Wednesday 19 October 2011

The little exploitation gorefest that could

Well, you can't claim they lied.
Well, it's the end of the line: the last of the Grindhouse franchise.* Hobo with a Shotgun is quite a different beast from Grindhouse (2007) and Machete (2010). Where the earlier two films were designed to look like low-budget films, Hobo with a Shotgun is the real deal: shot in Nova Scotia on a budget of $3m (compare Machete's $10.5m), it might as well have been made in 1975. So it's tremendously easy to root for Hobo with a Shotgun, and it helps that the film is good - the weakest of the Grindhouse films, but good nonetheless.

The film begins with the titular nameless hobo (Rutger Hauer) riding into Hope Town, somewhere in Canada, on a freight train. Within minutes he's seen an innocent theatrically murdered by psychotic criminal Drake (Brian Downey) and his sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith).** He at first decides to keep his head down and stay alive in a city run by the vilest criminal scum ever conceived, but gives Slick a no-holds-barred beatdown when the latter attempts to rape Abby (Molly Dunsworth), a pure-hearted streetwalker.

Finding the local police hopelessly corrupt, the hobo decides to fight back, choosing to forego his dream of buying a lawn mower as the first step to his own landscaping business in favour of purchasing a (single-barrel pump-action) shotgun. Now he delivers justice one shell at a time!, dispatching paedophiles, robbers and Drake's agents. Eventually Drake puts out a bounty for hobos, leading to mobs of citizens hunting down the homeless, and - after the hobo and Abby survive an attack by Ivan and Slick - he summons an unspeakable ancient evil to deal with his shotgun-wielding nemesis...

Hobo with a Shotgun the trailer was a one-note joke, relying entirely on its title - and what a title! When I learned there would be a film called Hobo with a Shotgun, I immediately wanted to see it. I was consumed with anticipation for months, then, learning to my distress that no cinema in Nottingham would show Hobo with a Shotgun, had to wait until I could catch it on video. When there's a film called Hobo with a Shotgun, not watching it is not an option. The one thing the filmmakers had to deliver was a homeless man dispensing vigilante justice with his trusty smoothbore, and they come through - even if, like Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun is otherwise bedevilled by a serious shortage of plot.

It's a shortage I won't complain of: after all, The Hills Have Eyes (1977) has about five minutes' worth of plot. Hobo with a Shotgun is not about that, but it is about recreating a particular look and feel. The entire thing is almost bizzarely seventies: take, for example, the film's obsession with urban decay and crime, straight out of Dirty Harry and countless other vigilante films, which feels comical now but was serious business at a time when anxieties about race, gender and social relations were channelled into square-jawed men shooting transgressors on sight. The whole thing even looks like the cheap film stock of 1970s exploitation cinema, courtesy of Karim Hussain's mad cinematographic skills.

And while we're on the subject of 1970s homage: yes, Hobo with a Shotgun is ludicrously gory. More so than Grindhouse, more than Piranha 3D (2010), which seriously tested the limits of my endurance. Hobo with a Shotgun is, I believe, the goriest and possibly the most vulgar film I have ever seen. There are beheadings, disembowellings, heads crushed between bumper cars and, of course, countless loving shots of people torn up by shotgun blasts. In the climax, a character uses their shredded forearm bone as a piercing weapon, all shown in lingering detail. It's hard to take at times, but the gore effects are solidly, deliberately old-timey: there are viscera aplenty, but none that look like the real thing. (Although my knowledge of such matters derives almost entirely from films...)

This excess of bloodletting is accompanied by the most over-the-top villainous performances you're likely to see this year: these people are evil, even if they're theatrically, gleefully so, and they deserve all the shotgunning they get. That's the supporting actors, anyway: Hauer's performances is bafflingly earnest, even subtle. His hobo is an increasingly confused old man heavingly implied to be suffering from dementia of some kind, who avenges the humiliations he suffers by lashing out with his twelve-gauge. ('You can't solve all the world's problems with a shotgun', Abby says. 'It's all I know', the hobo replies.) Is it too much to take Hauer's layered turn as a shotgun-wielding tramp as a comment on a great actor's career playing villains in B-movies?

The quote above is typical of a fantastic script. Beside badass evil lines ('When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat... with razor blades') and laugh-out loud comedic ones (among policemen: 'At least he's only killing the dirty cops.' - 'We're all dirty cops!') there are plenty of deliberate misfires: the hobo tells Abby a rambling, mostly nonsensical parable about bears, while Abby later attempts to rally the crowd with a speech that is frankly incoherent. A special shout-out goes to the hobo's great final line to the villain, which it would be a crime to spoil. He should have remembered not to mess with a hobo... with a shotgun.

*Unless they make Werewolf Women of the SS into a real film, as they should.
**Incidentally, both sons dress a lot like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. It's weird.

In this series: Grindhouse (2007) | Machete (2010) | Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

1 comment:

  1. Hell, I'd pay to see 'Werewolf Women of the SS'. It couldn't be worse than Ilsa...