VFW (2019) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering VFW was Written by Andrew Hatfield, Narrated by Kier Gomes, Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

In today’s movie landscape, its easy to get a sequel or remake greenlit, particularly in horror, but what about an original movie that is a heavy homage to an older title? This can give is something fresh and fun if done well. It has to have the right ingredients like the right actors on screen, the right script, and know exactly what it is and what it’s meant to accomplish. Indie director Joe Begos was the right guy to give us a wholly original genre flick that came out in 2019 to seemingly good reviews but little fanfare 4 years later. How a movie put out by Fangoria, one of the premiere indie horror entities, came and went is frustrating especially since VFW (watch it HERE) falls under the category of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw.

Joe Begos came on the scene in 2011 with his two shorts Bad Moon Rising and Toxin but got a huge amount of attention following his first feature film Almost Human in 2013. Almost Human starred a cast of mostly unknown actors that went heavy on the practical side of special effects. His follow up, The Mind’s Eye, would follow a similar path but get favorable comparisons to heavyweights like Brian DePalma and David Cronenberg and have even more memorable practical effects behind it. Cut to 2019 and Begos would have 2 movies come out. Both with higher budgets, bigger actors, and more production value but only one of them is destined for cult status down the line. Staring a group of expendables like older actors, a great script by Max Brailer and Matthew Mcardle, and more gore than you would expect to fit in a 90-minute movie, VFW could also be called Assault on Retirement Home 13. It wears its inspiration on it’s sleeve for John Carpenter’s hyper violent classic that itself is the directors take on Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo.

While Begos is still active and put out a modern holiday classic with Christmas Bloody Christmas, its easy to see why VFW will be his lynchpin movie. The script was originally a much bigger affair with a lair inside a high-rise apartment building, a flaming bus crashing through the side of the titular VFW building, and more bad guys storming after our hold up heroes. Fangoria bought the rights to it and it was scaled down considerably to fit their budget and release line. Begos usually writes his own movies but on VFW, the credited work is done by Max Brailer and Matthew McCardle. Neither man have much to their name, although brailer would go on to write episodes for apocalyptic kids show Last Kids on Earth and it’s video game adaptation. While the show is adapted from novels, you can see some of what he took from VFW, especially the home-made weapons, and put into his work on the show. Hopefully the two get to stretch their legs a bit more in future projects.

The movie opens with another homage to a different Carpenter movie by giving us an opening exposition about how an opioid crisis has crippled America. Hylophedrine, or Hype, basically turns people into addicted rage zombies who will do anything to score a hit. This has turned cities and towns all across the nation into war zones of gangs fighting each other with no help from police who have essentially given up. Demand exceeds supply and heated conflict is about to break out in an unnamed city. We get a glimpse of the desperation when gang leader Boz has one of his Hypers named Lucy jump off a balcony to chase after some drugs. Her younger sister Elizabeth, who goes by Lizard, witnesses this and is about to cause a heap of trouble for Boz, the gang, and the gang of veterans who are just there to do the right thing.

Boz is played by Travis Hammer, who, in addition to having a killer name, has also been around since the early 2000’s and appeared in everything from high production TV shows like True Detective and The Leftovers to movies like Arizona and From Black. He is the right kind of over-the-top menacing for this role as is his second in command Gutter played by Dora Madison. She has been big from nearly the start of her career with a major role in smash hit Friday Night Lights and a minor recurring character in Dexter. She was also the main character in Begos’ OTHER 2019 movie Bliss. Much like Hammer, she is a badass quiet character in this. Finally, Lizard is played by Sierra McCormick who was recently on 3 episodes of American Horror Stories.

It then cuts to almost the only day time shot in the whole movie. Just here and at the end of the flick. That’s really the only objectively bad part of the movie. It’s dark. I don’t mean that it’s dark in tone, even though it does accomplish that, I mean that it is visually dark and hard to see at points during the film. Even on the movies wonderful 4K release on a high-end TV, it’s just difficult to see at times. Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, and William Sadler walk into a bar. No, that’s not the start of a bad joke, it’s the other plot of the movie. They get to their little happy part of the world in their Veteran of Foreign Wars bar. Lang is the lead here as Fred but it’s William Sadler who steals the show as Walter. In addition to the already named leads, the rest of the crew consists of David Patrick Kelley, Martin Kove, and George Wendt.

While this isn’t exactly the Expendables level of horror personalities, something they tried with the even less seen Death House, the cast here has all appeared in genre of some kind. Patrick Kelley in The Warriors and The Crow, Williamson in From Dusk Till Dawn, Sadler in Demon Knight, Kove in Last House on the Left, Wendt randomly in a Masters of Horror episode and House, and Lang most recently in the two Don’t Breathe movies but also in the Best Hannibal Lecter Movie You’ve Never Seen, Manhunter. They all have different personalities and play well off both each other and the grizzled vets they are portraying. After most of the other patrons leave the bar, a younger man still in uniform comes in and they plan to go see a stripper that may have ties to their past before Lizard bursts in with stolen hype being chased by some of Boz’s men.

While the first 25 minutes or so are good exposition, world, and character building, the rest of the movie moves by in a bloody heartbeat. The pursuers waste no time in showing they just want the drugs and no witnesses when they cleave an axe into Patrick Kelley’s Doug character, nearly taking his whole arm off. His friends defend him by promptly blowing off the head of who they later find out to be the brother of the main gang leader. While the fist special effect we see is kind of cheesy, an obviously fake body hitting the floor in a shower of blood, this is where the movie really shows it’s gory teeth. A few more gang members die before the group decides they need to get out of dodge before it’s too late. Well, its too late as George Wendt’s Thomas is taken out quickly on his way to the car.

With no choice left, the remaining veteran friends lock the place down with their young refugee and active-duty soldier in tow. They have limited weapons in a shotgun, handgun, and an axe but the vets are a crafty crew. While there is some infighting, especially with Kove’s character Lou thinking the easiest way out is just to dump the girl, they end up sticking together and making weapons and traps out of anything they can get their hands on. The first siege doesn’t go well for the gang as the older group takes out most of them with improvised explosives and knives. One of the bigger baddies does come in and clean house a bit before he is finally taken down.

VFW Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

The men have a crisis of confidence mixed with a touch of ptsd for some of them but prep for the next attack. Boz is done and decides to send in everything they have to take back the drugs and kill all the witnesses. Lou takes a page out of Ellis’s book from Die Hard and tries to make a deal with Boz. He walks up to the leader, and they immediately use him as bait after listening to his offer. Lou takes out a few of them but falls to the gunfire that also hits Fred in the leg while he is still outside. Down a full man and a half now with Doug also on his way to the VFW in the sky, the group gets the encouragement they need when they talk a despondent Fred into leading again. Sadler gets his time to shine here as second in command, something we get a hint of in earlier stories told by the friends and its clear these soldiers have and will do the right thing for someone in need, even in their advanced age.

Boz comes by to talk one last time even though his only acceptable outcome is all of them dead and his Hype back in the safe in his office, but a rejuvenated Fred holds his ground. The final wave of the gang hits as the group prepares for their last stand with Williamson even grabbing checkovs manchette off the wall and doing a line of drugs to make him more pumped than early 2000s Barry Bonds. Everyone gets their part to play and baddie to take on while they still look for an escape route. Chainsaws, flagpoles, and gunfire takeover as bodies are split and blown apart in a blaze of gory glory. Walter and Shaun go for the truck but have to call an audible after seeing Fred’s wheels destroyed. They go for the military vehicle that should only be decoration and Walter is mortally wounded.

Fred goes across the street to help Lizard and take on Boz when Walter drives the truck into Boz and exploding. Not the first time Sadler has sacrificed himself as he does something similarly heroic at the end of Disturbing Behavior. Just a great character actor overall for Frank Darabont or anyone else in need of a man of class. The survivors go back and share a drink. At 92 minutes, VFW does everything a grindhouse movie should do and never overstays it’s welcome while delivering on all the goods. It’s Begos best movie to date and is a fun flick that every fan of horror, over the top action, and genre in general should check out. The 4K is incredibly inexpensive and worth a blind buy or upgrade to get a deserving place on your shelf and be crossed off the list of Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/vfw-best-horror/

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