[Panic Fest 2021 Review] 'Vicious Fun' is a Blood-Soaked Horror-Comedy that Fully Embodies Its Title
“We are about to have a lot of fun tonight…”
…And if fun is what you’ve found yourself needing more and more of these days—let’s face it, we all need a good boost—then good news, because director Cody Calahan’s (The Oak Room) Vicious Fun is the rare film that embodies its title in every sense.
Written by James Villeneuve and set in 1983—you know, the greatest decade for slasher films--Vicious Fun, which just had its U.S. premiere at Panic Fest 2021, follows Joel (Evan Marsh), a horror movie fan boy who writes for a Fangoria-esque magazine called Vicious Fanatics and has such an ego that even his crush/roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele) has to question if he even likes anything at all. A jealous weirdo who struggles with what’s socially acceptable and not, Joel follows Sarah’s most recent date, Bob (Ari Millen), to a bar to learn more about how it went, failing to hold his liquor and passing out in the bathroom. That’s just the beginning of Joel’s bad night though, as he wakes up to discover a sort of Serial Killers Anonymous type group has taken over the now closed joint, and it isn’t long before they realize Joel isn’t one of them.
Vicious Fun wastes no time setting the atmosphere, opening on a scene straight out of an 80s slasher flick, with an abundance of horror movie fog washing over a seedy hotel and set to Steph Copeland’s energetic and excellent 80s horror-inspired synth score. This is a film that basks in the vibe of our favorite slashers like Elizabeth Bathory basks in blood. A surprising twist and some bloodshed later, and we find Joel interviewing a schlocky horror director.
For some of us horror dorks, Joel is going to feel like an attack—albeit a justified one—because he’s the worst of us fans who think we know everything embodied into one person. Rude and full of himself to the point of the audience wanting to face palm every time he opens his mouth, Joel slams the director over continuing to make slashers with “slow-moving” killers, and suggests his “brilliant” idea of a killer who drives a taxi cab. Never do this, people. Later, we find Joel coming up with lines for the taxi driver script he’s of course writing, spouting cringy phrases such as “windshield wipers slash like deadly knives”, to which he adds, “nice.” Simply put, he’s a hack who doesn’t know it yet and is an obnoxious film-bro type character that’s difficult to love, but Marsh brings so much charm to the performance that it’s not too hard to overlook how annoying Joel is and start rooting for him when shit goes sideways.
Joel’s views are ultimately part of the film’s commentary on the genre, which is to say that no matter how much the slasher genre and its killers change or fans clamor for something “different”, the films are only ever as good as the vicious fun they allow themselves to have. Screw logic. Forget how the killer operates. It’s all about the bloody entertainment.
And Vicious Fun is 100% killer entertainment.
Calahan’s film aims to poke fun at—from a loving place, mind you—a variety of killers which viewers will recognize as homages to slasher villains. There’s the Patrick Bateman-esque Bob, the Jason Voorhees incarnate, hulking behemoth Mike (Robert Maillet)—who views his “essence animal” as a shark—and, well, you’ll just have to figure out on your own who military nutjob Zachary (David Koechner), methodic Fritz (Julian Richings), crazed cannibal Hideo (Sean Baek), and indifferent badass Carrie (Amber Goldfarb) all represent. Each actor fully embraces the tropes of their characters, with Villeneuve’s clever dialogue bringing each to life in new and interesting ways while shining a light on their evil souls and what makes them tick. Koechner is creepier than he’s ever been on screen, but the standout here is Millen as Bob, who plays the role like Patrick Bateman hopped up on pixie sticks and is just having the time of his life.
To say anything more about the plot would spoil the twisty narrative of Vicious Fun, so let’s just say that this film slashes through expectations and loads up on surprises like Jason Voorhees loads up on a body count. Stylish and fast-paced, Vicious Fun is a blood-soaked adventure through 80s slasher tropes that will cut a grin into the most hardened of faces.
Calahan’s sharp horror-comedy plays up the humor with a heightened sense of reality that allows the filmmaker to stretch our sense of what’s acceptable in this universe. So, it feels completely natural when Joel encounters a trio of bumbling cops screaming about never insulting a man’s mustache or one even going full meta as he explains the genre to his associates, calling it “shocking, surprising, and downright delightful,” a sentiment which perfectly describes Vicious Fun.
And before you ask, yes, Vicious Fun is a film that doesn’t just spill blood, it revels in it. A love letter to slashers would be nothing without good gore, and Calahan packs his film to the brim with all of the intestine pulling, throat slitting and eye gouging your heart desires, all of it executed with a tongue in cheek style that never lets the blood-spilling feel anything but entertaining. Admittedly, the film is lacking in creativity when it comes to the kills, which is a let down for a movie paying homage to a genre that lives off of memorable slashings, but each of these moments are entertaining enough that we can look past that.
A less than likeable hero and (mostly) forgettable kills aside, any horror fan who has been seeking something with that fun, horror movie party vibe similar to Friday the 13th Part 3 is going to find a gruesome gem in Vicious Fun. This is the kind of film that slays at slumber parties and is destined to be one of the best horror-comedies of the year.
By Matt Konopka
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