VFW trailer

VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is a non-profit veterans service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, guard and reserve forces. Part of their mission is ”to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts”. Writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle along with Director Joe Begos (The Mind’s Eye, Bliss) take a blood-spattering approach to brotherhood and camaraderie in their latest feature VFW

VFW takes place in a dystopian future that has been destroyed by the city’s inhabitants due to a drug called “Hype”, a powerful narcotic that induces a cocktail of euphoria and rage simultaneously. Boz (Travis Hammer) is a gangster who runs the drug operation and unleashes an army of addicts on a teenage girl named Lizard (Sierra McCormick) because she stole his remaining stash not long after he murdered her sister. Fleeing to a nearby VFW, Lizard joins forces with a group of grizzled war veterans who are out for a night of drinking (and ultimately bloodshed) as they band together to fight the crazed punks that are after them. 

The cast of aging veterans in the film are cinematic veterans in and of themselves. VFW features an array of stars with careers spanning back to the ‘60s. The cast includes Martin Kove (Last House on the Left, Cobra Kai), Stephen Lang (Avatar, Don’t Breathe), Fred Williamson (From Dusk Till Dawn, Black Caesar), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Twin Peaks), George Wendt (Cheers) and William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey). This past spring, I was invited to visit the set and witness the action first-hand. Shooting spanned four weeks around Dallas, Texas – home to Cinestate’s Fangoria, the film’s production company. On the outskirts of the city in Irving, sits the local VFW post where the majority of the scenes were filmed. 

Walking up the winding driveway to the set, I stepped over headless torsos, a box of severed limbs, and buckets of blood – evidence of a war zone in the making. Seasoned special effects artists Josh and Sierra Russell (The Ritual, Bliss) were busy pumping blood into various weapons for the next scene. The interior of the VFW was filled with photos of its members, random taxidermy mounted on the wall, and dusty remnants of America’s martial past.

Dressed in black torn jeans and a flannel tee-shirt, Director Joe Begos walks up and introduces himself transferring fake blood onto my fingers and palm in a friendly handshake. Wiping the red droplets off on my jeans, I sat down and witnessed the crew shoot one of the many gory fights in the film. Stephen Lang turned into a beast on screen and was wielding a fake ax through the air with a passionate rage. Viciously gliding past a pool table and chopping into one body after another, he slams one of the extras up against the wall and yells “come at me, harder! Really come at me!”

Once the scene is over, he checks back in with the actor and cuts a joke as both of them get ready for another take with a small smile on their faces. All the while, Begos is capturing the chaos under red and blue lighting reminiscent of George A. Romero’s  Creepshow. He explained in an interview that there was a lot of creative flexibility on set and working with this group of veteran actors has made him a better filmmaker. A life-long horror fan, Begos said he finds influence in such iconic films like Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, and The Terminator. Not one to stay on the outskirts as he “likes to get into the shit”, this director is clearly not afraid to get his hands dirty to capture the shot he wants. 

While the characters in the film come from various military backgrounds, the VFW is a safe haven where they can shoot the shit, drink their troubles away, and be amongst fellow vets who understand life after war. Lang stated the relationship between the characters conveys how “we tend to unsuccessfully deal with PTSD and how important it is to communicate our traumas”. All Cheerleaders Must Die’s Tom Williamson (who plays a young vet from Iraq) consulted real veterans before shooting and used their stories to drive his character, Shawn Mason, who comes to the VFW straight off the plane. “One of the vets said, ‘you can’t tell me shit about a bad day until you have blood on your uniform’. As soon as I heard that, I decided that’s the energy I’m walking in with.” Williamson incorporated Jeet Kune Do (JKD) into some of his fight scenes, and the fact that Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly and Fred Williamson all have black belts speaks to the amount of skilled physicality that went into their stunts and action sequences. 

VFW was repeatedly described as The Wild Bunch meets Night of the Living Dead. While it is a gruesome action-horror film, there are still elements of comedy. Lang expressed “there is a kind of basic laughter and existential laughter in the film that I wanted to explore.” He continued, “they’re facing certain death on their own terms. That means embracing the inevitable and not bowing to it. So, the question is how does that limit you and how does that free you?” Begos showed no limits when it came to kill sequences and gore gags. The guys were able to rip, shred, stab, and burn their enemies to a vicious pulp. And yet throughout the carnage, Kove emphasized that friendship was the primary theme of VFW. “It’s a film about the passion of love and war.” He continued, “love comes first and then we’re all used to war whether it’s emotional war or verbal war. We’re always struggling in life and this ends up being permanent to us. It’s about the passion we have to succeed and the passion we have to love and ultimately there’s a passion delivered to us by God to die.” 

The vibe on set was both loving and fierce. It was evident the comradery of the characters lasted long after the director yelled “cut”. David Patrick Kelly stated that, in VFW, “there’s a time to fight, there’s a time for peace, and a time for war. It’s being ready and peaceful and hope it never comes but if it does, you’re ready.” And let me tell you, these guys are fucking ready. 

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