Knives and Neon: Inside Shudder’s ‘Vicious Fun’ [Exclusive]
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Evil Tech Might Be Behind an Online Predator Ruse in ‘The Artifice Girl’
An evil A.I. program appears to be behind the fake abduction of a young girl in XYZ’s forthcoming thriller The Artifice Girl.
This movie was originally a festival contender where it garnered the Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award at SXSW, and won Best International Feature at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
The teaser trailer is below (a full one will be released soon), and it feels like a twisted take on the cult fave Megan is Missing. Although, unlike Megan, The Artifice Girl isn’t a found footage film it employs third-person computer tech in its narrative.
The Artifice Girl is the directorial feature film debut of Franklin Ritch. The film stars Tatum Matthews (The Waltons: Homecoming), David Girard (short “Teardrop Goodbye with Mandatory Directorial Commentary by Remy Von Trout”), Sinda Nichols (That Abandoned Place, “Bubblegum Crisis”), Franklin Ritch and Lance Henriksen (Aliens, The Quick and the Dead)
XYZ Films will release The Artifice Girl in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand on April 27, 2023.
A team of special agents discovers a revolutionary new computer program to bait and trap online predators. After teaming up with the program’s troubled developer, they soon find that the AI is rapidly advancing beyond its original purpose.
Latest Shark Movie ‘The Black Demon’ Swims Into Spring
The latest shark movie The Black Demon is preemptively striking audiences who are used to these types of films during the summer by heading to theaters this spring on April 28.
Billed as an “edge-of-your-seat action thriller,” which is what we hope for in a Jaws ripoff, er…oceanic creature feature. But it does have one thing going for it, director Adrian Grunberg whose overly-bloody Rambo: Last Blood wasn’t the worst in that series.
The combo here is Jaws meets Deepwater Horizon. The trailer looks pretty entertaining, but I don’t know about the VFX. Let us know what you think. Oh, and the animal in peril is a black and white Chihuahua.
Oilman Paul Sturges’ idyllic family vacation turns into a nightmare when they encounter a ferocious megalodon shark that will stop at nothing to protect its territory. Stranded and under constant attack, Paul and his family must somehow find a way to get his family back to shore alive before it strikes again in this epic battle between humans and nature.’
‘Scream VII’ Greenlit, But Should the Franchise Take a Decade-Long Rest Instead?
Bam! Bam! Bam! No that’s not a shotgun inside the bodega in Scream VI, it’s the sound of producer’s fists rapidly hitting the green light button to further franchise favorites (i.e. Scream VII).
With Scream VI barely out of the gate, and a sequel reportedly filming this year, it seems horror fans are the ultimate target audience to get ticket sales back at the box office and away from “press play” streaming culture. But maybe it’s too much too soon.
If we haven’t learned our lesson already, banging out cheap horror movies in quick succession isn’t exactly a fool-proof strategy to get butts in theater seats. Let’s pause in a moment of silence to remember the recent Halloween reboot/retcon. Although the news of David Gordon Green blowing off the gossamer and resurrecting the franchise in three installments was great news in 2018, his final chapter did nothing but put the tarnish back on the horror classic.
Possibly drunk on the moderate success of his first two films, Green advanced to a third one very quickly but failed to provide fan service. Criticisms of Halloween Ends mainly hinged on the lack of screen time given to both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and instead on a new character that didn’t have anything to do with the first two films.
“Honestly, we never once considered making a Laurie and Michael movie,” the director told Moviemaker. “The concept that it should be a final showdown-type brawl never even crossed our minds.”
How’s that again?
Although this critic enjoyed the last film, many found it off-course and perhaps a stand-alone that should have never been connected to the redeveloped canon. Remember Halloween came out in 2018 with Kills releasing in 2021 (thanks to COVID) and finally Ends in 2022. As we know, the Blumhouse engine is fueled by brevity from script to screen, and although it can’t be proven, hammering out the last two films so quickly might have been integral to its critical undoing.
Which brings us to the Scream franchise. Will Scream VII get underbaked purely because Paramount wants to reduce its cooking time? Also, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Remember, everything in moderation. The first movie was released in 1996 with the next almost exactly a year later, then the third three years after that. The latter is considered the weaker of the franchise, but still solid.
Then we enter the decade release timeline. Scream 4 released in 2011, Scream (2022) 10 years after that. Some may say, “well hey, the difference in release times between the first two Scream movies was exactly that of the reboot.” And that is correct, but consider that Scream (’96) was a film that changed horror movies forever. It was an original recipe and ripe for back-to-back chapters, but we are now five sequels deep. Thankfully Wes Craven kept things sharp and entertaining even through all the parodies.
Conversely, that same recipe also survived because it took a decade-long hiatus, giving new trends time to develop before Craven attacked the newer tropes in another installment. Remember in Scream 3, they still used fax machines and flip phones. Fan theory, social media and online celebrity were developing fetuses at that time. Those trends would be incorporated into Craven’s fourth movie.
Fast-forward another eleven years and we get Radio Silence’s reboot (?) which made fun of the new terms “requel” and “legacy characters.” Scream was back and fresher than ever. Which leads us to Scream VI and a change of venue. No spoilers here, but this episode seemed oddly reminiscent of re-hashed past storylines, which may have been a satire in and of itself.
Now, it’s been announced that Scream VII is a go, but it leaves us to wonder how such a short hiatus is going to fare with nothing in the horror zeitgeist to channel. In all of this race to get the big bucks, some are saying Scream VII could only top its predecessor by bringing back Stu? Really? That, in my opinion, would be a cheap effort. Some also say, that sequels often bring in a supernatural element, but that would be out of place for Scream.
Could this franchise do with a 5-7 year hiatus before it ruins itself on principle? That break would allow time and new tropes to develop — the franchise’s life’s blood — and mostly the power behind its success. Or is Scream heading into the “thriller” category, where the characters are just going to face another killer(s) in a mask without the irony?
Perhaps that is what the new generation of horror fans want. It could work of course, but the spirit of the canon would be lost. True fans of the series will spot a bad apple if Radio Silence does anything uninspired with Scream VII. That’s a lot of pressure. Green took a chance in Halloween Ends and that didn’t pay off.
All that being said, Scream, if anything, is a masterclass at building hype. But hopefully, these movies don’t turn into the campy iterations they make fun of in Stab. There is still some life left in these films even if Ghostface doesn’t have time to catnap. But as they say, New York never sleeps.