'Vicious Fun' Review: Lives up to its title

Cody Calahan's 'Vicious Fun' pits an awkward horror journalist against a crew of serial killers each with their own specialty.

Knives are out in 'Vicious Fun.'
(Image: © Shudder)

What to Watch Verdict

'Vicious Fun' twists the proverbial knife as maniacs emphasize the "fun" of killing sprees, as long as you can stomach a megaton of metatextual genre zingers.


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    🔪 Ari Millen is an aces lunatic.

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    🔪 Bloody, brutal, and for the midnight crowd.

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    🔪 Delivers on the concept.


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    🔪 Horror in-jokes become overwhelming.

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    🔪 Not on the nose, more up the nose.

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    🔪 The protagonist can be grating.

To suggest Vicious Fun is indebted to the 80s requires no ensuing investigation from supersleuths. Trashy genre tropes and synthwave keyboard rhythms drench this harkening back to the good ol’ days of vibrantly violent horror in a throwback attitude that’s dedicated to vigilante injustice seekers. Imagine if Michael Myers, The Joker, and Patrick Bateman attended a self-help group that villain hunter Cassie Hack then crashed (read Hack/Slash, I beg you)—complete with a knockoff Fangoria magazine journalist’s commentary. Director Cody Calahan and writer James Villeneuve let their freaks take center stage, even if what ensues is an overindulgent nostalgia bomb that’s excessive in its meta-slasher humor which passes replication as a personality at times.

As a totally not pathetic and white-knighty move, “Vicious Fanatic” deputy editor Joel (Evan Marsh) tails his roommate Sarah’s (Alexa Rose Steele) date to prove he’s a scumbag. Instead, Joel gets hammered with schmoozer Bob (Ari Millen) at a nightclub and passes out in the closet. Upon his dehydrated zombie walk after hours, Joel stumbles upon an anonymous group sitting in a circular chair formation—who immediately question their infiltrator. The collective’s leader Zachary (David Koechner) points to Joel, assuming he’s “Phil,” and asks him to speak his turn. About what? As Joel learns in a panic, the meeting consists of infamous murderers airing their heaviest admissions. That’s when Bob knocks on the door and—much to Joel’s dismay—is welcomed as a regular.

Truthfully, I adore the conceptual gimmick that intertwines as black ops assassins (Koechner) and cannibalistic culinary masters (Hideo, played by Sean Baek) lament their sinful and gruesome addictions. Satire never slices sharper than, say, Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon, but exudes the energy of a funhouse (The Funhouse Massacre, to be exact). Miscreants benefit from precision casting, be it veteran Julian Richings as Fritz the mad doctor who dresses like a clown or Ari Millen’s charismatic chameleon of a sociopath who nails the magnetism of American Psycho meets Knight Rider. It’s no surprise that Koechner’s loosened-collar government hitman or Robert Maillet’s hulk of a masked teenager killer all know how to play their parts. Double valid as Millen’s charming-and-slick ringleader erratically and inappropriately dances to jukebox tunes (yup, you’ll get your “crazed villain dance number” nod). One by one, as the maniacs are formally introduced, it’s like boss battle cutscenes that elicit a smile—all as Joel’s horror obsession blends fear and fandom from an outsider’s perspective.

Then again, audiences who choose Vicious Fun should be in the mindset for a piping hot slice of late-night entertainment with extra cheese (not all can digest such a formula). On the nose is one thing, but James Villeneuve’s narrative (based on Cody Calahan's story) is so far up the nose we can see every pulsating lobe of the horror genre’s brain. Sometimes humor lands—blowhard lawmen clones freak out when Joel insults one’s mustache from behind bars—while other times dialogue panders to horror critics with a wink bigger than the Eye of Sauron. By making the stammer-skittish Joel a stereotype of know-it-all critics who think they’re better than their craft, gags revolve around cringy director interviews or a “visionary” talking into his tape recorder about the next big genre idea (taxi killers, today’s rideshare horror). The screenplay re-explains things like “Final Girls” and works overtime to comment on the stigmatism of being a horror fan, to the distance where Joel becomes unlikable (at least in my opinion) when he’s spotlighted for too long. Expect eye-rolls from certain circles.

Luckily, Vicious Fun is indeed some vicious mutilator fun. Special effects remain practical whenever possible, be it syringes stabbed into pupils or appendages sliced through with bladed weapons like warm butter. The inclusion of attendee Carrie (Amber Goldfarb) aids Joel in a specific, unspoilery way, as the hapless journalist stands no solitary chance against assassins and sasquatch-sized slashers. First, there’s a bloody standoff within the bar-restaurant confines, complete with spilled guts. Then another invasion featuring dismemberment inside police station quarters. Market a title as Vicious Fun, and there are keyword expectations—to the necessary degree, Calahan delivers. Whether that’s a drive-in aesthetic, massacre messiness, or a tongue-in-cheek ode to unleashing the beasts of horror cinema to wreak havoc while costumed and tiptoeing around copyright infringement.

If you’re into the twisted playfulness of Vicious Fun, you’ll holler and howl as the 80s fight (and bite) back with a vengeance. That’s not an impenetrable recommendation, yet Cody Calahan and his misfits execute enough grindhouse appeal under a neon-hazy polish to make for another “pizza and beer” Friday night stream. Maybe it’s a different movie without Ari Millen’s bulging eyes and deranged heartbreaker presence as the roster’s runaway favorite psychopath—don't fret, crisis averted. Expect a cocky, excessive, into-itself horror watch that will test the patience of dramatic purists, but for those who prefer something like You Might Be The Killer, queue Vicious Fun and watch some bad mamajamas do what they do best. Even if the screenplay can sometimes feel generated by a bot’s algorithm fed nothing but horror convention conversations from the last four decades.

Matt Donato

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.