It hurts just a little bit more when a film’s premise is solid but the execution just can’t keep pace. Welcome to the latest work from Cody Calahan (the two Antisocial films, Let Her Out), Vicious Fun, about wise-ass ’80s horror film journalist Joel (Evan Marsh, Shazam!). He writes for a Fangoria-like magazine called Vicious Fanatics and whose crush on his female roommate accidentally gets him involved with a group of serial killers whom he must blend in with or face becoming their next victim.
The problem with most horror-comedies is striking the right balance between these two genres that, in theory, shouldn’t really go together. And while Vicious Fun has its moments of riotous gore and a few well-earned scares, the comedy falls flat with an alarming consistency, due primarily to Marsh being the only person in the cast scrambling for laughs and practically sending up flares to let us know when a joke has arrived, with weird faces and vocal asides that seem painfully out of place in this story. Slight adjustments in the screenplay by James Villeneuve probably could have solved this issue, but either director Calahan or star Marsh thought this was the way to go. The results speak for themselves, which is a shame because it’s a terrific premise: the idea of a group of serial killers having regular self-help meetings to share experiences, tips on cleaning up after their bloody work, and generally improve themselves as homicidal maniacs.
Vicious Fun does not open promisingly, with Joel interviewing a “big horror director,” which he botches by basically telling the guy he’s gone from a great filmmaker to a hack over the course of his most recent films. The entire sequence reveals how much the filmmakers don’t know about how journalism in general works. But since this is set in the 1980s (for reasons I’m never quite clear on), maybe those in the field of entertainment writing were more abrasive and obnoxious back then. Whatever the case, the scene isn’t funny or authentic, so it delays us finding a more interesting entry point into this story.
After Joel sees his roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele) coming home from a date, he decides to follow the would-be suitor with his tape recorder to find out dirt on the guy that he can use to end the relationship. (Because that’s not creepy.) He follows the guy (whose name is Bob, played by Ari Millen) to the bar of a Chinese restaurant and accidentally ends up striking up a conversation with him that makes it clear the guy is a womanizer of the worst order. Joel ends up getting blitzed at the bar and passing out in the bathroom, waking up after hours to discover a circle of people in what appears to be a self-help meeting, which he’s asked to join when they mistake him for a new member.
Led by government contract killer Zachary (David Koechner)—just because you kill for the government doesn’t mean you aren’t a serial killer—the group includes Fritz (Julian Richings), who is all about efficient murder and wearing clown makeup; brute force killer Mike (Robert Maillet); cannibal Hideo (Sean Baek); and the sole female member, the sleek Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), whose agenda and motive seem different from the rest, based on an early scene where we see her take out a would-be predator. Joel concocts a story about himself being a cab driver (they know where you live and they have no connection to their victims), and it’s the first time his horror knowledge serves him as a survival tool. Since Joel is such a spaz, his story and nerves don’t hold together for long, and soon, the killers set their sites and differing killing styles on him, even with some unexpected help along the way. And that all happens by about the halfway point of the film.
A great deal of the rest of Vicious Fun takes place in a police station, populated entirely by mustachioed detectives sporting thick Canadian accents (this is a Canadian production, although the film is clearly set in the U.S.) and wanting no part of Joel’s wild story about support groups for serial killers. Everyone’s behavior in the final third basically wore me down under the weight of stupidity, broad physical humor, and a series of jokes that never seem to land. It’s also the point in the story where the blood quotient gets turned up—usually a good thing, but here it feels desperate; whether the practical gore effects are solid or not almost doesn’t matter when you’re fighting off boredom.
When you can’t get past the fact that your lead actor has chosen a persona that simply grates you wrong in every possible way, it’s tough to make any kind of case for the film as a whole, and Vicious Fun just wasn’t vicious or fun enough for my horror comedy tastes.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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