DIRECTED BY: Jason Eisener
FEATURING: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey
PLOT: A hobo rides the rails into a surreally depraved “Scum Town” (formerly Hope Town) and is
pushed into grabbing a shotgun and sweeping the streets clean of pimps, pushers, and bum fight promoters.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hobo is one of the better postmodern grindhouse spoofs out there and will rate a “must see” for fans of that extremely specific genre, but—although it’s certainly bizarre in its complete disregard of non-B-movie logic—it doesn’t do enough to transcend it’s inspirations in order to earn a general weird recommendation.
COMMENTS: Hobo with a Shotgun has a real eye for shabby detail—just look at the period poster that features disheveled Rutger Hauer, teeth bared, firing a sawed-off shotgun. The artist drew in fold lines as if it was a one sheet that had been filed away in some producer’s desk and forgotten about for thirty years. As strange as it might sound in a movie that features barbed wire decapitations, flame-broiled school children, and post-apocalyptic ninja robots, what impresses me most about Hobo is that kind of subtle detail. Sure, the movie gets most of its mileage from its ludicrous levels of bloodletting—dig that chick dancing around in a mink coat and bikini as blood showers on her from a neck-geyser—but I expected that in a postmodern grindhouse revenge flick. What I didn’t expect is that the absurd violence would be served with a side of style and deadpan wit, sans jokey winks to the audience. Everyone catches on to the B-movie madness, like the land-based octopus in the villain’s lair and the human piñata smacked by topless ladies, but the truly strange touches are easy to miss: the hipster newscaster with the soul patch and earring, the Byzantine icon of Jesus on the Drake’s wall (next to a photo of the Hobo) with his eyes marked out with red paint, the way Hauer grabs a convenient bottle of vodka from a random passerby in a hospital corridor. Any notion that this movie takes place in any world outside movies is dispelled early on when the Hobo enters the town’s top nightspot—a video arcade that doubles as a murder emporium, where oblivious teens spend their allowances on video games while stereotyped 1980s punks crush homeless heads between bumper cars a few feet away. Director Jason Eisener plays it pretty damn straight, like a 1980s period piece intended for airing on the old “USA Up All Night” show. He lets the absurdity of the plot speak for itself and trusts the audience to get the joke (yes, this is a “terrible” movie) without leading us by the nose. The dialogue is droll; ridiculous speeches are delivered with straight faces, such as the brilliantly melodramatic monologue Hauer delivers standing in front of a hospital incubator full of babies, shotgun in hand. The scripting is carefully clichéd every step of the way, devised with a studied thoughtlessness. Lines like “you can’t solve all the world’s problems with a shotgun!” (and Hauer’s weary response, “It’s all I know”) are delivered with utmost sincerity. But it was the following exchange, delivered when the Hobo discloses his dream of starting a lawn-mowing business, that convinced me I was in the presence of great faux-incompetent writing. “I got my own slogan—you grow it, I cut it,” the Hobo brags. His Platonic hooker companion immediately corrects him: “No, you grow it, we cut it!” The movie’s Technicolor palettes are extravagantly schizophrenic, changing every few minutes, from the hunter’s vest oranges highlighting the Hobo’s train ride into Scum Town to the neon pinks of the emergency room parking lot; they supply another level of arch artificiality. As unreal as everything in the movie is, the enterprise is grounded by hobo Hauer’s magnificently grizzled, whiskered mien, which forms a tired, scowling reality of its own. Hauer’s weather-beaten face and nearly-beaten-down attitude sells the impossible; it’s difficult to imagine the film could have worked with another living actor (outside of Clint Eastwood). Hobo hits that difficult sweet spot between deliberate camp and shameless exploitation; it’s the movie Troma studios have been trying, and failing, to make for over 20 years now.
Hobo With a Shotgun originated as the winner of a contest to make a fake trailer for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez‘s Grindhouse (see the original trailer here). Eisener ran with what could have been a throwaway viral curiosity and made it into a major feature. The director has obvious talent; the danger is that he will look at Hobo‘s success and start to repeat himself. Here’s hoping he challenges himself and takes on a different type of project next; one Hobo is enough.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“With its high degree of farcically unreal gore, Hobo With a Shotgun arrives at a level of cartoonishly surreal absurdism not unakin to The Evil Dead II (1987) or early Peter Jackson films…”–Richard Schieb, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review (DVD)