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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: VFW

February 2, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #584: VFW

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never fought a turtle to the death, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and eighty-four, I take a look at the all-star action horror flick VFW, which was released om Valentine’s Day 2020 (that’s February 14th, in case you didn’t know what day Valentine’s Day falls on. Some people might not know).



VFW, directed by Joe Begos, is a movie that I’ve been dying to see since I first heard about it. Featuring a cast of badass action stars and character actors in a hyper violent sort of John Carpenter/George A. Romero homage is exactly the kind of movie the world needs more of, at least in theory. Now that I’ve finally seen VFW, I can say that, while it’s not perfect and drags a bit at the end, VFW is a terrific B-movie of the highest order.

VFW stars Stephen Lang as Fred Parras, a Vietnam vet and VFW bar owner who likes to hang out with his old war buddies. They drink, tell stories, and watch old aerobics videos on a TV at the bar (the TV has a VCR). Fred’s buddies include Abe Hawkins (Fred “The Hammer” Williamson), Walter Reed (William Sadler), Lou Clayton (Martin fucking Kove), Doug McCarthy (David Patrick Kelly, good old Luther hisself), and Thomas Zabriski (George Wendt). One night, Fred’s buddies ask him to shut the bar down early so they can take him to a strip club to see a big deal dancer and celebrate his birthday. Fred doesn’t want to shut down early, though, because the bar is filled with paying customers and a young veteran just walked in (Shaun Mason, as played by Tom Williamson) and Fred has to give him a free drink (it’s a vet thing. You drink for free when you come home from the war zone). When the crowd subsides later on, Fred decides to close up and head to the “titty bar” with his friends. It’s at this moment that troubled young woman Lizard (Sierra McCormick) walks in, followed by multiple violent thugs. Fred and his buddies spring into action, taking out the thugs, protecting Lizard, and tending to poor Doug, as he’s been wounded by a gigantic, axe wielding scumbag.

Why the hell would violent thugs, some of them with axes, show up at Fred’s VFW bar and start shit? As we find out, Lizard is a member of a street gang/drug running operation led by the psychotic Boz (Travis Hammer). Boz’s drug business is all about “hype,” a new drug that’s super addictive and turns its users into sort of zombie weirdoes. Lizard stole multiple bricks of hype from Boz’s safe after Boz killed Lizard’s sister (Boz watched Lizard’s sister jump off the roof after he threw a bag of hype to the ground). Boz wants his drugs back, and so he sends his zombie hordes to the VFW to his drugs back and to kill everyone inside. Fred decides that he can’t allow Lizard to be killed by Boz’s gang and has his war buddies help him barricade the entrances and fashion weapons out of various objects. Fred also has to find a way to get Doug to a hospital.

And so the rest of the movie is multiple assaults on the VFW by Boz’s gang with Fred’s buddies beating them back. The blood and gore flies. Who will survive? Will Boz get his drugs back and kill Lizard and her new protectors? Will Fred and his war buddies manage to win one more battle?

It’s difficult to tell exactly when VFW takes place. When the movie starts it almost seems like it’s taking place in the future, but it isn’t far into the future. There’s also a weird retro feel to what’s going on, like the movie is taking place at some point in the past. That lack of specificity helps keep the movie off kilter and the suspense vibrant. What’s going to happen next? Even when you know what’s going to happen next you get the feeling that maybe something else, something different might happen. The neon colors that are seen throughout the movie also help with this.

The movie’s soundtrack, by Steve Moore, is one of the coolest in recent memory (this is where the Carpenter homage aspect of the movie really comes out). Synth heavy and full of actual themes, it’s the kind of soundtrack plenty of homage movies try to do but few ever really get right. The soundtrack feels like a character in the story. It also helps create a sense of doom when the assaults are about to happen. Just how much destruction are we going to see? How many people are going to die?

The movie doesn’t really do much with the “hype” drug, in terms of what it does to the people who take it. We know that they become zombies when they take it, but we never really see just how nasty it is. I would have liked to see a few quick sequences where we see Boz’s gang taking hype and becoming psycho zombies. And why not have the drug transform the user’s face a bit? That would have been cool.

The violence and gore is brutal and nasty. There are shotgun blasts to the head, exploding heads, various limbs get hacked off, blood spurts everywhere, and there’s a nifty homemade grenade explosion sequence where the bad guys explode everywhere. For my money, we don’t see enough of that kind of thing in movies nowadays. The multiple axe hits are the only gore moments that are lacking, mostly because it’s so hard to see what’s happening. Generally dark cinematography helps create a mood, sure, but when it comes to seeing the aftermath of an axe hit dark cinematography is not the audience’s friend. The homemade spear hits work, though. Very nasty indeed.

The movie lags a bit in the middle and then again at the end. Movies like VFW always work best when they’re fast and quick and feel fast and quick. Some of the character bits among Fred’s buddies could have been trimmed (they’re fun to watch and the various actors are clearly having a ball but the movie doesn’t necessarily need to have all of them), and some of the movements at the end of the movie could have been streamlined. The slowdowns don’t kill the movie by any means, but they are noticeable.

The performances are all amazing. Stephen Lang does a great job as Fred Parras, the leader of the VFW. He gives Fred the kind of quiet authority that he needs to be the leader of the vet group. There’s just no question who the other guys will follow into hell. Lang also has the necessary physical presence to make Fred the movie’s ultimate badass. Watch him wield a double barrel shotgun or a gigantic axe, Fred is the toughest motherfucker in the world.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson does a fine job as Abe Hawkins, the oldest vet of the VFW bunch (I believe he is said to have served during the Korean War, not Vietnam like the others). Williamson is limited in what he can do because he’s old (and that’s not me engaging in ageism. The guy is in his 80’s) but he still knows how to strike the right pose and, come on, he’s “The Hammer.” Williamson also spends quite a bit of time smoking a big cigar, something he seems to do in every movie he’s in, and it’s his trademark (it wouldn’t be a modern day Fred “The Hammer” Williamson movie appearance without that happening). I do wish the movie did more with his big “snort some hype to get ready for the final assault” sequence, though. It seems like a wasted moment.

William Sadler is having the time of his life as Walter Reed, a guy who always seems to be almost fully drunk. He’s goofy, he tells weird stories that everyone has heard a million times, and he’s always there to help, even when it seems like he’s waffling. It’s a damn shame what happens to him in the movie. I really would have loved to see him in some sort of sequel.

Martin fucking Kove does a good job as Lou Clayton, a badass ‘Nam vet turned used car salesman. Lou isn’t too keen on fighting the gang and makes multiple overtures to Fred to just give the gang their drugs back, not to mention Lizard, but he eventually joins up and fights off the gang. I’m surprised the movie didn’t have Lou turn on Fred just to stay alive, as that’s how Lou seemed to be going. The movie doesn’t do that, though, and Kove gets a nice “last stand” scene.

Tom Williamson, as the young vet Shaun Mason, is almost as badass as Fred when it comes to beating the shit out of and killing Boz’s gang. Either using his handgun or his knees, Shaun Mason is incredibly dangerous and a guy you just don’t want to mess with.

George Wendt and David Patrick Kelly don’t get much to do as Thomas Zabriski and Doug McCarthy, but the stuff we do see from them is quite good. Wendt gets to spurt some funny profane dialogue and Kelly smokes so many joints it’s a wonder he knows what’s going on at any moment in the movie. The movie definitely could have used more of them. Wendt’s Zabriski seems like the kind of guy that always has a small handgun on him at all times. Why didn’t that happen here?

Sierra McCormick does a good job as Lizard, the girl in danger that needs Fred’s help. You totally buy her as a conflicted young woman who makes a big life decision and then doesn’t know what to do. Her bathroom scene with Lang’s Fred is a big moment. And check out how big a loogie she can spit in slow motion (you get to see it twice).

And then there’s Travis Hammer as Boz the gang leader. Good God, Boz is a scumbag. Sleazy and mean-spirited, he’s precisely the kind of bad guy you want to see completely destroyed. And, man, does Boz get destroyed. It’s not easy to be unredeemable and still entertaining, but Hammer does it.

VFW is a movie that B-movie nerds will no doubt love. It has everything we all love in it. It’s not perfect, sure, but the good stuff outweighs the less than good by a wide margin. I doubt we’ll ever see a sequel, but it would be cool if VFW started a trend of making colorful and fun action horror flicks starring old pros. Will it? Time will tell, I guess.

See VFW. See it, see it, see it!

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: If it’s less than 50 I’ll be shocked.

Explosions: Multiple, big and small.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A nice Fangoria logo, multiple people getting high on drugs, knife through the head, suicide with exploding body, booze drinking while driving, an old Army transport truck, an old TV with VCR, power issues, a dilapidated movie theater filled with junkies, pot smoking, a free drink for a returning hero, missing drugs, more pot smoking, fuse box hooey, axe to the shoulder, double barrel shotgun attack with exploding head, axe throwing, axe attack, pool cue attack, serious head stomping, a bloody severed arm, knife to the neck, an emotional breakdown, multiple barricades, generator hooey, attempted truck escape, interrogation, punch to the nose, a backpack full of drugs, a “getting ready to fight” montage, homemade weapons, a full on gang assault, more head smashing, multiple axes to the head, dart to the eye, exploding grenade with flying body parts, some serious knees to the fucking face, attempted negotiation, multiple bullets to the chest, bullet to the leg, a rousing speech, deliberate drug taking, a standoff, knife and axe hooey, a gas powered circular saw, flag pole used as a spear, top of the head removal, chainsaw hooey, a nice explosion, a flaming backpack, truck attack, and one final drink.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Stephen Lang, Stephen Lang searching for something to listen to on the radio, “With George Wendt and Fred Williamson,” Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Stephen Lang picking up Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, old guy talk, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson smoking a cigar, William Sadler, old aerobics tapes, George Wendt, Martin fucking Kove, David Patrick Kelly, David Patrick Kelly smoking pot, William Sadler telling an old story about Stephen Lang, talk about pussy, a young woman named Lizard, multiple axe attacks, exploding head, Stephen Lang punching Martin fucking Kove in the nose, a “getting ready to fight” montage, Stephen Lang fucking around with a Zippo lighter, Stephen Lang talking about what it was like back in Vietnam, some serious knees to the fucking face, a The Wild Bunch reference, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson doing drugs, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson calling another guy Fred, and one final drink.

Best lines: “Is this what you want?,” “Oooh! Two percent,” “Did you run over a fucking skunk on the way over here?,” “You got shitty cigarettes,” “You like American poontang?,” “What gives her the right to cut off her pussy hairs? It’s her pussy,” “Am I having a stroke?,” “We’ve got a major problem here! They’re out of control,” “Listen, an army of brain dead animals is still an army,” “What in the cocksucking fuck just went on here?,” “Anybody else want to come in my bar?,” “Give it back! What? Give it back! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Then you die,” “It’s his own fault,” “VFW? What the fuck is that?,” “I think we’ll be all right as long as they come at us on skates,” “Fucking hippie,” “Now I’ve got blood and pickled pork shit on my jacket,” “You know, your foxhole chitchat needs work,” “Fucking Lou,” “Fall in!,” “Let’s go. Why not?,” “Are you ready to die? Old man?,” Goddamn impatient millennials,” “Where’s Fred? Look at that sonofabitch! He’s slower than quail shit,” “At least he died doing something he liked to do. Who the fuck said I’m dead?,” and “Happy Birthday, old man.”

Rating: 8.5/10.0


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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.


Stephen Lang– Fred Parras
William Sadler– Walter Reed
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson– Abe Hawkins
Martin Kove– Lou Clayton
David Patrick Kelly– Doug McCarthy
George Wendt– Thomas Zabriski
Tom Williamson– Shaun Mason
Sierra McCormick– Lizard
Travis Hammer– Boz
Dora Madison– Gutter
Josh Ethier– Tank
Graham Skipper– Roadie

Directed by Joe Begos
Screenplay by Max Brallier and Mathew McArdle

Distributed by RLJE Films

Not Rated
Runtime– 92 minutes

Buy it here. It’s also on Shudder as I write this.