FANTASTIK FILM FRIDAY – FEB 14 @ 9:30 pm
featuring intro by composer Steve Moore
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.
Director: Joe Begos
Writers: Max Brallier (co-writer), Matthew McArdle (co-writer)
Stars: Martin Kove, William Sadler, Stephen Lang
Joe Begos upped the bar for horror earlier this year with his psychedelic vampire masterpiece Bliss. He does it again with VFW, an action-packed love letter to John Carpenter.
In an alternate reality, a group of Vietnam veterans drink in their local VFW hall, a refuge against their drug-addled, poverty-stricken neighborhood. They’re reminiscing about their war days and guzzling alcohol into oblivion when a young soldier just home from the Middle East enters. They welcome him into their drinking group and continue their little party, but a young woman called Lizard rushes into the bar in an attempt to escape from a vicious gang of drug lords out for revenge. When gang members brutally invade the VFW hall in their hunt for Lizard, the veterans take up arms against them, not only to protect the mysterious female, but also to guard their beloved refuge.
What seems like an incredibly simple plot really is just that – simple – which is the subtle beauty behind VFW. Without a quagmire of convoluted twists to navigate, we get to truly understand and relate to these characters. We may not be them, but we sure as hell know them. They’re family members, friends of your parents, acquaintances in the local watering hole. They sacrificed themselves for us and, while we may disagree about the politics behind that sacrifice, there is no doubt that they would drop everything and have our backs when things get tough. Sadly, there aren’t too many left and they’re quickly being replaced by privileged “woke” millennials whose concept of struggle is hashtagging on Twitter.
The film itself pays extreme homage to John Carpenter’s invasion movies, e.g. Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog and Prince of Darkness (without the latter two’s supernatural elements, of course), while fully retaining the awesome action vibe of Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. Here, Begos shows us what he’s really made of by building a relentless pace so packed with tension we remain firmly at the edge of our seats, biting our fingernails until there’s nothing left. When combined with Steve Moore’s intense soundtrack, Mike Testin’s spartan cinematography and Josh Ethier’s unforgiving editing, it simply becomes cinematic perfection and you come out with that high that’s so damned lacking in Hollywood’s CGI-fueled superhero jerk offs.
The cast? Well, you can’t get any better in these modern times. It’s mostly made up of true film veterans: Stephen Lang (Avatar, Don’t Breathe), Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem), Martin Kove (The Last House on the Left , The Karate Kid), George Wendt (Cheers, House), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Commando) and William Sadler (Tales from the Crypt, The Mist), with excellent appearances from Begos veterans Graham Skipper and Dora Madison and solid, heartfelt, memorable performances from both Sierra McCormick as Lizard and Tom Williamson as Shawn Mason, the solder just returning home. Quentin Tarantino, step aside. There’s a new guy in town bringing life to lost actors and his movies fucking rule.
When you get old and crotchety, you say things like, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” For the most part, “they” don’t. Then you see VFW and realize it’s not a nostalgia thing. It’s genuinely not done this way anymore. Thank you Joe Begos for reminding us how it should be.
-Chuck Foster, FILM THREAT