Vicious Fun Review

Horror Comedy Sep 26, 2021

Comedy Horror Gold!

Where to even begin with this movie?  It is a splendidly violent, comedic coming-of-age tale about a dorky guy who gets mistaken for a serial killer at a secret self-help group meeting.  It's just as campy and crazy as it sounds and is greater for it. I really liked this movie.  And every time I watch it, I notice something else, and laugh and wince all the same. Now, the first time I watched this movie, I went in with zero expectations.  Not because the trailer looked bad or the reviews were horrible, but just because I've watched many comedy horror films that miss the mark.  I thought I'd get a couple laughs, a few jump scares, and that would be it. Well instead, I was happily surprised by Vicious Fun.

If you love gore and secondhand embarrassment, this is the movie for you.  Go grab some tea, snuggle into a comfy chair, and let's begin.

What to Know About Vicious Fun

Vicious Fun is a 2020 Canadian comedy horror, hack 'em slasher film that was released in the US on June 29, 2021, on the streaming platform Shudder.  With many references and homages to classic slasher films and familiar faces/voices in the cast, Vicious Fun is a 1 hour and 41-minute foray into 80's horror fun.  Set in small-town Minnesota in 1983, everything from the wardrobe to the music to the old taxicabs will transport you into a night of bloody carnage and self-discovery.

Before you watch or even continue reading, this title includes: sharp knives, hitchhiking, taxicab killers, a Two's Company living situation, unrequited love, excessive drinking, chunky vomit, self-help groups, serial killers, cannibals, government agents, collateral damage, men with mommy issues, assassins, clowns, real estate agents, the concept of necrophilia, ice you shouldn't eat, dead body disposal, prowling and stalking co-eds, needles, severed limbs and digits, scalpels, intestines outside of the body, falling desks, strangling, choking, pencils, irony, jailbreaks, attempted vehicular homicide, cops, foreshadowing, axes, and more.

The Players

If you live glued to a screen like I do and have watched many a Canadian TV show, some of these actors might be familiar to you.  Let's start with our main character, Joel, played by Canadian actor Evan Marsh.  You might recognize him from TV series or movies like Workin' Moms, Northern Rescue, and Shazam!  Next up is the bad-ass assassin, Carrie, played by Amber Goldfarb. Goldfarb is a Canadian actor known for her acting in both English and French and for shows like Lost Girl, Being Human, and Sex/Life. But, if you're an avid gamer, you might recognize her voice from video games like Kena: Bridge of Spirits, The Outer Worlds, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Far Cry 5.  

Next up, we have Zachary the government agent, played by David Koechner.  With acting credits since the mid-90s, it'll be hard to not recognize this American actor.  You've seen him in movies and TV shows like The Office (US), Anchorman, Captain Underpants, American Dad, and The Goldbergs.  Next up we've got Bob the sociopath, played by Canadian actor Ari Millen.  Millen has a very recognizable face and you're probably wondering where you've seen him.  Sci-Fi nerds will recognize him from shows like Orphan Black, The Expanse, and 12 Monkeys.

Next, Sean Baek plays Hideo the cannibal.  Baek is also another Canadian actor whom you might recognize from sci-fi and crime shows like Blood and Water, Utopia Falls, Killjoys, The Expanse, and The Art of More.  Baek is also another voice actor for AAA video games like Deus Ex and Far Cry 2.  Next up is Fritz the Clown played by British actor Julian Richings.  Richings has a long resume starting in the late 80s that makes him a very recognizable face.  You probably recognize him from movies and shows like Man of Steel (2013), X-Men: The Last Stand, Channel Zero, Doom Patrol, and Supernatural.  And last but not least is Mike the typical 80s slasher, played by retired Canadian professional wrestler turned actor Robert Maillet.  He competed in Canada, the US, Japan, and South Korea as Goliath El Gigante and later as Kurrgan, and stands at a whopping 6'10". After his wrestling career ended, he pursued acting in movies like Sherlock Holmes (2009), Pacific Rim, 300, and The Mortal Instruments.

The Story

The story opens up with a very familiar scene, a middle-aged white man in a motel on a dark and dreary night (very Psycho-esque).  We see him sharpen his knives and head out the door and into his car.  Foolishly, he picks up a seemingly stranded blonde woman and offers her a ride (unprompted on her part).  Being the creep that he is, the man quickly locks the door after the woman settles in.  She makes a frightened look and he displays a face of sadistic triumph until she jams a switchblade under his chin and up into the roof of his mouth.  That's how the movie begins.  At that moment, you know you're in for a ride.

Soon after that gruesome opening, we're introduced to Joel, the geeky film critic with a crush on his roommate.  Through his interactions with a washed-up filmmaker and his unrequited love interest, Sarah, we learn that Joel doesn't have a lot going for him.  He's a judgemental loner with boundary issues, who doesn't ever do anything but work and watch horror movies.  It isn't until Joel actually makes a decision to do something different this particular night that his fate begins to change.  Not seeing this decision as creepy behavior but rather looking out for his friend Sarah, Joel decides to follow her prospective boyfriend to a Chinese restaurant on the other side of town.  He wants to confront him about the ring he spied on his finger. But, of course, things don't go according to plan.  

Joel gets blackout drunk and throws up chunks of whatever he ate, only to wake up some unspecified time later in the midst of a self-help meeting for serial killers with no way out. Frightened and unable to leave, Joel meets a slasher, a US government agent who is okay with killing civilians for the fun of it, a clown who doubles as an accountant, a cannibal chef, and an assassin.  So now it's up to Joel to convince the group that he's a killer just like them. From here on out, there are twists, lots of blood, guts galore, horror easter eggs, and a stellar soundtrack to boot.  

Image Credit: The Austin Chronicle | Joel and Carrie waiting for the cops

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now that you know the main premise and setup of the film, here's what worked, what didn't work, and what made no sense.

What Worked

Everything!  Literally, everything.  From the aesthetic to the music to the random foreshadowing, it all worked so well together.  For starters, what's great about Vicious Fun is that it gets the audience to think about what they would do if they were in Joel's shoes.  I found myself constantly thinking, how would I get out of this mess? To be fair, I never would have been in that mess to begin with, but if I were, what would I have done differently from Joel? And every time I ask that question, I come back with "not much."  In a Shadow and Act interview about horror, UCLA Professor Tananarive Due said that "horror as a genre is more about the emotions you feel while you're experiencing a book or film."  And I felt for Joel.  I felt how awkward he was; how his intentions might be misconstrued as creepy, clingy, and a little bit stalkery; and I felt the fear and anguish he had when he realized where he was and who his new compatriots were.  Think about it, what would you do?  I'd lie my ass off and pray that no one discovers my falsehood, especially if the alternative is a slow and excruciatingly painful death.

As a fan of 80s music, clothes, and hair, this was a hit for me. I loved Bob's flight jacket and Sarah's messy side ponytail.  I loved the technopop that was played too infrequently for my taste.  And the bright artwork for the marketing materials also screamed "this is the 80s, this is about to be a fun ride, so buckle up." And lastly, I appreciated the references in the film, the Easter eggs.  They weren't hitting you over the head with it like they do in some movies.  These references were subtle and well hidden.  For example, the character Hideo is a reference to the real Japanese cannibal, Sagawa Issei who murdered and ate his friend and tutor in Paris in 1981.  The raincoat that Bob puts on in the police station is a reference to the raincoat that Christian Bale's character, Patrick Bateman, wore in American Psycho (2000).  And the fact that Bob constantly calls Mike, Michael–as in Michael Meyers from the Halloween franchise–is perfect. Who else would Mike's character be based on?  These little nuggets for horror fans only made the movie more enjoyable for me.  It pays homage to the films that it pokes fun at and celebrates the fans that keep buying inflated box office tickets.

Image Credit: The Hollywood News | Bob getting ready to dance

What Didn't Work

I can't think of a single thing that didn't work.  One hallmark of a good movie is that all the loose ends are tied up at the end; or they leave you thinking, wanting more.  Vicious Fun tied up every loose end that they introduced into the film.  We find out what happens to the washed-up filmmaker at the beginning, we find out what Utah was (a taboo subject that the group refused to talk about), we learn why Phil didn't make it to the meeting, and much more.  I love a film that has a reason for including everything that we see and hear on screen in the film. Everything has its purpose and everything had its end.

What Made No Sense

Now, I wouldn't say this part didn't make sense, but I feel like it was a missed opportunity.  At the police station, there was a uniformed cop, Officer Tony, reading "Vicious Fanatics", the national horror magazine for which Joel is a film critic.  I kept waiting for Joel to say that he's a writer for that specific magazine and for there to be an exchange between the two, the fan and the writer.  But it never happened.  Maybe it was on purpose, but I would have liked to see it happen nonetheless.

Final Thoughts (TLDR)

I'm giving Vicious Fun 5 out of 5 coffins! Here's why:

  1. Joel's Character Development: Throughout the movie, we see Joel transform from this love-struck puppy caught in an impossible situation into a man who knows what he wants and has a purpose. By the end of the movie, he is by no means done with his journey of self-discovery, but we get a sense that he is a work in progress and that he will only continue to grow.
  2. That 80s Feel: As a fan of the 80s, it was nice to see and hear familiar clothing, music, and bright colors, and feel a very 80s horror vibe. The filmmakers set out to transport us to the heyday of the slasher film phenom and it worked.
  3. The Horror References: From real cannibals to raincoats, this movie had references galore and it was a subtle aftertaste that didn't overpower the flavor of the rest of the movie. It was a nod to fans and enthusiasts and an homage to classic 80s slasher films.
  4. The Comedy and Irony: The deaths in this film are either downright funny or tragically ironic. You can tell that real thought went into how to kill each serial killer in the most tailored way possible.
  5. Foreshadowing the End Sequence: At the beginning of the movie, there is a movie within the movie that shows you the death of the last self-help group killer. It's easy to miss if you're not paying attention.

Vicious Fun is an underrated film that I enjoyed.  I didn't walk into this movie with any expectations, and because of that, I was happily surprised.  I had fun, forgot about the pandemic and adulting, and enjoyed the ride.  I didn't expect the movie to have anything poignant to say about the human experience or something trite like that.  And it didn't, but that's okay.  That's not what I was looking for.  I wanted to watch a movie that made me laugh, grossed me out, and made me feel embarrassed and scared for someone else.  And Vicious Fun delivered.

That Score Tho...

My review rubric standardizes my score and gives movies, games, literature, and more a fair shot at getting a decent score. Here's how this title stacks up.
Note: I round to the nearest integer.

Criterion Description Score
Entertainment Was the title entertaining? 5 out of 5
Acting Is the acting good/believable? 5 out of 5
Story Did the story make sense? 5 out of 5
Technical Was the title made well? 5 out of 5
Atmosphere Did the title feel horrifying? 5 out of 5
Overall Average score 5 out of 5
Image Credit: IMDb | Carrie giving Joel pearls of wisdom

Remember folks, at the end of the day, these are my opinions.  I'd like to know if you agree with me but would love (even more) to know if you disagree and why. Experience this title for yourself and be your own judge.

'Til next time!


Sources: IMDb

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