Set over one night in Minnesota circa 1983, Cody Calahan delivers a hundred minutes of nostalgic, tongue-in-cheek horror tainted laughs. Joel (Evan Marsh) is a film critic for horror magazine Vicious Fanatics and is head over heels in lust with his roommate Sarah. After discovering she has a new boyfriend, Joel makes the impulsive move to follow her new beau, Joe, to try and dig up some dirt. The decision places Joel in an awkward position however, as he is mistakenly identified as the missing member of a support group. This gathering isn’t for those struggling with alcohol or drugs, the attendees share a much more diabolical urge – they’re all practising serial killers. As Joel is quickly ousted, he finds himself in the very dangerous role of prey to this pack of deadly hunters. Can his horror movie smarts help keep him alive?
icious Fun could not be further from what The Oak Room was, the films practically being night and day to one another. The Oak Room was a slow, quiet, and rather civilised affair, playing as a sequence of ghost stories around a campfire, or more accurately a bar stool. It had a rich autumnal and wintery aesthetic, and heavily relied on performance and atmosphere to set the mood. On the other hand Vicious Fun is loud, bold, and all about having a good time. The pace is faster, the tone is more jovial, and it’s lit up like a Christmas tree. Back when I reviewed The Oak Room, I advised the best way to view it was with a mug of mulled wine, Vicious Fun is much more a litre of bourbon and cocktails kind of movie. Often these days, a filmmaker will find the type of film that works for them and they’ll get stuck into a cycle of repetitively making the same kind of thing over and over. It’s fantastic then to see a filmmaker unafraid to jump around with tones and styles and with Vicious Fun Calahan proves that he’s something of a chameleon when it comes to telling stories.
The same remark is true of actor Ari Millen. He was one of the cast members of The Oak Room and returns to work with life-long-friend Calahan. Calahan and Millen clearly have a great friendship that translates onto screen perfectly within Bob; Calahan clearly knows just what Millen is capable of. Here he takes on the role of sociopath serial killer Bob and is without a doubt one of the best parts of the film. That’s not to detract from everything else, it’s just such a standout memorable performance; it’s hard to keep your eyes off of him. It seems as if Calahan has given Millen carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and Millen throws everything he can at the role. Anyone that has seen his work on Orphan Black knows that he can handle playing multiple people, in Vicious Fun though they’re all trapped within the same body as Bob uses multiple personas to manipulate all those around him. There’s so much flair to the character that it’s easy to see why he gets away with his murders.
Evan Marsh is excellent as our hapless hero Joel. He’s the archetypal movie loser who gets to (attempt at least) come good. Amber Goldfarb is exceptional as female super killer Carrie. Her character is the most ambiguous of the line-up and she keeps the viewer on their toes as we try to work out what her intentions are. There’s a great dynamic between both Marsh and Goldfarb and luckily we get to see plenty of the pair together on screen. Julian Richings is his typical creepy self as Clown faced Fritz, David Koechner is a more restrained Koechner than we’re used to as Zachary, and Robert Maillet beautifully sends up the Jason Voorhees tropes as machete-wielding Mike.
The visuals are drenched in bright neon hues, and the audio is forever pumping with those synthwave beats that were so popular in the eighties. Both elements combined capture the energy of the decade brilliantly and offer a nostalgic trip down memory lane for some, whilst simply looking super cool to those born after. Tonally, Calahan plays events with a tongue wedged permanently in cheek, never veering too far of course. The film is a hybrid of action, horror, thriller and comedy, but Calahan keeps the balance, seemingly following the Joe Dante playbook to a tee.
As frenetic as Vicious Fun occasionally is, it wobbles a little. Trying to maintain the same break-neck pace as it does during the opening for the whole film is impossible and the film inevitably sags a little around the middle. There’s still some interesting story being explored during this time, and some inventive deaths cast onto the screen, it just runs out of steam for a little while. After the breather, the film continues to rattle along nicely to the finale and goes so far as to set-up the framework for a sequel. Thankfully though, it’s not left on a cliffhanger like so many other films desperate for a follow-up. Vicious Fun could easily be a fully contained story, there’s just some hints at where further exploration could take it.
Neon-soaked nostalgia, complete with some stellar performances, work to create an exhilarating and enticing throwback to the era of video nasties. With Vicious Fun, Calahan provides an abundance of thrills and kills that are certain to excite and entertain. Vicious Fun achieves exactly what the title suggests as it entertains, dazzles, and bewitches.
Vicious Fun is available to watch on Shudder now.
This review was first published on THN.