The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - VICIOUS FUN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - VICIOUS FUN

A horror movie nerd stumbles across a secret society of serial killers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Cody Calahan

Starring: Evan Marsh, Amber Godfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings, David Koechner

vicious fun poster

Canadian filmmaker Cody Calahan caught my attention back in 2016 with his third feature, Let Her Out, an impressive psychological horror that drew heavily on the work of his compatriot David Cronenberg. It's a little disappointing that after such a challenging but rewarding film, Calahan finds himself sucked into the current wave of '80s nostalgia for horror-comedy Vicious Fun. But as throwback tributes go, Vicious Fun certainly nails the vibe it's seeking to recreate.

vicious fun review

It's 1983 Minnesota, and our anti-hero is Joel (Evan Marsh), the assistant editor of a Fangoria type horror fanzine called "Vicious Fanatics". When we meet him first he's interviewing a filmmaker of low budget schlock, whom he clearly has no respect for. Joel hijacks the interview by pitching his own half-assed idea about a taxi driver who uses his job as cover for serial killing.

That night, Joel finds himself pitching the same story, but now placing himself in the role of the killer cabbie. Through a sequence of misunderstandings, Joel has stumbled upon a Masonic-esque meeting for serial killers, and must convince the other attendees that he is himself a homicidal maniac. When the genuine killers figure out his ruse, he's suddenly fighting for his life, taken under the wing of leather clad serial killer hunter Carrie (Amber Goldfarb).

vicious fun review

Vicious Fun has a lot of…well, fun playing with the conventions of the horror genre. The group of killers falls into specific archetypes, with a hulking Jason type who preys on coeds (Robert Maillet); a Lector-esque cannibal (Sean Baek); a John Wayne Gacy type accountant by day, killer clown by night (Julian Richings); a c-list Patrick Bateman (Ari Millen); and perhaps most chilling of all, a CIA agent who boasts of wiping out entire Cambodian villages (David Koechner).

While the obligatory synth score and neon heavy cinematography are in place, more important to capturing the '80s mood is the performance of Marsh. He really nails the essence of the sort of teenage boys who found themselves at the centre of such hijinks in horror movies of the period. But crucially, Calahan's script recognises that a lot of these guys were assholes. Vicious Fun refreshingly gives us a nerd character whom we're not expected to sympathise with. Instead he's a sad sack who blames the world for his woes and can't recognise that his personality is far from endearing. Watching him be schooled on his social failings by Carrie reminded me of the then revelatory dynamic between Charlie Sheen and Nastassja Kinski in 1994's Terminal Velocity.

vicious fun review

It's this dynamic that ensures the "fun" part of Vicious Fun delivers, but it never quite lives up to the other half of its title. As a horror movie it's too often bogged down by comic scenes that play out well past the stage where they've made their point, and too much of the movie involves characters sitting around engaging in Judd Apatow-esque schtick. The idea of a horror movie obsessive as the protagonist is wasted here, as Calahan never finds a way to integrate Joel's knowledge of the genre into the scenario, ala Wes Craven's Scream series.

If evoking a past decade is enough to keep you happy, Vicious Fun will certainly check that box, but its ambitions sadly never rise to anything particularly original.

Vicious Fun
 is on Shudder UK/ROI from June 29th.

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