An Unhappy Birthday

VFW’s throwback touches on specific zeitgeist from the ‘80s, established by Rambo, and filtering through pop culture – the Vietnam “we can still win” movie. That action sub-genre lacked seriousness; so too does VFW.

Casting Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, and Martin Cove (plus others) as veterans, the team come together, standing for their country, relighting their fighting spirit, and stabbing people with flags. This crew is so determined to win – and win anything – they take on a hundred or more drug-crazed millennials without flinching.

Poking out of VFW is generational satire. In the opening scene, Lang drives down city streets, revolted by how the neighborhood changed by letting addicts run free. When one of the addicted clan members sneaks drugs in to the VFW bar, the masses follow, looking for a fix. The leader stands outside and asks, “What’s VFW?” Much as the elder vets turn into unlikely turf defenders, the idiotic 20-somethings make for easy marks.

VFW keeps its stars wholly isolated in a surreal hell

This isn’t a genre film looking to explore addiction, or the economic factors within. Opening text takes notice of spreading opiod abuse, and envisions this as a future where things were never brought under control. Now the designer drug is named Hype. VFW’s straight siege-movie formula starts with those biases in place, and soon, axes in hand. Although guns play a role, the fight becomes a close-range scuffle, piercing skulls or cutting off limbs. Those traits turn VFW into a zombie splatter fest, suggesting how crudely this older demographic views their younger counterparts.

It’s absurd, of course, and knowingly so. Extreme violence keeps finding new peaks; the finale still feels appropriately satisfying too. VFW dresses itself in dual colored neon and emergency lights. Red is everywhere, searing the imagery with a definite harshness. Often, little is seen in the limited light.

Nothing exists in this world other than a bar and Judge Dredd-like drug compound. No one calls the police, and no pedestrians are seen. VFW keeps its stars wholly isolated in a surreal hell. In that, they feel at home, or in some cases, as if they never left the battlefield. It’s not disrespectful, but if so, no more than Rambo hoisting a rocket launcher while surviving an enemy barrage. The script to VFW makes sure not to turn its heroes into a hokey, all-too-perfect embodiment of American war. Not all of them make it. VFW has stakes. And laughs. And nostalgia.


Toast the compressionists who worked on VFW’s Blu-ray, whoever they may be. Shot on 16mm, the overwhelming grain structure poses an immediate challenge. Then, the aesthetic douses the screen in bright red. That’s a formula headed toward a digital cataclysm, yet VFW doesn’t relent. Grain looks like grain, artifacting isn’t an issue, and the intended style is maintained. Kudos to those who transferred this.

In no way is VFW a showcase. Cinematography avoids avoids light, greatly softens, and lacks definition. Detail is a rarity, even by 16mm standards. That’s intentional, mimicking a cruddy, VHS-era, low budget exploitation flick. What matters is whether the disc can hold that without issue. It does.

Extreme saturation brings out few colors. Reds embolden themselves, clashed against deep blues. Minimal as this is, the output looks fantastic. Being heavy in shadow, those lights make up the contrast. It’s spectacular in its effect.


While lean in surround use, VFW makes up for this in range. Gunshots ring out at max decibels, unconcerned with balance. Explosions reverb with vicious power. Even the electronic score (that does take to the rear speakers) drives a heartbeat-like core into the mix.

Even with the aggressive stance, dialog isn’t lost in the action.


Three dull four-ish minute EPKs serve limited purpose. VFW relies on two commentaries, one with director Joe Begos and team members, the other with the special effects crew.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Painted with satire, VFW goes back to a cultural moment, digging up the Vietnam return sub-genre and placing it in a wildly fun modern setting.

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