'Hobo With a Shotgun' Hits Gory Mark
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Anyone who loves to hyperventilate about the evils of Grand Guignol gore while whining about some genre movie's lack of "reality" should run from "Hobo With a Shotgun" like it was the plague. (Appropriately, "Hobo" features a brace of homicidal robots dubbed "The Plague.") If that isn't a sufficient "Abandon hope, all PC-types who enter here" alert, know that back in 2007 "Hobo With a Shotgun" was the winning entry in the trailer contest mounted by "Grindhouse" directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Directed by Jason Eisener and written by John Davies (both Canadians), "Hobo" killed on YouTube and, like Rodriguez's own "Machete," mutated into a full-length feature.
This tongue-in-cheek homage to '80s exploitation flicks gets around on a bare-bones story and dialogue ranging from hammy to hyperbolic. Flesh and blood are fodder for every kind of in-your-face (and blood on the lens) atrocity, while, fittingly, character goes only skin deep. But here's the hook: Unclean energy pumps through "Hobo With a Shotgun" like cinematic adrenaline, and almost every shot is more smartly composed than the whole of, say, Robert Redford's Styrofoam polemic "The Conspirator."More on Rutger Hauer | More on grind-house movies
The titular hobo (Rutger Hauer) drops into Hope Town ("Scum" has replaced "Hope" on the weathered welcome sign) from a passing boxcar. He packs a cane and a harmonica, the latter evoking Charles Bronson's avenging angel in "Once Upon a Time in the West." And like Clint Eastwood, another pale rider with no name, the white-haired bum wanders into an urban hellhole, ruled by The Drake (Brian Downey), a Dick Tracy grotesque who vamps about in white suit, black shirt and white tie. This vicious freak is backed by demonic sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), who dress -- in requisite B&W -- like duck-tailed JDs from a cartoon version of "West Side Story."
"Hobo"'s lurid urban wasteland (Halifax, Nova Scotia) is worlds beyond noir -- a skyless stage-set full of graffitied walls, trash-filled alleys, ugly warehouses and empty lots. In these badlands, torture-porn lights up everybody's marquee: The hobo watches a videographer pay for and shoot a bloody bum fight, then witnesses Drake's idea of street theater -- the decapitation of his own brother -- as the townsfolk play captive audience. At home, in what looks like a combination video arcade and amusement park, Drake's hellspawn play bumper cars all over screaming victims and topless hotties with baseball bats use a hanging man as a piñata.
The villain in "Hobo" isn't so much a crime lord as circus barker cum director of C- snuff scenarios. (Where is Roger Corman when you need him?). Reaching a point of desperation in his blood feud with Hauer's elderly Mad Max, Drake enlists clunky robots and even a giant, screamingly unreal octopus to pour on over-the-top color and action. And, yes, Eisener is fully, mockingly aware that Drake's demented, gory skits are the stuff his own film is made of.
Naturally, Hauer's hapless hobo is drawn into the mayhem: After saving a gutsy hooker (Molly Dunsworth) from one of Drake's sons, he gets carved up by said son, then tossed in a dumpster for dead. Not much later, the old guy picks up a pawnshop shotgun and goes medieval on Scum Town.
Hauer has prowled such hyperviolent environs many times in such movies as "Blind Fury" and "Sin City." But occasionally, when the hobo's deeply seamed face slackens into dim memory or present-day dementia, the Dutch actor looks suddenly lost, perhaps overcome by his bum's rush into pulp fiction. Could he be remembering that brief, shining moment when he was the impossibly beautiful android angel of "Blade Runner"?
As noted, great acting isn't what "Hobo" serves up as main entrée. From first shot to last, this movie pulses with supersaturated Technicolor. Every location and physiognomy is zoned in neon, drenched in an acid bath of magenta, saffron, chartreuse, indigo, blood red. A square, windowless building on a mean Scum Town street looms up like a tombstone, irradiated with smears of scarlet, orange and yellow paint. In the dark alley to its left, smoke or steam billows, as though hell itself were leaking. When a car slides slowly across the bottom of the screen, it wouldn't surprise you if Satan stepped out.
In a hospital hallway suffused with infrared lighting, robotic golems emit strange electronic moans in perfect rhythm with ominous soundtrack percussion. Moments later, our hobo walks that same arterial corridor, now punctuated by strange fruit, the dangling legs of the dead. The cumulative effect of scenes like these, along with consistently crazy, ever-mobile camerawork, is Hieronymus Bosch nightmare, a hallucinatory descent into the darkness behind the brain where all manner of comic demons caper for our amusement.
Maybe "Hobo With a Shotgun" is some kind of "gutter" art, as ludicrous as it is lurid. But wow! Does this cinematic jeu d'esprit ever gobsmack your eyes and nerve endings. And in such high-camp trash, what else signifies but kinesis and style?
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool.") She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.