Hobo with a Shotgun Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

Hobo with a Shotgun Review

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He's cleaning up the town …

delivering justice, one shell at a time!

Rutger Hauer is … a Hobo With A Shotgun!

Let's be honest here, folks, and clear one thing up right from the start. This movie is not for everyone. But if you like pure, unadulterated and utterly gruesome homicide on a wanton, acid-dropped death-rush of orgiastic excess … then the latest Grindhouse throwback, Jason Eisener's delirious Hobo With A Shotgun is right up your smokin' barrel!

One of the great faux trailers that adorned the Tarantino/Rodriguez double-whammy of exploitational sleaze-appeal Death Proof and Planet Terror was, of course, Machete, which came into feature-length life thanks to massive fanboy slavering. But following an online competition that was egged-on by AICN to produce equally crazy exploitation trailers, newcomers and fanboys Jason Eisener and his buddies served up the provocative and violent template that starred the elusive character of David Brunt as the titular Hobo armed with pump-action rage, which promptly won and became a Youtube mega-hit, and landed them the big-time gig to make it into a fully-fledged feature. So now this gloriously gory and delinquently deranged love-letter to the depraved vigilante kick-offs of the late seventies and early eighties makes its colossally aggressive debut for the young creative team. With its nostalgic and blood-spattered sights set squarely on the likes of the ace Rolling Thunder from John Flynn, the momentous Night Of The Juggler from Robert Butler and, most especially, Michael Winner's cheesily insane Death Wish 3 and James Glickenhaus' violently loopy cult-fave, The Exterminator (though it actually has far more in common with the urban fantasy of its sequel, I should add), Hobo explodes across the screen in a veritable welter of livid, low-budget grue. With a kick like a mule and a visual style that looks akin to a Technicolor sewer that has just exploded, Hobo With A Shotgun is sheer blast of cheesily subversive mayhem that is guaranteed to make you think you're sitting in the middle of an abattoir.

Playing UK cinemas for an incredibly short time before roaring onto home video via Momentum, this review is the superb US A-locked Blu-ray release from Magnet.

In recent years we've seen other geriatrics taking the law into their own hands. Clint Eastwood did it in Grand Torino. Michael Caine kicked all shades of anti-social ass in Harry Brown. And then there's Sly Stallone still waging any personal war he can until he finally finds the Saga Holiday that suits him. It seems only right that Rugter Hauer would be the next to take up arms and stand proud and furious once more. The former Roy Batty may be a lot more grisly to look at than he was when summoned by the genie(us) of Guinness but, man, he can still crack heads open, blow them off and even, in one awesome example of supreme DIY surgery stick them back on again. This is the Nexus 6 retirement program, if the poor things could ever live that long.

When Hauer's Hobo gets off the train at the last stop with no money, no job, no home and no-one to love, he thinks he may have found the one thing that can bring him hope and a reason to live. In the pawn shop window there's a lawnmower priced at $49.99 – and it represents the dream of salvation to him. With that he longs to start up his cherished project of a landscape gardening business to bring some harmony to the urban cesspool! But $49.99 … it may as well cost the Moon and the stars. With wanton violence and death all around him and the city - ironically called Hope Town, but predictably re-monikered Scum Town - held in the terrifying grip of crime-lord Drake (Brian Downey) and his two psychotic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), our boy's only chance of getting the cash is by eating glass on camera for a cruel “bum-fight” organiser. But when he is finally able to afford his dream-machine, a trio of balaclava'd scum-holes hold up the pawnshop and the Hobo is forced to make a desperate, life-changing decision. Like Michael Douglas' D-Fens in Falling Down, something inside him finally snaps and he opts for that gleaming shotgun instead. Blowing the three punks away unleashes the inner-champion in him and the Hobo soon realises his true potential lies in culling this evil society and, in a way, he does become the gardener he so longed to be … it's just that there's a lot of nasty weeds that need eradicating first.

Oppressive drug-dealers, ogreish pimps, predatory cops and paedophile Santas ooze around the city, sweeping innocence into the gutter. Slick and Ivan enforce chaos and complete anarchy with cackling, flesh-slicing zeal, coming on like a barbaric take on Jedward. Under the collective name of The Plague, two samurai cyborgs (one of whom is played by Bateman again) who are bedecked in black steel-plate armour and ride around on muscle bikes towing a metal coffin behind them, make life even worse … when they aren't fooling around with their own pet octopus, that is. Going to the police for help can usually result either getting raped or having your chest carved open and your body flung from the roof! This is one city that you definitely do not want to end up in. As hyper-enlarged as all these fiends and their antics are, there is no deed or vile act on show here that hasn't happened somewhere and is probably still happening. Vigilantism is nothing new to either the real-life streets or those you see winding their way through Tinseltown's celluloid province. And this is why such movies and their “take no more” message are so enduringly popular. The cinema of escapism is the only place where natural justice is properly applauded and the have-a-go-hero is actually successful at turning the tables on the scum without getting kicked to pieces in the process. Right-wing be damned, without such impulsively moralistic payback, we would never have had the legends of Robin Hood, the advent of the superhero – to wit Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Punisher et al - and the whole sub-genre of the avenging angel. The law frowns upon it, but there's nobody out there who hasn't wished that they had the confidence, the power and the skills to do what's right. And, through Jason Eisener, now even society's lowest echelon, the down-and-outs and the shunned and the forgotten, have an icon to look up to and a standard to win back.

As such, Hobo With A Shotgun becomes as much a rallying-cry to the oppressed as Spartacus gathering his army of slaves and making Rome cower.

Hell, after providing us with a smirk-inducing tooling-up sequence in which the heroine gets all mechanical with her “boom-stick”, he even has her deliver one of the oddest, silliest and yet undeniably rousing battle-speeches. It's hardly William Wallace urging his ragtag army on to “Freedom!”, or King Theodan addressing the amassed riders of the Rohirrim before their incredible charge across the field of Pelennor to defend the besieged city of Gondor, but it serves precisely the same purpose, Eisener revelling in the pseudo-mystique of the final-hour clarion-call. Grindhouse does epic! Who'd have thought it? But then this is seedbed of exploitation – little money, big concept. And Eisener is also riffing on the Spaghetti Western and the samurai flick. With twin assassins of The Plague, he and his writer and friend, John Davies, create something quite unique, literally encasing Kurosawa with Corbucci together under the steel. This city might not be the symbolic no-man's land of Django, or the spiritual/heroic crossroads of Yojimbo or The Seven Samurai, but these macho enclaves have certainly been influential to the makers. Like Franco Nero's Northern soldier of fortune for Corbucci or even Clint's Man With No Name for Leone, Hauer's drifter must actually take a lot of punishment during his arc of transformation from transitory to triumph. Like those characters, as well as the classic Shane, he is a stranger in a strange land. But with nowhere left to go, he has no choice but to fight to keep hold of his piece of it. Thus, Hobo dallies with the Great Western Hero motif as well as the superhero mythos to create a blackly comic usurper for today's sick society. Bold stuff to embrace in what many will see as just a boneheaded sleazefest of relentless bad taste and gore. But, exploitation or not, the theme is much more fundamental and classical than such cathartic, knee-jerk entertainment actually implies. So I say bravo to the makers for allowing such ideas to seep into the bleeding wounds of their film.

And there are plenty of wounds on offer.

The violence comes on like Paul Verhoeven's imagination jacked-up on super-steriods (or Robocop 2's Nuke mixed with fire and brimstone) laced with the zany, taboo-shattering splatstick of Troma! Pretty much everyone is battered, gouged, shot, slashed, hanged or incinerated at some point or other. But the smorgasbord of viscera served up by Eisener is so over-the-top that it is incredibly difficult to be offended by any of it. Well, I say that … but watching a bus full of school-kids getting barbecued by flame-thrower-wielding scumbags is certainly an image that goes a little bit beyond the usual threshold of comic-book mayhem, especially when the aftermath is so wickedly waggled in our faces … as well as those of the amassed parents of this war-zone, who watch frozen with horror as the taunting sadists take over a TV station and broadcast an ultimatum to the population with a charred child's corpse as a bargaining chip. A Bad Santa masturbating in his car as he spies on youngsters in a playground is something else that may fall on the wrong side of the demarcation line … but the image of a shotgun barrel putting an end to his sick fun and the scathing sound of Hauer's spit-flecked vitriol will soon have you back on-side. You're meant to hate these people, and it is a very difficult thing to have you actually laughing along with the grim preposterousness of it all at the same time as feeling anger and revulsion. But the fledgling filmmakers and their cast of relative unknowns (barring the “Rut”, of course) actually manage to make the grade. It is played broad and cartoonic and shot through with the most crazed and obscene dialogue that you can imagine. But this irreverence serves to dilute the genuine atmosphere of base depravity, meaning that Hobo With A Shotgun is more like one of those adult-only circus shows that boasts flesh-piercing, tattoos and chainsaws.

The film gains from a blistering and highly amusing soundtrack from Adam Burke, Darius Holbert and Russ Howard III that marvellously mimics the blistering beat-box bravura of the 80's as well as the quintessential John Carpenter-inspired synth motifs that syncopated the best of the action set-pieces that the era had to offer. And the grungy aesthetic of the cash-strapped grit and duped damage of many of these sleaze-pics is nicely adhered-to. But forget the jerky, pock-marked quagmires of previous Grindhouse outings. There's no flickers, tears or ingeniously “missing” scenes. Thanks to the throbbing photography of Karim Hussain, using the Red Camera, Hobo is bright and crisp and literally bursting with colour, the film's outrageous imagery boosted up into a dripping neon supernova that scores the retinas. The blood-drenched city is wrestled from Halifax, Nova Scotia which, we are reliably informed by the makers who all hail from there, isn't so far removed from the den of depravity and danger that we see in the film. At times it looks like a garish stage, lit by a nuclear strike and painted with the overspill of meltdown. But the garbage-strewn, filth-ridden and vandalised battlefield will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has had to traverse a run-down inner-city estate. And into this reeking maelstrom comes the iconic Hauer. Shovelled into a variety of flea-ridden hand-me-downs and sporting Ken Barlow's hair, he is not exactly the hero you most want to emulate … and, yet, he is still incredibly cool, nonetheless. Splicing Replicant Roy with his vengeful bounty hunter from Wanted: Dead Or Alive, and with a little touch of his haunted cop from wrongly titled Split Second tossed into the mix just in case, he carves his presence into the screen with those calmly dangerous eyes and that rock-solid physicality. The eerie lucid madness of The Hitcher's John Rider is swapped for a flaring blue touch-paper of glowering malevolence, although there are a couple of highly effective dressing-downs that administers with sublime and unflappable brevity, such as when he issues threats from the hatch-plate of a sinister steel coffin.

What is refreshing to discover is that the Hobo's past is of no consequence. How boring would it have been to learn that he was some sort of disgraced ex-Special Forces veteran? Or some burnt-out cop still reeling from the, wait for it, death of his wife? Our boy has no past. And no future. Whatever his dreams may have been – tending a vast lawn for the city's population to play on – they will come to nought because he can only live in the now. And that is a very painful, raw place. Helping whore-with-a-heart Abby (played with an agreeable mix of streetwise, stocking-clad sass, aching vulnerability and eye-popping kick-assery by Molly Dunsworth), he gains a friend from the wrong side of the tracks, and together they learn that the only way to find peace in such a volatile environment is to fight fire with fire. As cheerfully clichéd as their unlikely relationship may be, it is the one touching element in this diseased, crack-jolted pile-driver of a story ... and, against the odds, it really works.

The gore is ladled on under the supervision of Mimic's Zane Knisely, but the messy stuff is really the product of carnage-specialist Paul Jones, whose extensive affinity with prosthetic body parts goes all the way to the splat-tastic late 80's with great work on Waxwork I and II, Hellraiser II, Nightbreed and The Unholy – all super-shlockers that demand the hi-def treatment – and an incredible roster of mutilation that reads like a gorehound's top twenty. With his expertise, the innumerable slayings are all giddy delights. One corrupt copper gets shortened by the Hobo's shotgun and his body then blown into chunks in an unending salvo of sweet retribution – but the piece-de-resistance comes when the Hobo has to hide himself within the blighted remains of the shredded carcass! If you thought poor that Liam Neeson had a tough time hiding in a dead cow's guts as Rob Roy, I'm afraid that constitutes as positively cosy compared to this cubby-hole. A lingering neck-severing is like something from Jorg Buttgereitt's Necromantik 2, and a protracted beating with spiked baseball-bats could really only be capped-off with a chainsaw evisceration, couldn't it? But there's also heads being demolished by dodge-em cars, a foot squashed by a funfair mallet and, just for openers, a noggin hauled off its shoulders by barbed-wire chain connected to a speeding car. Just to add the relish, we even get a scantily-clothed babe writhing in ecstasy in the spraying geyser of claret that is unleashed. Aye, the movie's menu of mutilation seems to know no bounds. And the great news is that Jones is the guy creating the effects for The Thing prequel which does, at least, help to emphasise the fact that the film will contain a plethora of prosthetic grossness and not be overly reliant on unwanted CG.

Eisener's action scenes are a little threadbare, perhaps, but they make up for this with sheer exuberance. He crafts two brilliant montage sequences – one for the Hobo's initial spree of payback (nice images of the tabloid headlines reporting his activities), and another for the Drake-fuelled war on the homeless, highlighting a series of staggeringly nasty executions perpetrated by hate-mobs. And then there is the hospital rampage, in which The Plague utilise their distinctive weaponry – a grim grappling-hook-and-noose gun – to refurnish the place with bodies hanging from the ceiling. There is also a tense skirmish in the cramped confines of Abby's apartment. Larger scale scenes betray the limitations of the production, but then this just adds to the indiscriminate charm that propels this type of film. Although you have to admire the audacity of the sight of the ggenocide pit of the slain homeless, parodying the Hobo's advice to the decidedly unfriendly police chief (Jeremy Ackerman) that he should simply round-up all the scum of the city and dump them in a landfill.

And yet there's a code to all of this. Our Hobo has a message to deliver. His crusade is only just beginning, and even if he won't be alive for long enough to see vice, corruption and evil washed from the urban soil for good, he is hell-bent on starting a revolution. In a deliciously menacing moment, Hauer addresses a nursery full of newborns, warning them of what is really out there in the big wide world and making it clear that should any of them slip from the path then someone may be waiting to show them the error of their ways. With a shotgun. It is a rare spell of frighteningly hard-line doctrine that seems perfectly in-keeping with the Hobo's stance and yet is weirdly soothing as well as ominous. Only Hauer could pull off this strange lament of macabre reassurance and morbid certainty – just remember his warped respect/rage towards his creator in Blade Runner, and to Deckard, himself. Hauer brings much of this intensity to the role of the Hobo. He gets the joke, of course, even if his character simply does not. This commitment to character is terrific, and although you shouldn't be surprised to find Hobo action figures making an appearance at some point, Hauer ensures that his downtrodden and stinky hero has quite an emotional and psychological basis. So easily picked-on and murdered just for kicks, the homeless face a war every day of their lives. Hauer's Hobo takes the battle back to the bad guys.

There is naturally a downside to all this anarchic creativity. We become so inured to the mayhem that, by the time we reach the finale, it struggles to make enough of an impact. Brian Downey's raving crime-lord is totally unbelievable even in this whacked-off-its-nuts scenario, and we can't really fathom how he manages to wield any sort of power at all. He rants and raves and gesticulates like a crack-addled ringmaster, but this tends to defuse any real fear we might have had of him, leaving us without any real uber-villain for the Hobo to face-off against. There is also a curious switch of diabolical leaning when it comes to Slick and Ivan. Throughout the majority of the film it is Slick that we hate and dread the most yet, either cleverly or confusedly, I can't quite decide which choice Eisener opted for, the narrative then grants Ivan the top-dog status of final act confrontation … and, even then, he does not confront the Hobo at all. The argument is also that with so many comic-book overtures, none of this actually matters. But I think that Hobo With A Shotgun has a lot more going on than mere gross-out. Thus, to have it peter-out with a less showy climax than we might have expected somehow smacks of impetus, or money (and probably both) fizzling out.

But the important thing I found is that the climax does, in fact, linger in the mind a little bit afterwards. Cute, that. Eisener may come across as a geeky slacker when you meet him in the copious extras material on this release, but there is unmistakably a lot of talent there and a trick or two up his sleeve.

As far as I am concerned this is the best of the reborn Grindhouse offerings. Lunatic, inspirational, disturbing and blitzed so far off its cake that you'll never just walk past a vagrant asking for a handout so nonchalantly again, Hobo With A Shotgun blows an offal-sticky hole through the cinematic glut of vigilantism and bludgeons Rutger Hauer right back into our faces with rage-hard style and intensity. Quite where Eisener and his cohorts go next is a scary prospect, but one that I look forward to discovering immensely.

Tremendous fun and shockingly violent at the same time, Eisener's film is a rainbow-drenched riot of viscera and comic-book ferocity. That it is also quite hilarious and possesses a creepily insidious moral challenge only adds to its grungy sensationalism.

Take Hobo home today … just don't forget his shotgun.




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