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Knives and Neon: Inside Shudder’s ‘Vicious Fun’ [Exclusive]

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Vicious Fun

The set of Vicious Fun was visited in November 2019. You can read my full review of the film here, and watch it yourself on Shudder starting June 29, 2021.


Neon. That’s the first thing I notice when walking on the set of Vicious Fun. Neon lights blaze in the shape of a dragon on one wall and boldly announce beer brands on another. This divey Chinese restaurant is so convincingly built that I’m tempted to search for a menu. It’s brightly colored and dimly lit, sparse yet crowded with a circle of chairs in the middle that house the film’s killer cast.

I mean that quite literally. Vicious Fun’s cast of characters is full of adept murderers, each with their own unique methodology. Firmly set in the 1980s, the film tracks Joel, a mordant film critic for a national horror magazine who finds himself ensnared in a self-help group for serial killers. To avoid becoming the next victim, Joel tries to blend in with the murderous pack.

The idea for Vicious Fun first came up in 2015, but the timing wasn’t quite right. The Black Fawn Films team had been working on a low-budget level slate with Breakthrough Entertainment. When the idea was pitched, Breakthrough responded very positively, but they knew something fundamental would be missing. “All the elements worked,” explained director Cody Calahan, “But we all sort of agreed that at this budget level, we wouldn’t be able to get the vision across the way that it probably should be.” The project was shelved, but never forgotten. 

Calahan continued to pick away at it, bringing on James Villeneuve to work on the script. It was during filming of Calahan’s contained thriller, The Oak Room, that he learned that the project had the green light to shoot. “I was like, oh great, we’ll shoot next year, and they were like nope, end of this year. This is day six for everybody else, but this is day 26 for me,” laughed Calahan, “But it’s good. It’s a good problem to have.”

Story-wise, Vicious Fun sounds like… well, just that. It’s a classic case of mistaken identities with one poor schmuck who’s in way over his head. I watch as Joel (played by Evan Marsh of Riot Girls and Shazam!) stammers his way through his sentence as the pressure grows. He’s circled by Bob (Ari Millen – Orphan Black, I’ll Take Your Dead), a snarling yet smooth criminal who can virtually smell Joel’s fear.

Director Cody Calahan – Vicious Fun via Black Fawn Films

I slip in between shots to meet the vibrant and welcoming cast — which includes David Koechner (Anchorman, Krampus), Amber Goldfarb (Bad Blood), Julian Richings (Supernatural), Robert Maillet (300, Immortals), and Sean Baek (Killjoys). They all seemed excited to get their hands dirty with such a wild and wicked film. 

“When I read the script, I was like, they nailed the tone,” grinned Goldfarb, “I thought that the combination of it being set in the 80s — which allows us to go as big as we want with a lot of things, whether it be costumes or even some quirky acting moments that we can’t get away with in a really naturalistic, modern piece — combined with the horror genre, but with a comedic tone,” she beamed, “It just lends itself to so much fun and creativity and freedom in the work.” 

“It’s one of my favorite scripts that I’ve ever read, full stop.” Millen concurred. Thanks to the mix of genres and the overall tone of the film, there’s a lot of room to play. “Within the story there’s so much going on,” described Baek. “It’s part revenge, part thriller, part horror, and there’s a lot of classic comedic moments.”

Those classic comedic moments blend with some blood-soaked practical effects to make Vicious Fun a real crowd-pleaser. Yet still there’s a delicate balancing act. A tightrope that Calahan has to walk in order for the audience to accept the tone while still engaging the high stakes. 

“It’s funny because with practical effects — especially for a movie like this — it’s trying to find the balance between horror, which is the scare, that ‘oh my god that person is dying’,” said Calahan, “But also, you don’t want to put people on the journey of ‘here’s this fun 80s movie’ and then make them fucking depressed.” He mused, “It’s finding that happy medium with it being really gory and there’s a weight to everybody’s death, but at the same time having a little bit of fun with it, a levity, so that you’re not alienating the audience.”

“The way this movie will go, a lot of it will be either just trying to make you throw up or forcing you not to laugh even though it’s the silliest gag ever.” added Millen. “I think there’s a lot of freedom that’s afforded the actors in the sense that when you can full-on see it, and full-on get a visceral reaction from it, you can take it that much further, no matter which direction you’re going.”

Vicious Fun

With such a robust cast of serial killer characters, there’s bound to be plenty of opportunity for some creative use of practical blood and gore. When speaking on the practical effects, Baek lit up. “I’ve been doing this for about 22 years now. And in my career, I’ve died by strangulation. I’ve died by drowning. I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, but in this film, I die in a very interesting way,” he teased. “I think audiences — if people are into gory stuff — I think they’re gonna enjoy it. I actually look forward to it because you know, It’s an interesting way to die.”

Goldfarb outlined how the fight choreographer has to work alongside the special effects makeup crew in order to ensure that everything stays cohesive. “That it comes together in the right way, and that we’re selling the violence in a believable way, but also in a gory kind of blood-spraying fun way,” she explained, “We can push certain things, even with the effects, because that’s the genre.”

Koechner — who is no stranger to practical effects — agreed that they’re definitely the way to go. I asked the actor if, of the many (Koechner: “I am counting”) he’s had a favorite on-screen death. “The Final Destination films,” he said, without hesitation. “You get to die twice. Those are very long prosthetics, they were fun. You know, I don’t mind because basically you’re an artist’s canvas. So that’s really fun and flattering as far as I’m concerned.”  

Evan Marsh as Joel, Amber Goldfarb as Carrie- Vicious Fun via Shudder

But the practicality isn’t limited to the visceral effects. “It’s not some massive budget where anything’s possible,” said Millen, “Even driving the Camaro, you’ve got that engine in front of your crotch” he laughed, “It might sound funny, and it is funny, but it’s just like, certain things like that you don’t always get and that really affect the nuances.”

“It’s almost like because it’s low budget, the practical way to do it is to have the actor drive the car,” Calahan agreed, “Which helps the actor then do it, because normally it might be on a trailer or whatever. So yeah, the more practical it gets, the easier it is to find the character.”

As for our killer characters, there’s a lot to work with. Each role has a kind of duality — the public-facing monster and their murderous persona. Richings opened up about his  two-sides-of-the-same-coin character, who has “Kind of an intense, scientific geeky knowledge, and also a sort of a sociopathic shyness,” he detailed, “But his alter ego is exactly the opposite where he cuts loose and he becomes a clown. And he gets a tremendous amount of joy and exhilaration from letting everything go.” This killer clown persona allows Richings to really flex as an actor, flying from one end of the social spectrum to another. “It goes from repression to total indulgence, so that’s great fun for an actor, you know, what a gift.” 

Similarly, Millen appreciates the “Ted Bundy meets Ken doll” character of Bob. “[He’s] very charming, very put together. He’s the real estate agent. And there’s something really, really fun about that, because as far as my comfort zone goes for playing a character, he’s the complete opposite, I think, for who I am.” This dichotomy of character is exciting for Millen. “It’s the challenge of like, all right, let’s go for it. Every single instinct that you have is the opposite. And it’s just trusting [Calahan], and having a lot of fun while doing it.”

The knife-wielding Japanese chef, Hideo, is also fun new territory for Baek. “I’ve had to do a lot of research. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries about serial killers.” He recognizes that some, like Bundy, have become household names. “Looking at that and trying to get inside of those people’s psyche, you know, that was very interesting to me as a human being.” He smiled, adding “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to play a serial killer before. So this is my first foray into the genre as well as this type of character. So it’s very exciting.”

Koechner plays Zachary, a government operative who has become a little too comfortable with the act of killing. “I think he cracked after killing enough people then he started enjoying it,” he offered, appreciating the challenge. “It’s different than a lot of things I’ve done before — what people expect out of me.” Koechner also appreciates the new “in” it gives him with one of his daughters; “I’m just trying to find more stuff to really talk about with her. But she was excited that I’m playing a serial killer in this picture, because [she’s been watching Dexter],” he explained “I saw her light up when I told her I’m a serial killer in this.”

David Koechner and Cody Calahan – Vicious Fun via Black Fawn Films

Certainly, the killer and horror elements of Vicious Fun will entice any genre fan. “There’s a love of the genre, and there’s an homage to some many different styles — specifically and also generally,” commented Richings, “It touches on a lot of themes, and even specific nods to particular moments in films.” 

“There’s certain gags and practical things that will be at least scripted that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a rom-com, or even a straight drama,” Millen continued, “If someone pukes in this movie it’s going to be a full-on thing. The attention to detail to disgusting things, it’s like, no that needle is going in the eye,” he laughed, “It’s gonna be like a country road for the audience, that kind of playing with people’s visceral senses is what is probably the most attractive for me.”

Calahan — who grew up with the beautiful violence of 80s horror like The Evil Dead and the Friday the 13th films — was thrilled to combine humor and gore with a signature 80s flair. “There’s something about that era that’s obviously nostalgic for me,” he recalled, “But, to be honest, I’ve always wanted to do something with humor. I’m just trying to find the right piece to be able to infuse that, but also there’s just something so fucking cool about the 80s,” he stated, “I don’t know if it’s all the movies I watched a kid, but it’s like when I see an older car, I’m like, oh, cool, it’s a movie. So there’s an aesthetic that I think I was forcing into stuff, and now I’m just allowed to do it.” 

Speaking on Calahan and his work, Richings shared his deep admiration for the creative team. “It’s written and created by guys that I’ve worked with before and I have a huge respect for,” he commented, “They know what they’re doing. They’ve built films from the ground up. They’ve done every single job possible, including transport, picking up lunch, doing everything to facilitate a film.” Richings smiled, “They know what they’re doing, and it comes from an honest place, and they’re big fans. There’s a love of the genre.”

Julian Richings in Vicious Fun via Black Fawn Films

Standing with the team behind the camera as the cast and crew work through the scene, you can sense that passion. There’s a buzz of warm energy around the set, fueled by a room full of people who genuinely love what they do. 

As I wrap-up for the day, I think back on everything I’ve heard from the excited cast, and everything I’ve seen from the corner of a very convincing restaurant set. When I leave, I’m sure of one thing. This film is going to be some real vicious fun.

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‘Wednesday” Comes To Netflix November 23rd

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Most of us originally thought that the new Wednesday series would premiere in October. It would certainly fit in perfectly with the spooky season. However, when we didn’t see the series starring Jenna Ortega on the Netflix and Chills list we knew we would have to wait a bit longer.

We have received official word that the much anticipated Tim Burton series will be released on Netflix Thanksgiving weekend. The date was shared along with a new poster that you can see below.

Watch Wednesday On Netflix Starting November 23, 2022

The synopsis for Wednesday goes like this:

The series is a sleuthing, supernaturally infused mystery charting Wednesday Addams’ years as a student at Nevermore Academy, where she attempts to master her emerging psychic ability, thwart a monstrous killing spree that has terrorized the local town, and solve the murder mystery that embroiled her parents 25 years ago — all while navigating her new and very tangled relationships at Nevermore.

Go deeper into the Wednesday character with Jenna Ortega and Tim Burton in this featurette.

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‘Sinphony’ Trailer Reveals a New Terrifying Anthology Experience

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Sinphony

Sinphony: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology offers up nine new tales of horror all packed in a tense set. The stories range from a witch trying to protect her kids from a killer to mold spores that make you ravenous if inhaled.

The synopsis for Sinphony: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology goes like this:

Conceived and curated entirely on the popular, audio-based social media platform Clubhouse and produced by Screen Anthology, SINPHONY: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology features a group of international filmmakers each exploring a character dealing with tragedy caused by a supernatural entity. 

The directors contributing segments to the film include a new who’s who of horror: Haley Bishop, Jason Ragosta, Sebastien Bazile & Michael Galvan, Mark Pritchard, Kimberley Elizabeth, Jason Wilkinson, Nichole Carlson, Steven Keller and Wes Driver.

SINPHONY’s shocking stories include: an innkeeper’s growing concern about his secretive new guests; a contractor who inhales mold spores that lead to murder; a couple confronting the fact that one of them is a ghost; a witch protecting her child from a killer; a dance craze that has dire consequences, and much more.

Sinphony’s directors include Jason Ragosta, Steven Keller, Haley Bishop, Wes Driver, Mark Pritchard, Kimberley Elizabeth, Jason Wilkinson, Nicole Carlson, Michael Galvan & Sebastien Bazile.

Sinphony arrives in theaters, on digital and in theaters beginning October 21.

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Keanu Reeves Will Return As ‘Constantine’ in Sequel Directed by Francis Lawrence

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Constantine

Keanu Reeves will finally return as John Constantine in a film directed by Francis Lawrence once again. Deadline reports that the new film has been given the greenlight. The first film came out back in 2005 and introduced a very different version of DC’s Hellblazer John Constantine.

The Constantine sequel will be directed by Lawrence and produced by Bad Robot with JJ Abrams and Hannah Minghella. Plus, Akiva Goldsmith is set to write.

Over the years since the release of 2005’s Constantine, Matt Ryan played a very authentic version of the blonde, British demonologist for a shortlived NBC series. Ryan has also given the character voice in animated films as well as portrayed the character in spinoffs to other DC worlds such as Legends of Tomorrow.

The synopsis for Constantine went like this:

As a suicide survivor, demon hunter John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) has literally been to hell and back — and he knows that when he dies, he’s got a one-way ticket to Satan’s realm unless he can earn enough goodwill to climb God’s stairway to heaven. While helping policewoman Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) investigate her identical twin’s apparent suicide, Constantine becomes caught up in a supernatural plot involving both demonic and angelic forces. Based on the DC/Vertigo “Hellblazer” comics.

Over the years we have heard buzz about a possible Constantine sequel several times, with no actual flame behind the sparks. So, it is definitely exciting to see the film actually moving forward.

Stay tuned for more Keanu Constantine details.

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