I might be stretching the limits of “horror” here with a review of VFW for THS Fright-A-Thon. But also, it’s my horror marathon, not yours, so VFW counts. You might be asking yourself, what in the hell is VFW. Well I asked myself that when I bought the Blu-Ray for it off Amazon earlier this year. In an age where you have to look up the Metacritic, RottenTomatoes, or some other review site (like this one!) for an opinion on a film, I didn’t do that here. I paid full price, $24.99, for a movie that I had never heard of, or seen anything about.
I didn’t look up the trailer, I didn’t look at the IMDB page, I didn’t ask my friends about it, I just bought it. Why did I buy it without looking at anything? The poster for the film, and the cast.
As a fan of action and horror movies from the 70’s all the way to today, that cast was too good to pass up. I didn’t even know what the film was about, but it had stars of yesteryear with a bunch of weapons and I bought it. So when I sat down and watched the film, I had no preconceptions or bias. And wow, was it a hell of a ride.
VFW Doesn’t Reinvent The John Carpenter Wheel, But It’s A Fantastic Tribute
Over the years, there have been plenty of ultra-violent, super gory, throwbacks to 70’s and 80’s. Hobo With A Shotgun was probably the best of these films. It took the concepts and ideas of those classics but added some heart and a fantastic performance from Rutger Hauer. VFW doesn’t add much of the heart to the formula, but it does lovingly touch on the things that made those 80’s action/horror flicks so strong.
VFW was written by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle. It was directed by Joe Begos. I hadn’t heard of any of these filmmakers before the film, but I definitely have them on my radar now. In addition to these talents at the helm, you have one of the best ensemble casts constructed for a movie like this. Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Martin Kove, Fred Williamson, David Patrick Kelly, and George Wendt headline. The new performers here are Tom Williamson (son of Fred), Sierra McCormick, and Travis Hammer.
The Basics Of VFW
The story for the film goes like this. A group of veterans spend nearly all of their time at the local VFW (Veteran’s Of Foreign Wars) post. One night they’re hanging out drinking, when a new veteran, Shaun Mason (played by Tom Williamson) shows up. He won’t be the only new arrival at the post. Because the local drug kingpin, Boz, is looking for Lizard, who stole his latest shipment of drugs. Lizard finds her way to the VFW and the men there have to put their lives on the line to protect her from the hordes of drug-crazed freaks attacking them.
Lang plays Fred Parras, the operator of the disheveled VFW post. Sadler plays Walter Reed. Fred Williamson plays Abe Hawkins. Martin Kove plays the smooth talking Lou Clayton. David Patrick Kelly plays Doug McCarthy. Finally, George Wendt plays the hilariously timid Thomas Zabriski.
It’s a pretty cookie-cutter plot, but you and I both know that we’re not watching a movie like this for the plot. You’re here for the classic actors and the gore effects.
The Gore And Performances Take Over VFW
You might be disappointed if some of your favorite actors don’t get as much shine here, but each of the classic character actors here all do their best. Stephen Lang holds the whole thing together, just like his character Fred, holds this group of vets together. Just like the VFW post that they occupy, these guys creak and groan with age. They’re past their prime, and the movie isn’t afraid to tell you that. After each action setpiece they’re rubbing their backs, their legs, they breath heavily. The infusion of youth in this film is just what it needed though. While Boz isn’t the most developed of villains, he does an admirable job antagonizing the heroic group. He also has his sadistic side. Being a drug dealing kingpin, he does some pretty brutal stuff in this film.
As much as it would be great to see all these favorite actors live to the end, the ways that some of them bite the dust are fitting of heroes. Fred Williamson’s final moments in the film are particularly awesome with a spurt of youth injected in him by way of hard narcotic drugs.
It’s a classic grindhouse style film that is more style and substance than film classic. The gore effects here are top notch and you can feel the blows of every weapon, gunshot, or fist. There’s no use of CGI here, and while that shows sometimes in the action scenes, it makes up for it with everything in the film feeling completely real.
VFW Doesn’t Overstay It’s Welcome Or Bog You Down With Too Much Of A Message
You might think that a movie like VFW would have a message about respecting vets or something similar. While I believe that wholeheartedly, the film sticks around for just long enough and doesn’t stick around too long after that. It takes the principles and tenets set forward by John Carpenter and other 70’s/80’s action/horror/siege films and uses them to great effect.
Overall, the film is a great watch for fans of these actors, the genre, or just anyone in need of an hour and a half break from reality.
Sometimes you might surprise yourself when you just give something a shot without looking up too much about it. VFW was like that. If I had looked up the cast, the plot, and everything else about the film, I might have had a different preconception about the film. So it goes to show that a surprise might just be better than knowing it all before you watch.