Panic Fest 2021: “Vicious Fun” Is Vicious and Fun

It’s not as easy to make a movie that hits its mark as hard and as often as Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun. Yes, it’s hard to blend the scary and the silly without leaning too far in one or the other direction. Yes, it’s not easy to incorporate elements of parody without becoming too smugly self-aware. And yes, it’s nearly impossible to present a fresh and unique take on a slasher film while keeping all those other tightropes in consideration. Somehow, though, Vicious Fun manages to deftly balance all of these ideas while inserting a heavy dose of style and originality on the way—and the result is nothing short of a horror-comedy masterpiece.

Seriously. It’s really, really good. I haven’t had this much fun with a movie in actual years.

Set in the 1980s, Vicious Fun follows Joel, a loser, nerd, and horror journalist (which, ouch, movie, way to hit too close to home) who also happens to be in love with his roommate. Upon getting a little too curious one night and following the “cool guy” his crush happens to be dating, he winds up stumbling directly into a support group for serial killers. What follows is a neon- and blood-soaked night of terror, laughs, and twists as Joel does his best to survive, blend in, and maybe even become a little bit of a hero who learns something about himself along the way.

Our poor hapless protagonist Joel is a hell of a fun character to watch. He’s played by Evan Marsh, one of this movie’s many wonderful Canadian actors, and he reminds me in all the best ways of Scott Pilgrim—he’s a huge geek and a terrible, terrible person, but not an irredeemable one. His awful social skills and overconfidence at all the wrong times only land him in more and more trouble, and it’s easy to believe that he’d do something like stalk his roommate’s date to find out what she sees in him. He’s got a lot of growing up to do, and it’s a shame that it has to happen during one very violent night with a body count, but somehow he finds time to become a better person between the jokes and severed limbs.

A young man talks on a payphone in a chinese restaurant in Vicious Fun

The rest of the cast is incredible, as well—familiar faces to horror and sci-fi fans are here, like Julian Richings (who I last saw in Shudder’s Anything for Jackson) as Fritz the psychopathic German clown-scientist and an almost unrecognizable Ari Millen (who was incredible in Orphan Black) as Bob, this movie’s ridiculously creepy blend of Drive‘s Driver, Hotline Miami‘s Jacket, and American Psycho‘s American psycho. They share the screen with Syfy veteran Amber Goldfarb as the leather-jacketed, butterfly-knife-wielding Carrie, Killjoys’ regular Sean Baek as the highly trained assassin/cannibal Hideo, and ex-professional wrestler Robert Maillet as the towering summer camp and sorority stalker Mike. And of course, I would be kicking myself if I didn’t mention David Koechner (yes, the one from AnchormanKrampus, and Cheap Thrills) is here as well, playing the charismatic support group leader who every killer very quickly learns to hate. Heroes and villains alike have incredible chemistry together, and even smaller roles like Joel’s roommate, the cops, and a doctor have their own comedic potential to bring to the table.

I could compare this movie to so many of my personal favorites. The jokes and quotable lines come rapid-fire in that Edgar Wright style that’s often imitated but rarely duplicated perfectly; the blend of practical gore and character comedy remind me of last year’s excellent Freaky; I can even see where the synthwave soundtrack, bright neon colors, and constant use of payphones pay homage to the aforementioned Hotline Miami. You’ll find direct send-ups of Friday the 13th and American Psycho here, too, among countless other references I would need to watch several more times to pick up on all of them.

And yet there’s something unique about Vicious Fun that sets it apart from its influences. Maybe it’s the level of commitment that the cast puts into their roles, from killers to bystanders, that makes them that much more believable even in a heightened comic reality. Maybe it’s the over-the-top violence that never dips into mean-spirited territory like so many other slashers (cough cough the Wrong Turn sequels) but still delivers on the brutality of the kills we’re given—gorehounds are going to eat this one up. Maybe it’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bits of physical comedy scattered throughout, or maybe it’s the fact that all three of the cops that appear later in the movie have the exact same mustache and nobody ever acknowledges it.

Maybe it’s David Koechner. I like David Koechner a lot.

A bald man in a suit sits in a Chinese restaurant in Vicious Fun
The one thing that’s for sure is this movie absolutely lives up to its title. Whether it’s a quiet moment of watching killers go around the circle and talk about their favorite methods of body disposal, a scene of tension in which the heroes scramble to find a way to survive a machete-wielding giant, or an action sequence between two people whose only real skills are violence (yes, this movie has fights, and yes, all of them are incredible), Vicious Fun never stops being vicious or fun. Its story beats are on point as well—even through all the comedy, there were moments I was legitimately worried for the characters I connected with the most.

I hope that this movie finds the success it deserves after its respectable festival run and its Panic Fest premiere. It’s sure to please casual and hardcore horror fans alike and would play just as well at a party with friends as it does in your room alone at night (yes, that’s how I watch most of these). If you can, please, please check Vicious Fun out; I see great things in the future for its director and cast, and I had an absolute blast watching them in this story. I promise you will too.

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Written by Peter L.

Peter L. (any pronouns) is a writer, filmmaker, musician, DJ, and lapsed theater kid from Raleigh, North Carolina. A fan of body horror and rave culture, he can be found playing guitar with his band AKLF, producing and performing dance music as LXC, or failing to finish another screenplay. He thinks Tokyo Gore Police is horribly underrated.

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