In the near future, a rundown city is in the grip of a drug called Hype. Dealer Boz (Travis Hammer) has come into possession of a large, extremely valuable shipment of said drug and is looking to make a killing until the stash is stolen by Lizard (Sierra McCormick) who is looking to hurt Boz and hurt him bad. Far play to her, the guy was responsible for the death of Lizard’s sister.
Lizard takes off with the drugs but it’s not long before Boz has put out a call on the airwaves promising a free supply of Hype to anyone who can return the goods. Chased by deranged punk mutants, Lizard takes refuge in the local VFW, where Fred (Stephen Lang) and his ex-soldier pals are enjoying a drink. After the vets repel an attempt to take back Lizard, the building is soon under siege as Boz looks to get his merchandise back at any cost…
At once a scuzzy, glorious, grindhouse take on late 70s/early 80s action flicks, VFW doesn’t waste much time in getting down and dirty – someone gets a machete to the bonce a couple of minutes in – and for anyone who remembers the halcyon days of those straight to video classics you’ll be wanting to settle down for a pure shot of no-nonsense, pared-down, grime-coated nirvana.
If there were no name actors on the roster, VFW would have still worked as a fast-paced, blood-soaked thriller but when you add this cast to the mix and you, like me, may spend the 88 minutes with a huge grin on your face as the very folk you were watching in those low-budget actioners way back are here again, still taking names and kicking ass: Martin Kove, Fred Williamson, I salute you.
And, if you’re looking for the more polished Commando/Die Hard 2 end of the boom-bang-crash spectrum, there’s David Patrick Kelly (remember when Arnie said he was going to kill him last?) and William Sadler (not in charge of air traffic control this time). Add to this the terrific Stephen Lang as the leader of this bunch of superannuated superheroes and there’s almost no need to throw them into a desperate fight for survival. Watching them drink and bicker for an hour and a half would have been great too.
Joe Begos’ previous movie Bliss was easily one of the my favourite genre pieces of the previous year and it’s a nigh-on impossible act to follow but even if VFW isn’t an instant classic (and who’s to say it won’t become one in time?) it’s a quality piece of work which stands head and shoulders above most titles in the action/horror field. Dora Madison, so good in Bliss’ lead role, also gets to make an impact here – figuratively and literally – in a smaller but no-less memorable part as Boz’s right-hand mistress of mayhem Gutter.
Recalling the landmark siege thriller that is Assault On Precinct 13, even down to Steve Moore’s excellent and knowingly Carpenteresque score, this is going to drive those looking for nuance absolutely batshit crazy. It’s two sides trying to kill each other in the most outrageous, gory ways possible and if that isn’t enough to make you want to see this movie right now then I’m not sure if we can be friends.
VFW is very much of the moment but also captures a place in time where folks like me would pick a film like this from the shelves in the video rental shop, take it home for a late-night viewing and then bang on to their mates about how they just had to see it. It’s a superbly-crafted homage to that era, right down to Steve Testin’s beautifully muddy cinematography and it may be odd to say that the film left me with a warm glow, considering a lot of it consists of people getting stabbed, blown to mush or having bits chopped off them, but there you are.
If I had a VHS copy of VFW it would be absolutely knackered by now. However, in this digital age, you can rewatch for all time without fear of tape degradation. And you should.