It’s another night at VFW post 2494, the watering hole of the aging group of men, brothers in arms whose loyalty to each other surpasses friendship, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fred, Walter, Abe, Lou, Doug and Thomas, but the suggestion they should celebrate Abe’s birthday at a strip joint is not greeted with enthusiasm: “You keep reminding me it’s my birthday I’ll start reminding you guys of your tabs.”
They’re not young men and they think they’ve seen it all until night falls and a young woman runs into the bar pursued by an armed man; they take him down, but not before one of their number is seriously injured, but attempting to transport him to hospital they find the VFW is surrounded.
The girl, Lizard, has stolen $500k of the drug hylophedrine and Boz and his gang want it back, and the dead guy lying on the bar floor with his head blown off was Boz’s brother; with blood spilled, there will be no negotiation, and with only the contents of the bar, makeshift weapons crafted from a toolkit and some sports equipment, they must hold out against the siege.
The fourth film from director Joe Begos, it is the first he did not write himself, but while it is a departure from the low-budget science fiction tinged horror and gore of his earlier features, Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye and Bliss, shifting the focus to action, Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle’s script for VFW plays to all his strengths for outrageous and inventive violence, sharp dialogue and desperate acts of defiance.
Built around his ensemble cast, movie veterans all, it is also unusual for Begos to work with such high-profile actors, but trapped in the bar are Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly and George Wendt, joined by The Vast of Night‘s Sierra McCormick as Lizard, while outside leading the attack are Travis Hammer as Boz and Dora Madison as Gutter.
His lieutenant pragmatic and smarter than he is, the obsessed Boz believes an army of braindead animals is still an army worth having, and although they may have the numbers and the weapons those inside the bar have the experience, and while they may be old dogs the only thing they have run out of is patience, though as Abe points out “A victory is not a victory if everyone is dead.”
The plot is slight, but that is not the point, VFW Begos’ fourth FrightFest premiere taking the prestigious Saturday night slot and playing to a sold-out crowd cheering the tense and bloody waltz to the death, the initial skirmishes and incursions leading up the inevitable full-on assault on the bar and the survivors barricaded inside.
Begos himself commenting that John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 was itself inspired by Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, he wears his influences proudly on his ragged sleeves, that premise shifted to the setting of Escape from New York, a derelict near-future city of lawlessness and gang rule where no help is coming and survival of the fittest has evolved beyond anything Darwin’s worst nightmares could have conceived.
VFW is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 6th April
The Glasgow Film Festival concluded on Sunday 8th March