their previous films. The cinematography, often drenched in bright shades of red and blue, recalls both Begos’s earlier movies as well as the films of Dario Argento. Begos, who is also credited as primary camera operator, captures all the chaos in a way that both relates the intensity of scenes without losing a sense of geography and motion in the action sequences. All of this is made more impressive by the fact that these sequences involve a large number of actors on screen at any given time.
As with The Mind’s Eye and Bliss, Steve Moore (from the band Zombi) scores VFW. Moore, both individually and when working with Zombi, is inspired by some of the greats (not the least of which is John Carpenter) and focuses on using vintage analog equipment. The end result fits perfectly with Begos’s aesthetic, which is heavily influenced by the practical effects-heavy genre films of the 1980s.
Over the course of four films, Joe Begos and his collaborators have continued to hone their aesthetic and their approach. What they’ve achieved with VFW is no small feat, especially when considering that the film was made back-to-back with Bliss, which also left one hell of an impression. You’ll likely often hear Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 mentioned when discussing VFW. And while that is one apt comparison, it’s just one of a number of influences on display. VFW is a culmination of what Begos and Channel 83 have been doing for years, and (especially when coupled with Bliss) the movie shows a young filmmaker truly coming into his own.
VFW hits select theaters and VOD on Friday, February 14th. This one is not to be missed.
Grizzled Vets Take on Mutant Drug Punks in Joe Begos’s Deliriously Bloody ‘VFW’