In my last review for HeadStuff of Psycho Goreman, I welcomed a film that bucked the horror genre’s current fondness for 80’s nostalgia and moved on to the ’90s. Well, it clearly was an outlier because with the new Shudder exclusive Vicious Fun we are very much back in the neon-drenched 80s – 1984 specifically. Vicious Fun, however, manages to be an incredibly endearing and likeable horror rather than something that just relies on references to older classics.
Vicious Fun is the fifth film from director Cody Calahan following the Antisocial series, Let Her Out and the thriller The Oak Room. It follows Joel (Evan Marsh, Shazam), a writer for the horror magazine Vicious Fanatics – an excellent approximation of Fangoria. Joel is infatuated with his roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele) but it seems hopeless and he is lacking a social life of his own.
He decides to follow his roommate’s date after he drops her off, leading him to a Chinese restaurant where he gets hopelessly drunk. When he awakens in the now-closed restaurant, he finds a support group he quickly discovers is for serial killers. What ensues is a cat and mouse game as Joel tries to escape.
There is a lot to recommend in Vicious Fun, with the film boasting a strong look that leans into the neon aesthetic associated with the 80s. There’s also plenty of stylistic choices, like slow motion, that add a tad more dynamism to the filmmaking than usual low-budget fare. The movie’s plot, meanwhile, moves fast and offers enough twists to be constantly engrossing. It has great comedic moments too and the type of satisfying gore gags that horror fans want in this kind of film. The score by Steph Copeland manages to do something original whilst playing in the 80s retro/synthwave sandbox, sounding more akin to actual music of the period.
One of the greatest strengths of Vicious Fun is the cast. Probably its biggest name is David Koechner (Anchorman), who plays the facilitator of the serial killer group. That said, Marsh is great in the lead role, with Ari Millen (Orphan Black) providing excellent support as the Patrick Bateman-esque yuppie killer Bob. Sean Baek (Killjoys) also leaves an impression playing a cannibal, while the other most recognisable face in the film is probably former pro wrestler Robert Maillet. Having used his hulking frame to play a number of heavies in blockbusters such as Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes film, Maillet is well-cast to embody a Jason-type slasher.
If there are flaws to the film, it’s that the events that lead Joel to falling asleep in a cupboard are contrived. While characters comment on how creepy Joel’s decision to follow his roommate’s date is, it still really seems like an odd decision.
Nevertheless, Vicious Fun is an effective horror comedy and a great addition to the cannon of Shudder exclusives.