Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun

Magnet Releasing

Nobody, and I mean nobody, does crazy better than Rutger Hauer. I knew this the first time I saw him in the 1981 thriller Nighthawks, which would otherwise have been just another by-the-numbers Sylvester Stallone action vehicle were it not for Hauer's chilling performance as psychopathic terrorist Heymar Reinhardt, aka Wulfgar. There is a moment in that film when Hauer appears to be getting something other than a platonic thrill from one of his carefully orchestrated explosions.  

A sort of populist Klaus Kinski, Hauer's innate weirdness has always been less suited to conventional leading roles than the sorts of murderous, mad-as-a-baboon lunatics he has played in such films such as Blade Runner (1982) and The Hitcher (1986). Much as I like Anthony Hopkins, I think Hauer would've made a scarier Hannibal Lecter.

Hauer has been playing smaller supporting roles in recent years, however Jason Eisener's Hobo with a Shotgun puts the crazy Dutchman front and center as the shotgun-weilding lead in an ultraviolent tongue-in-cheek thriller about a homeless man who sets out to deliver justice, as the tagline says, "one shell at a time."

It all started with a movie trailer for a film that didn't exist.


Dimension Films
A few years ago, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino decided to create the first authentic, intentional B-movie double feature of the post-drive-in era. It was called Grindhouse (2007), and consisted of two original films, Death Proof and Planet Terror, which were intended as an homage to the schlocky, violent, over-the-top sorts of movies that tended to play at shabby downtown "grindhouses" and rural drive-in theaters in the 60s and 70s. Movies such as The Women of Cellblock 9; Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS; Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry; Two Thousand Maniacs; Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; and Night of the Bloody Apes--the sort of transgressive fare that teenage boys live for.

trailer 125
Quentin came up with the idea of shooting fake movie trailers to be shown between features, which would serve the dual purpose of providing an intermission while lending even more authenticity to the grindhouse/drive-in experience. When friends the likes of Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses) heard about it, they wanted in on the fun. Roth ended up contributing a trailer for a Valentine's Day-style thriller called Thanksgiving, while Zombie did the over-the-top Nazi/sci-fi/horror opus, Werewolf Women of the SS. Edgar Wright did a Hammer Films-style trailer called Don't, and Rodriguez himself contributed the trailer to a then-nonexistent action thriller called Machete, which has since been made into a feature.

But Rodriguez had another brilliant idea. In order to generate even more interest in the project, he decided to sponsor a Grindhouse movie trailer contest in conjunction with the 2007 South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, TX. Contestants would have three weeks to deliver a faux "Grindhouse"-style movie trailer. There would be no prizes for the winner, only potential boatloads of kudos and recognition from the modern masters of exploitation. 

When Nova Scotian filmmakers Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill heard about the contest in Ain't It Cool News, they grabbed a shotgun (a real one) and some friends--among them, a guy named David Brunt--and began shooting a fake trailer about a homeless man who goes Death Wish on a gang of creeps and corrupt cops. With a budget of only $150--spent mostly on cigarettes, pizza and beer--Eisener and Cotterill spent the next six days shooting the gritty, gruesome, over-the-top trailer for a nonexistent action movie called Hobo with a Shotgun:
(article continued below

Jason Eisener/Magnet Releasing
Eisener and Cotterill managed to pack more pure, undiluted entertainment value into their 2-minute shoot-em-up than is contained in some entire films. With its pitiless narration, flashes of gore, 70s soundtrack and gonzo dialogue ("We're taking a car ride to hell and you're riding shotgun!"), Hobo with a Shotgun seemed to be channeling every blood-and-guts splatterfest from Straw Dogs to I Spit On Your Grave

Eisener and Cotterill's faux trailer handily won Rodriguez's Grindhouse contest, and became an instant fan favorite. The Hobo trailer was so shamelessly entertaining--and so perfectly in keeping with the spirit of Grindhouse--that Dimension films included it with the rest of the faux trailers with the Canadian theatrical release of Tarantino and Rodriguez's double feature. (Why they didn't include it with the US release is something of a mystery.)   
Jason Eisener/Magnet Releasing
Of the fake movie trailers, the two most consistently popular were Rodriguez's Machete and Eisener's Hobo with a Shotgun; as with Machete, it wouldn't be long before Hobo got the feature film treatment.

For the film version, the original hobo, David Brunt, was replaced with cult fan favorite Rutger Hauer, who bore a passing resemblance to Brunt, and who would also bring a certain star power to the film that would be helpful from a marketing standpoint. 

Brunt still appears in the film, not as a hobo, but as a cop with one of the most memorably funny lines from the original trailer: "We're all dirty cops!"


Hobo with a Shotgun opens with the titular homeless guy (Hauer) riding a boxcar. The sequence is immediately endearing because of the music, which is one of the great things about Jason Eisener's films. Not even Tarantino has Eisener's ear for nailing the kind of twee, inappropriately maudlin title themes with which European exploiteers are so fond of prefacing their appallingly violent films.  Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust and Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil are two obvious examples; anyone who's seen those films will know exactly what Eisener is up to. (He did something similarly hilarious with his holiday gorefest, Treevenge, about a bunch of Christmas trees that come to life and turn on their human owners.)

Magnet Releasing
Eventually, our hero--known only as "Hobo"--disembarks on the outskirts of the grimy, impoverished, crime-ridden city of Hope Town, every exposed inch of which appears to be covered with garbage or graffiti. On a sign at the edge of town, "Hope Town" has been spray painted to read "Scum Town."

Brian Downey is "The Drake" (Magnet Releasing)
Shortly after arriving, our hero is accosted by a guy with a camcorder who offers him ten bucks to be in a "bum fight." The Hobo scowls and turns away, only to be confronted by a gory spectacle when a mobster known as The Drake (Brian Downey) and his sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), decapitate Drake's own brother with a barbed wire noose tied to the bumper of a car. The scene is clearly a nod to the Bo Arne Vibenius shocker, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, in which a character is beheaded by means of a rope tied to a horse.

Magnet Releasing


Gruesome as the scene is, the gore and the characters are so over-the-top that the scene isn't as appalling as it might have been were Eisener's tongue not planted firmly in-cheek.

Drifting into town with a shopping cart, the Hobo eyes a lawn mower for sale in a pawn shop window. It's only a mower, but for him it could be the ticket to a better life--if only he could afford it. The price is a princely $49.99, but it might as well be thousands: his total cash reserves consist of a sockful of coins. If he wants to raise that kind of lettuce, he'll have to go begging for it. Rummaging in a dumpster for some cardboard and a marker, he makes a hand-lettered sign that reads "I AM TIRED - NEED $ FOR LAWN MOWER."

Magnet Releasing

That night, the Hobo sits on the sidewalk with his cup and his sign, collecting spare change from sympathetic passersby, but business is slow. Everybody's poor--except for The Drake, of course, whose entertainment arcade across the street  seems to be bustling. 

Inside, the arcade contains a variety of amusements with a lethal, whack-a-hobo twist. There are bumper cars that smash hobos, and even one of those carnival games where a mallet is used to strike a treadle that rings a bell, except that a hobo's foot is used instead of a treadle. It seems the homeless of Hope Town are such a plentiful commodity that they have become a cheap source of disposable entertainment. 

Lest anyone take any of this too seriously, Eisener removes all doubt with a bit of sanguinary absurdity: his hobos don't simply get smashed, they explode in camera-washing showers of gore.

Magnet Releasing
Our hero simply wants to be left alone, of course, however since the movie is called Hobo with a Shotgun we know that's not going to happen, so Eisener moves the action forward by having our hero go snooping around The Drake's place out of idle curiosity. Naturally, it isn't long before he runs afoul of Drake's boy, Slick (Gregory Smith), who is attempting to take liberties with an attractive young woman.

"Let the girl go, punk," the Hobo growls. "I'm making a citizen's arrest."

"And who the fuck are you?", Slick asks, flashing a switchblade.

"Put the knife away, kid," the Hobo replies, his voice lowering to a menacing whisper. "Or I'll use it to cut welfare checks from your rotten skin."

In the brouhaha that follows, the Hobo bashes Slick on the head and hauls him down to the local police station, where he soon learns--surprise, surprise--that the cops are just as corrupt as Drake and his boys. Instead of arresting Slick, the police chief watches, laughing, as Drake and Ivan (Nick Bateman) use the switchblade to carve the word "SCUM" into the Hobo's chest.

The Hobo survives, but just barely. Grateful to be alive, he focuses with steamroller-like purpose on earning enough money to buy the longed-for lawn mower. To this end, he seeks out the "bum fight" videographer, who offers him a wad of cold, hard cash if he will eat a fistful of broken glass on camera. 

Magnet Releasing
A short time later, spitting blood and broken glass, the Hobo makes his way to the pawn shop, having accumulated just enough cash to buy the lawn mower. Before he can make the leap, however, a gang of hoodlums storms into the shop, terrorizing the customers with guns and machetes. They don't notice the Hobo in the corner, but he notices something: a 12-gauge pump shotgun that is coincidentally the same price as the lawn mower.

It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what happens next.

In spite of the welter of carnage that follows--and there's a boatload of it--anybody familiar with Eisener's work will know better than to expect the brooding, intensely disturbing violence of Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver or Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. Those guys take themselves very seriously, Eisener does not. Unlike so many contemporary young filmmakers who wallow in gore while telling us how horrible it all is, Eisener brazenly demystifies the genre by making subversive sport of it. It's what horror director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) calls "splatstick"--i.e., violence done as a kind of tasteless slapstick--and nobody does it any better than Jason Eisener.

One of the movie's nice surprises is Rutger Hauer, who turns in an effective and surprisingly nuanced performance given the film's primary-color emotional palette. It's a wonder that he can keep a straight face, considering some of the outrageous dialogue he is required to utter ("I'm going to sleep in your bloody carcasses--tonight!"). By bringing his otherworldly brand of mischief, ferocity and pathos to the role of the Hobo, Hauer truly elevates the material. The movie would likely have succeeded at its own level without him--it is what it is--however with Hauer, it becomes something more, something a little more special in its own weird way.

I saw a blurb somewhere--can't recall where (email me if you find the source)--that described Hobo with a Shotgun as an exploitation flick for people who've never seen an exploitation flick before, and that's a fairly accurate description. Hobo isn't so much an exploitation flick as it is an affectionate homage. Unlike some hardcore exploitation films such as The Last House on the Left, Eisener's film doesn't lead us to a darker contemplation of the frailties of life, or make us want to take a shower afterward. He's having way too much fun to spoil it with that kind of existential nonsense.

Magnet Releasing
The unwary should be forewarned that the film does contain explicit language and violence. Of those who might be offended I would simply ask, what do you honestly expect from a movie called Hobo with a Shotgun? Seriously.

Hobo with a Shotgun is rated R for language and violence.  


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