CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Jason Eisener

FEATURING: , 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.

Still from Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)


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 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 ‘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)

6 thoughts on “CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)”

  1. I’ll start by saying I love your site. I’ve found a lot of great movies on here, and for the most part I agree with your picks. That being said I have to share a thought on the Troma comment near the end of this review. Don’t get me wrong, the review itself was great. I agree with everything that was said until I reached Troma. I’m not here to say that Troma is for everyone. It’s definitely a niche audience, but being part of that niche, I can’t help defending it. It says Troma has been trying and failing for over twenty years to make this kind of movie, and I just don’t understand how you came to that conclusion. Do they put out a lot of schlock? F**k yeah. Is a lot of it unwatchable? Again the answer is f*k yeah, but like any studio, the bad always far outnumber the good. And the good from Troma is some of the best. Toxie is about as iconic in the cult world as Mickey Mouse is in the mainstream. Tromeo and Juliet, Terror Firmer, just about everything Kaufman has directed is a guaranteed good time. Not to mention movies like Combat Shock, Screamplay, Killer Condom, Beg!, and tons of others. These are original, artistic (yes even Killer Condom, believe it or not), and made with something that should be the main tool of every filmmaker, pure love for the medium. Just the fact that Troma is the longest running independent studio in cinema history is really the only proof of their success that is needed. This rant is not to try and change your opinion on Troma’s films, but merely to ask that you give credit where credit is due. Thanks.

  2. One afterthought, and I’ll shut the hell up. To me a bad movie is a movie that completely fails at what it’s trying to be. People like to compare Lloyd to Ed Wood without realizing the one glaring difference. Ed Wood had no skill. He wasn’t trying to make comedies, his goal was to be a serious filmmaker He just sucked (admirably). Lloyd, on the other hand, makes the exact movie he sets out to make. If someone doesn’t like them that’s a matter of taste, but to put his his movies under the “so bad they’re good” category is a misrepresentation. Lloyd’s movies are the cinematic equivalent of punk rock. Anarchic masterpieces with a “f**k the system” sensibility. A list of what Lloyd’s movies are; campy, offensive, crude, topical (that’s right, I said it), offbeat, and gory. A list of what they’re not; Bad. That is all. Again, love the site.

  3. Hi Shane: I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of my mixed feelings about Troma (that would make for a good column), but I guess I need to expand on that one-liner. I don’t have any serious disagreement with anything you said about Troma and Kaufman. My point was that Troma (at least when they started off in the 1980s) intended to try to capture the absurd pleasures of grindhouse cinema, in a smart way. But, since the original Toxic Avenger, their comedy has lost any sense of subtlety and become too broad, in an attempt to prove to the audience just what you’re saying: that they’re sophisticated spoofsters, not makers of “bad” movies. But their concern with not appearing “bad” has led them far away from their original goal of evoking the pleasures of drive-in cinema, where all the enjoyment comes from “badness.” I praise Hobo because it plays its cards much closer to its vest; as I wrote, it “trusts the audience to get the joke… without leading us by the nose.” It gives us the experience Troma was originally striving to recreate: it looks on the surface like a “bad” exploitation movie, like something that might have actually played drive-ins and grindhouses back in the day, but when you examine it more closely you see the sly humor. I personally would prefer more movies like Hobo and fewer like Toxic Avenger Part XI, but there’s no question the “Troma movie” has become its own genre with a dedicated fanbase, and it’s here to stay for a while.

  4. The movie was interesting because at least partly it had few new ideas. Otherwise it sucked.
    The actor who played the bum was the only good one.
    I imagine movies like these are accpetable for dumb Americans, but in reality this is really low class film. They didn’t even try to make the tension moments and gore convincing, even though that was one of the movies main points.

    Also characters are all so dull, you really don’t care when they get hurt.

  5. I always saw this movie laughed at the title and passed it up. Since reading your review though i think it’s worth a rental. I’m going to have to pick it up soon

  6. dssd: Nice job saying this is acceptable to dumb Americans, when the movie is Canadian. The main point of this movie is an homage to the over the top splatter flicks of the 80s. The gore isn’t supposed to be convincing. There wasn’t supposed to be any real tension. You say the filmmakers missed the point of their own movie, when you obviously don’t even understand the type of film they were making. Do yourself a favor, and know what you’re talking about before post.

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