Joe Begos' 'VFW' Is Vile, Repugnant Splatterhouse Cinema Joyously Blasting Blood In Your Face [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Fangoria's production banner is becoming a tell-all for cinematic expectations, minimum requirements including gore, violence, and oh, more gore. Joe Begos' VFW is the latest outrageous splatter flick to promote the iconic horror brand, and let me tell you – it delivers as suggested. That's both a positive and negative depending on which filmmaking aspect is being magnified, but we'll get there soon. As an introduction, understand that VFW is all about Assault On Precinct 13 anarchy, horror-grotesque violence, and enough booze to take down Wade Boggs on a cross-country flight.

Think of it as the action massacre midnighter your parents never wanted you to see, but you snuck into the VHS player at way too young an age after they went to sleep. Oh, the power of grindhouse corruption.

Fred (Stephen Lang) heads a rag-tag group of military veterans against a horde of attacking drug "zombies" amped up on something called "Hype." They've survived 'Nam, Korea, Afghanistan – now they'll need to fight their way out of a dingy Los Angeles VFW amidst widespread gang warfare. There's no police intervention when "Lizard" (Sierra McCormick) bursts into Fred's bar with leather-daddy drug lord Boz's (Travis Hammer) swiped product, dooming those swilling piss-warm beer. Wardogs played by William Sadler, Fred Williamson, and others have only once chance at survival, and that's killing Boz. Time to jump back in the shit, boys.

This is the first time Begos is working with someone else's script (writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle), but it's hardly foreign territory. VFW is about head-exploding, arm-chopping, stake-skewering kills. Invading Hypeheads are butchered and brutalized like cows in a slaughterhouse (or worse, honestly). It's all practical, turning back the dial on 80s action-sleaze watches like a combination of John Carpenter and William Lustig.

Effects overplay "fun" factors in that prosthetic corpses are obvious when thrown from balconies to burst like fleshy water balloons. John and Sierra Russell have a blast chucking severed limbs onto screen when homemade grenades explode or when Graham Skipper's head bursts into pulp (so sweet how Begos canonically loves mutilating Skipper). VFW promises, VFW delivers, and VFW turns barbarism into a despicable pastime. If you want blood (that's why you're here), you got it.

Brallier and McArdle's slavish dedication to exploitation scuzz doesn't always benefit the script as healthily. Draw in your mind the most macho, toxically masculine conversations grizzled good-ol' boys could share over bar peanuts, and I promise dialogue quadruples that cringe factor – always about women. As punchlines, as puns, but mainly as excuses to squeeze gasps from viewers. Rarely earned (when this obvious), and skeevily inorganic in an attempt to achieve "throwback" points.

There's an underlying notion that to be the kind of film VFW wants to be, raunchy objectification is a constant must ("c" word usage included) that's overtly unseemly. When not employed, Sadler drops some enjoyable sidekick zingers or Martin Kove prays to hockey legend Gordie Howe for strength. When bringing up Fred's failed titty-bar-birthday excursion for the millionth time or trudging through a gratuitous "locker room" anecdote – well, it's a Cinestate movie after all (Fangoria their vicious horror extension).

It's the ask of such a film. Can you endure some off-color hatefulness in the name of provocation and truly destructive entertainment? It's hard to answer and won't ring unanimous. Here's why I'm staying positive on VFW.

Lang's arc as the commander of his senior citizen militia is never indulging these mentions. He's the one who reigns his trench buddies in when enough is enough, and also nails the raspy "too old for this shit" vibe needed for Fred's battle-ready demeanor. His partnership with Lizard, a girl vying for vengeance after her sister's death, is one out of service and respect. VFW may show an ugly side at times, but it's more a try-hard attempt at being "edgy" that's pushed aside once another wave of cretins bashes down Fred's fortified front door. Begos keeps the pressure applied and Lang keeps his buddies slurping shots through the whole ordeal – my kind of leader.

You can smell the stale mustiness of unclean draught taps and feel the stickiness of unwashed bar tables, which I love about VFW's production design. Begos' team favors dirty, grimy details where the lowliest would find comfort and comradery. Neon Bud Light signs and overhead pool lamps provide dim flickers of light, but we catch all the action under a shade of red color filtration that's some of my favorite cinematography to see on my screen. Begos understands the pandemonium he's invoking and plunges his set into dive-dilapidation grime, whether that be spattered gore or spilled alcohol. It's the kind of dump I'd find myself playing darts in on a Saturday night at 2AM, sold with presence. Begos knows what he's making, but also knows how to sell that essence on a tight budget.

VFW is a roll call of legends ready for one last ass-kicking tour of duty, with everything used as weapons from deer antlers to buzzsaws to flagpoles. It's an allergic reaction to Reagan's war on drugs that might as well be a dystopian rehash of The Warriors (someone name Fred's gang, please). If you're into "Splatterhouse Cinema" that respects its elders and tenderizes human bodies without remorse, Joe Begos has a pile of discarded corpses waiting for you. It's vile, slick with repugnance, and appropriately inhumane. A canon full of guts blasted straight into your face – the Fangoria way./Film Review: 7 out of 10