vfw

Joe Begos’s VFW is a satisfying action-horror exploitation homage to the work of John Carpenter and bears an undisguised resemblance to that director’s excellent Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). In a similar siege scenario, the trouble starts when a girl named Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals a backpack’s worth of dope from spikes-and-leather-clad local kingpin Boz (Travis Hammer) and takes refuge in a VFW post. Zombie-like addicts known as “hypers” soon descend on the unsuspecting veterans in the bar, throwing them back into action and forcing them to draw on their military experience in order to stave off the psychotic horde. (“An army of braindead animals is still an army,” one of the characters remarks – almost as if commenting on current events.) The cool “old but still runnin’” cast includes Stephen Lang as barman Fred; William Sadler as titty enthusiast Walter; Martin Kove as used car salesman Lou; David Patrick Kelly as Doug; and the always likable Fred Williamson as Abe. Cheers fans will also appreciate getting to see George Wendt perched at a bar again in his brief role as Zabriski. VFW’s pacing is brisk; the atmospheric look of the film is on point; and Steve Moore’s electronic score capably captures the Carpenterian evocation of the impending. The earthy screenplay, with its lines like “‘Sorry’ don’t feed the bulldog” and “What in the cocksucking fuck just went on in here?”, is nothing special; but admirers of the 80s action and horror genres and VHS culture will appreciate moments like the weapons preparation montage and the nocturnal excitement of it all.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that VFW is:

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

War-ambivalent or disingenuously antiwar. Fred has a serious moment in which he laments all the comrades he saw die in Indochinese mud, but some of the messaging as well as the mostly flippant ultraviolence of the proceedings – with guns, axes, bats, and a circular saw employed to dispatch disposable antagonists, not to mention the scene in which a musclebound brute uses a drug addict’s head as a battering ram – undermine earnest consideration of the human costs of war. There is arguably, too, a neoconservative content to the sequence in which Lou seeks to negotiate with the narco-terrorists and is killed for his trouble. The screenplay leaves it to a villain to describe soldiering as glorified “murder”.

Midly anti-capitalistic. Lou, as a used car dealer, stands as an unflattering avatar of the business mindset.

Drug-ambivalent. An info-blurb at the front of the movie mentions the current opioid epidemic, and early on a dead-ender jumps to her death. Other substances receive more favorable or at least ambiguous treatment, however. Fred drinks and drives without comment during the exposition, though later Lizard snatches a bottle from his hand, telling him, “This is bullshit” and calling him a “pussy” for boozing when things get tough. Sadler smokes “shitty cigarettes” while Doug smokes “science weed”. Abe calls marijuana “poison” and sticks to liquor until, just before the final battle, he snorts a fistful of the bad guys’ dope to give himself a martial edge.

Civic nationalist. Veterans in the film regard each other as worthy comrades regardless of race. “They gonna feel the might of the American military!” Williamson declares, and one of the hypers even gets a flagpole shoved down the gullet.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.