Canadian horror-comedy about a horror magazine journalist who finds himself faced with real killers, in glorious eighties slasher style.
If there’s one horror niche that I’m drawn to more than horror romance, it’s the so-called “meta” variety. Films that show their writers’ affection towards the genre with knowing nods, use that awareness to say something about the films they love and the fans who love them too, and above all entertain. That’s where Vicious Fun comes in.
Vicious Fun is set in the eighties (a period so many horror fans seem nostalgic for) and follows young Joel (Evan Marsh), the deputy assistant editor of the review section of a magazine which may or may not be modeled on Fangoria. He goes from a snarky interview with a horror filmmaker to a sulky evening not wooing his pretty roommate, and recklessly follows her date to a Chinese restaurant. Bad luck and too much beer see him passing out in the bathroom, only to wake up and find he’s locked in, while a private meeting is taking place in the back room. The group there assumes he was the latecomer they were waiting for and poor Joel does his best to fit in… but eventually, they realize he’s not a serial killer like the rest of them (he just likes to watch them on TV).
Director Cody Calahan and writer James Villeneuve are truly in their element when Joel is out of his. He’s always thought he knew what would make a great killer, but when he finds himself face-to-face with no fewer than six of them, his perspective changes. This little group (support group? business retreat?) is a microcosm of slasher types, some of whom are neatly summarised partway into the film: we have someone who wears a mask and kills sorority girls at campsites, an Asian cannibal chef, a jaded former soldier, a fabulous manic clown, etc. There are some classic scenes too, such as a kitchen siege, clueless detectives, and a hospital bloodbath; yeah, all in one tribute film.
Comedy though it is, Vicious Fun is no spoof: there is wit aplenty and flourishing slasher set-pieces, but nothing sarcastic or sneering; except, of course, for the central baddie, Bob (Ari Millen). The gang – Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), Fritz (Julian Richings), Mike (Robert Maillet), Hideo (Sean Baek), and Zachary (David Koechner) – seem to relish an excuse to show off their secret identity to a stranger and do so with style. Bob comes across like a cross between the Tooth Fairy and Patrick Bateman, and Carrie casually flips a desk onto a rival’s face like it’s a routine workout. It’s not called Vicious Fun for no reason.
Calahan’s direction is smoothly assured (I couldn’t expect anything else after The Oak Room), with everything slipping into position and characters developing as much as they can over one night; it even turned out that the roommate had a part to play. Steph Copeland’s suitably retro score pumps alongside the action with a synth groove and probably backcombed hair, fitting into the period style without downright copying anything. What else do you need for this to work? Even most of the cast I’ve mentioned above will be familiar from gory films, such as Becky and Spare Parts.
The only flaw is in the slightly shaky start. Rather a lot of time is spent introducing Joel, so for a little while, I wondered when it was going to get going. The second half is truly action-packed, mind you, with a wide variety of kills (including one that made me yell out to an otherwise empty room). I’m looking forward to seeing what direction Calahan and friends take next. In the meantime, the Vicious Fun UK premiere will be at Glasgow FrightFest on 5 March 2021.