Director: Jim Hosking
Screenplay: Toby Harvard, Jim Hosking
Starring: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex, Abdoulaye NGom, Holland MacFallister
Runtime: 93 Minutes
The Greasy Strangler isn’t for everyone.
That’s the line that should find an attachment to pretty much every copy of the film on its release as a part of its statement of intent. In a year of startling and unique directorial debuts, Jim Hosking’s feature is in a league all its own as one of the most unique, grotesque and downright bizarre movies of the year.
Owing more than a debt to the kind of films that John Water’s used to make, it’s close to a form of abject art in its presentation of the explicit, inane and adolescent tendencies of its characters; a father and son duo, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), who make a living touring L.A.’s faded disco scene with highly dubious facts – such as all three of “The Earth, The Wind and the Fire” living in an apartment together.
It’s a sensibility that extends to the films aestheticism and entire worldview, existing within a contained universe of unnatural dialogues and colourfully basic characteristics. Everyone is incapable of change, stuck within the same worldview that they have always maintained, dressing out of fashion with gaudy and cannibalised 70s disco attire that practically locks them in place.
That is until Elizabeth De Razzo’s Janet appears into their lives, and the plot of the film becomes both father and sons tireless efforts to win her over for their own personal desires. It’s this kind of broken and woozy state of mind that the film occupies in its entirety, operating just outside of the fringes of logic and reality yet totally assured in its sincerity. This is probably why the routine appearance of The Greasy Strangler – Big Ronnie, naked and slathered in fat and oil – in the film feels so perfectly ordinary.
It’s a film that swims in filth, dripping makeup’s and bucket loads of grease; from its jaw-dropping depictions of unattractive nudity, body hair and prosthetic penis’ (large and small), to Big Ronnie’s fetishes for indelibly greasy and fatty foods. The victims of The Greasy Strangler suffer delightfully odd fates as their bodies react differently to each manner of execution. It’s an ugly to look at film that is somehow presented with a hypnotic beauty by through its cinematography and tight editing, with many sequences swelling and contracting at will.
The respective nature of the film’s construction is what aids in its balance of comedic tragedy performing in the skittish and stilted living nightmare that has become their lives. A symptom shared by Andrew Hung’s (of Fuck Buttons fame) horrifically grating yet memorable score. Back and forth jokes take up insane amounts of its runtime, stretching single gags (like the constant name calling of “bullshit artist”) to breaking point and beyond until they stop being funny, and then somehow do again.
There are many game performances on show, all uniquely repressed and exaggerated to suit their roles, but the absurdly named Michael St. Michaels eats the entire film as the titular character, both in and out of his murderous guise.
All this being said, what’s most shocking about the film is that given all of its excesses and ludicrous traits, there’s a real heart of be found in the core relationships at play as they all fall to into their final roles. The father/son dynamic feels honest in its depiction of verbal abuses and shared kinship. Both resentful of each other’s presence in their lives, yet pathetically bound to each other through dependency more than blood.
The Greasy Strangler on paper is the kind of film that shouldn’t work given its immediately one-note premise, but there such a sense of dedication on show that it’s impossible not to shake the impression that what you’re seeing is being delivered through the hands of real human beings with a vision that they want to share – for better or for worse. Its archaic joy bares closer to the 1987 cult gem Street Trash than anything from the disjointed Troma school.
Destined for cult status and midnight matinees, but without the contempt of contemporary imitators (Sharknado), this is something that will find its way into the hearts of some, while crawling out of the stomachs of others. It’s imperfect, weird, creepy yet utterly hilarious, and the film wouldn’t have it any other way.