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Cody Calahan on Vicious Fun: an inside look into horror-comedy and moustaches

Director Cody Calahan tells us what goes into making a horror comedy

Vicious Fun is an award-winning comedic horror movie that, since its 2020 release, has amazed slasher fans with its bright neon lights and impressively graphic gore. Telling the story of Joel (Evan Marsh), an ’80s horror nerd and journalist who unwittingly finds himself trapped in a self-help group for serial killers, the film is full of violence, self-aware fun, and has striking aesthetics which pay tribute to classic ‘80s genre films. After blowing away the festival circuit, and impressing critics and horror fans alike, the film is now on its way to Shudder, and will be available to stream June 29, 2021.

Directed by Cody Calahan (The Oak Room), Vicious Fun stars the likes of Evan Marsh (Shazam!), Amber Goldfarb (Appiness), Ari Millen (Orphan Black), and shows the panicked consequences of meddling in someone else’s affairs. As Joel tries desperately to survive by blending in with the bunch of homicidal maniacs, led by seasoned killer Bob (Millen), it’s easy to remember that, even though we love horror movies (like Joel), murder in real life can get pretty intense.

The film is strikingly different from Calahan’s past work, but easily ranks among one of his strongest projects to date. We here at The Digital Fix had the chance to talk to the director, hearing about his process in making a horror-comedy, his newfound appreciation for moustaches, and how Vicious Fun came to be.

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Firstly, congrats on Vicious Fun. It must be exciting seeing it do so well on the festival circuit, and now seeing it making its way to Shudder. 

Thank you! Yeah, it’s our first movie being on Shudder, which is cool. I love that company, and they’ve been incredible so far. I’m pretty excited to see how it does.

I bet. Vicious Fun was one of the wackiest horrors I have had the pleasure of seeing. The film’s main premise of a self-help group of serial killers being infiltrated by a horror nerd/journalist is just a really funny concept. Where did the idea come from? 

It’s funny; it originated from the title. I wrote down Vicious Fun, and thought that would make such a great genre movie. Then we knew we wanted to make an ensemble cast of killers, and so by deduction, we found our way to the idea of a support group for serial killers.

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And then, you know, we just thought obviously if we got this horror movie reviewer [Joel] and stick him in this situation, it’s just going to make for good comedy. So, it felt sort of obvious, but yeah, it all started from the title. 

You mentioned the comedy in the film. Horror-comedy is such a hit or miss, generally. 

 Yes, it is dangerous.

Yes, I guess it is! But Vicious Fun managed to stay on that line; it didn’t really fall, which is hard to do. How did you manage navigating between the two genres without them clashing with one another? 

We knew we wanted to make a comedy. I knew I wanted to play on the satire of everything. I didn’t want to try and be funny; if it is not going that direction, we’re not going to lean into it, but I feel like just staying situational, and again not trying to be funny, and just sort of letting it be what it is worked out for the best.

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Also, it was all about not forgetting that we are making a horror movie, so concentrating on the scares, the look of the movie, and the gore was important. The movie tends to lean away from the comedy of it, because I feel that with a lot of horror-comedies, if they lean into the comedy too much, you kinda lose grounding with the lead character, and then it just can’t be scary anymore. We decided to approach it the other way, and let comedy be the backdrop to the horror movie rather than the other way around.


It’s really interesting that you mentioned the film’s look, which was another thing I loved as a classic horror fan—especially the neon-ness of it all. What made you decide to set the film in the ‘80s? Was it just a slasher tribute, or was it part of a bigger visual vision? 

At the beginning, we knew we were going to be paying tribute to all these classic horror films. The first iteration of the script had Joel on a cellphone and on laptops, but there was just something that clashed about homaging the ‘80s while having people on their phones. It just wasn’t clicking, so we decided to set it in the ‘80s.

Obviously, the fear of doing that was that I didn’t want people to think that I was jumping on the Stranger Things boat. But I think our homage and how we approached it is different from what they did, and I think it works in a different way. But in order to homage it properly and be with these characters, we needed to be set in the ‘80s. Plus, my own nostalgia, the stuff that I like, and all my visual references were sort of ‘80s based anyway, so it was relatively easy to make that transition for this film. 

Personal question, the main character Joel wears a very reminiscent teen outfit, and I just want to get a firm confirmation. Was Back to the Future one of your references, by any chance? 

Hahaha yes. 

You once said in an interview for your last feature, The Oak Room, That the films you make are a reflection of who you are at the time when you make them. What does Vicious Fun say about you as a filmmaker right now? 

Well, it’s funny because I came off doing The Oak Room when we were trying to get the financing together for Vicious Fun, and I knew that I just wanted to do something that was fun. A lot of the movies that I had done before were really dark, and my journey with them was heavy, you know? You kinda go through this journey, and you make this movie, and when it is done, I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but you’re sort of stuck in that heavy way of thinking. So I really wanted to make something that refreshed the pallet.

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Also, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to take something that I have never done, which was a horror-comedy, and make something that was just flat out fun to watch and enjoyable. So I think at that point of time, I wanted to stop being dark for a bit. 

All the characters in your movie really help make the film fun. They all had such a clear vision, especially the serial killers. You could tell who they were, their backstories, and the type of killers they were straight away. Was there any specific inspiration for making these characters come to life? 

Yeah, we spent a lot of time working on backstories for the characters because we realised right away that- again because we were tiptoeing into the comedic realm- if these characters didn’t feel like they deserved their own movie, then it would feel gimmicky, and the whole premise might fall apart. So, we spent a lot of time making sure that the audience would want to see a movie about each character because then it felt like we could put them all in the same room, and the story would then work. So we spent a lot of time doing backstories, and a lot of time with the cast talking about things like, “ when was their first kill?”,  “how do they murder”, etc. There were a lot of twisted conversations. We always tried to keep it light-hearted, but yeah, there were some really funny and bizarre conversations. 


So, do you hot seat your actors? What is your method as a director for getting them into their characters, and into that place of thinking, “I’m now a killer”? 

I like to give them a lot of material. I’ll pull stills, or articles or stuff like that. I like to talk about what’s not on screen, like I’ll talk about who the character was, and how he came to be in the group, and less about what’s on the page because the actors have already read what’s on the page. They have an idea on their approach, so rather than stifle what they want to do, I give them enough backstory to try and infuse my ideas there, and hopefully, they incorporate that into the first pass. From there, we adapt the character for what works, but yeah, I kinda like to talk about what’s not on the page.

I think my favourite character was Bob; he was like Ted Bundy meets Lemony Snicket. 

Ha, totally. That’s a good way of putting it. 

It was all his disguises, and there was one scene where he wears a really bad fake moustache that really cracked me up. Ari Millen does such a good job portraying him. He is an actor you’ve worked with previously as well. What draws you to him as an actor?

Our parents were best friends, so we grew up together, like the same crib kind of stuff. I got into writing and directing, and he got into acting, so he pops up in my stuff usually because while I’m developing it, I’ll have him read it at some point. Usually, he is like, “oh my god, you’ve got to let me play Bob”, and I normally say, ok, cool. So we had talked about him playing Bob for a long time. I love his performance in it because, somehow, he’s able to be absolutely ridiculous in the role, but it just works. He is a fantastic actor, and it helps that we are old friends. 


I feel like he embodied the goofiness of the eighties that we all love. You already touched on the point, but I really want to know why Bob specifically, and not one of the other serial killers, which all have such strong personalities too? 

I think that I’ve been working with him for so long, and I’ve seen him in so much stuff that I just feel like he is really able to become the character. I really wanted Bob to be original. I didn’t want people to immediately think,” oh, he is like American psycho mixed with this and mixed with that”. I really wanted him to be his own character, and I knew Ari would put in the time and effort to make him his own character within the movie. So yeah, I think it was just knowing that, and knowing that he would kill that role. 

Ok, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Covid-19. I know it’s not a fun topic, but you can honestly say that you’re one of the films that had to deal with it during production and for your release. 

Yeah, we actually shot it before. We got it in the can, and we were done by the end of November 2019, and then we got halted in post. So yeah, we got it shot, but then post was just a bizarre nightmare of doing everything from satellites, and yeah, it was bizarre, it was really fucking weird. I would never want to do that again. 

I was going to ask what were the big challenges, but it seems like you already gave me my answer with the satellites. 

 Ha, yeah, that was the biggest. 

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Let’s talk on a lighter note, then. Can you tell us any funny stories that came about from filming? 

On set? 

Yeah, Vicious Fun is such a fun film. You must have some really good stories that came from it. 

Yeah, what I loved about it, you know I think that it was three or four days into shooting, we really sort of took the handcuffs off, and I really encouraged people to ad-lib, and go off-page. I think you mentioned the moustache scene in the film; that was an ad-lib. That was never in the script. There were no moustaches mentioned in the script; it was just a friend of mine who played one of the cops in the film. He sent me an audition tape with a moustache, and I was like, “ok, that’s it, all the cops in the movie have to have moustaches” because it just worked so well. 

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It was one of our days of shooting where Evan Marsh, who plays Joel, was joking, saying at some point, someone has to point out this moustache because Bob’s moustache is SO bad. And Kristopher Bowman (who plays one of the cops) said, “well if he points it out, I have to lose it because nobody makes fun of a man’s moustache”. So, I think for me, there were just so many times in the movie that we went off-book, and sometimes we went so far off-book that it never even made it into the movie. 

We spent hours shooting scenes that never went in, but I think it was just the experience as a whole of going wherever you want to on a whim; that was awesome. I’d never done that before, and it was liberating, to say the least. 

One of the big things we’ve seen about horror is that post-pandemic, we’ve seen it really thrive for some reason. Why do you think people latch onto this genre so much, especially now? 

I mean… 

Ha, big question, I know. 

Ha, yeah, I’m sure that there’s some psychology behind the world being in such disarray, and maybe wanting to watch someone in a worse spot? I don’t know, maybe to help gain some perspective. I don’t know what it is specifically, but I think it was coming. Horror movies seem to be really, really coming back, especially in the mainstream. Seeing stuff like a Quiet Place 2 getting the numbers that it is getting, it’s exciting. 


Ok, we had to ask this question, what is your favourite slasher? 

This is so funny because obviously, making a movie like this; I get asked this all the time. You’d think I’d be better prepped for all these interviews, but I’m not a huge horror movie fan. I love horror movies, and I watch them all the time, but I don’t have posters on my wall, and I’m not obsessed with stuff like that. But I mean, I loved the original Jason, Friday the 13th, and Freddy is just one of my favourite characters, so those are sort of my favourites.

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But again, yeah, it’s weird that I always get asked, “oh, what is your favourite horror movies” or get told, “oh, you must love horror movies to make this homage”. Ha, I’m always like, “well I like all genres and stuff”. I used to love horror when I was younger, but recently, I think when my son was born, I watch less horror movies now. 

That makes sense. So what is the genre that you tend to lean towards to nowadays then? 

I watch a lot more thrillers I guess, but there is nothing that I shy away from. I kinda watch everything, I’m sort of inspired by good movies just in general. 

That’s a very sensible answer 

Haha, it’s very safe. 

Finally, what’s next for you? 

Well, I’m not sure what I can say about it right now, a press release will probably be coming out in the next couple of weeks, but I’m directing a movie sometime later in September. I guess I can at least say this; it’s like a bizarre, twisted coming of age heist movie. I don’t know, I’m on this certain kick of doing something different every time, so I’m going to take a swing at that now.