15th Mar2021

Frightfest Glasgow 2021: ‘Vicious Fun’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet, David Koechner, Alexa Rose Steele | Written by Cody Calahan, James Villeneuve | Directed by Cody Calahan

Sometimes there are films whose titles LITERALLY tell you what to expect from a movie. Vicious Fun is one such film…There’s a whole lot of vicious things going down in the film – in particular to the gaggle of serial killing villains in the movie – and it’s also a whole lot of fun. A LOT of fun!

The latest film from Black Fawn Films, who are keeping the Canuxploitation tradition of genre cinema alive, Vicious Fun comes from director Cody Calahan who – if you’ve been reading Nerdly for quite some time – was responsible from not only one of my favourite Black Fawn films, not only one of my favourite Canadian genre films but also one of my favourite horror films full stop, Antisocial; as well as last years superb The Oak Room (which is finally getting a UK release very soon). This time round we’re in 80s-esque territory – the neon-hued, synth filled world of Minnesota in 1983; in which a young, arrogant film critic Joel (Evan Marsh), stumbles across a world he could only previously see in the horror films he writes about in Vicious Fanatics magazine.

On the way back from a failed interview with a horror filmmaker, Joel finds that his roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele) – who he’s secretly in love with – has a new boyfriend. Being the arrogant prick that he is, Joel decides to follow Sarah’s new boyfriend Bob (Ari Millen) to a local bar, sitting down to drink with the man he sees a love rival and getting totally wasted. Passing out in the bar, Joel wakes up to find himself locked in after hours. But he’s not alone… Joel find himself locked in with a strange “self-help group” who are meeting to talk through their issues. Only this self-help group consists of serial killers – the kind of stereotypical characters we’ve seen in a million horror films – looking for support in their evil ways and Joel is pretending to be one of them, using his knowledge of genre films to keep himself alive.

A self-knowing horror film, Vicious Fun shares a lot in common, for the most part, with Calahan’s The Oak Room. Both are small-scale films that use storytelling to great effect – in this case the stories our group of self-help killers tell about their escapades, to build the characters, the story, and the universe in which this film is set. However where The Oak Room used a methodical, creepy sense of dread to tell its story and keeps things low-key, Vicious Fun goes for the jugular. Literally. Like the horror films of the 80s, which our protagonist Joel writes bout, Vicious Fun is packed with gore… of the practical variety! Yes, Vicious Fun‘s myriad of gory set-pieces are rendered in the same style as the films of the decade in which in inhabits and the kills are just as vicious. Hence saying that the title tells you exactly what to expect from the film. However the full title is Vicious Fun and that FUN quotient is fulfilled just as well as the vicious scenes of horror.

The fun here comes from the knowing nature of the film – there are plenty of nods to the cliches and stereotypes of horror films of the past. For example one of our serial killers, Mike (Robert Maillet) loves to kill sorority sisters whilst wearing a welders mask. Now that itself is a fun nod to slasher movies, however Mike is made fun of by the rest of the self-help group for not being great at his “job” as one girl always gets away from his killing sprees. A truly BRILLIANT play on the tropes of the “final girl” of genre cinema. It’s also the killers of Vicious Fun that also provide the rest of the films laughs, the blacker than black humour of the stories they tell in the group session matches only by fun each actor has portraying his, or her, villainous role. Of the villains, Ari Millen is the standout of the group – his over the top, maniacal portrayal of Bob is the kind of performance that captures and HOLDS your attention throughout the film.

Millen also has a fantastic foil in Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), who is introduced in the films opener killing a helpful gent who offers her a ride. However, like the rest of the film, things are not what they seem. Vicious Fun has “fun” with audience expectations, playing with the cliches we expect and subverting tropes to deliver a film that balances horror and humour to perfection. And I do mean perfection. Once again Calahan has given audiences a film that hits all the right notes; one that can be appreciated on the surface as a fun horror yet, for those who love the genre, there’s a lot to appreciate about the reverence, fun and playful way in which Vicious Fun homages and parodies the cliches, tropes and stereotypes horror fans know and love. Making Vicious Fun, in this reviewers opinion, the latest addition to the pantheon of the best horror comedy ever.

***** 5/5

Vicious Fun screened on March 9th as part of this years Glasgow Frightfest digital edition.


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