Directed by Jim Hosking
Screened at Fantastic Fest 2016
After causing a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler set out on a journey to gross out and confuse audiences across the world for the better part of 2016. Although the film is indeed a strange and often stomach-turning exploitation horror comedy that will no doubt find a cult following once it emerges on home video, it is also a very tedious one unfortunately. Despite its best efforts, average viewers and even many festival-goers will likely grow tired of The Greasy Strangler‘s slippery gimmicks very quickly.
The film follows slob Ronnie (St. Michaels), a man who runs a disco walking tour with his equally slovenly son Brayden (Elobar) in Los Angeles. After a woman named Janet (De Razzo) comes into their lives via the tour, Brayden quickly becomes smitten, which leads to a significant rift between him and Ronnie, who ultimately decides he wants Janet for himself. Their familial conflict soon becomes even more complicated as Brayden begins to suspect that Ronnie is moonlighting as a grease-covered killer who is stalking the streets at night and strangling innocent people.
If this brief, yet perplexing summary of The Greasy Strangler‘s plot sounds at all intriguing to you, then Hosking’s film may definitely be right up your alley. On the whole, The Greasy Strangler could be most accurately described as what would have happened to Napoleon Dynamite if Harmony Korine had convinced director Jared Hess to make it a love letter to John Waters. The increasingly bizarre film is fueled chiefly by scat humor and bad taste, following the rather foul father and son team who spend their time at home walking around in banana hammocks (when not in the buff), trading absurd one-liners, eating grease-soaked meals, and farting. For a number of reasons, it is rather surprising that a work of this caliber found such staunch support from the likes of Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League and the SpectreVision team (which includes genre super-fan Elijah Wood), but I suppose stranger things have happened in Hollywood.
On the surface, Hosking’s film wants to do two things: disgust and befuddle you. It manages to do both with ease, complete with oily grapefruit massages, outlandish face-smashing death scenes, one of the hugest and most unappealing prosthetic penises on film to date, plenty of head-scratching dialogue, more awkward sex scenes than anyone should be subjected to, and a serial killer slathered in congealed grease. Needless to say, The Greasy Strangler is very greasy, gleefully parading its unsanitary nature with pride to a punchy, 8-bit soundtrack.
While you would expect Hosking to keep energetically ramping up the depravity, The Greasy Strangler‘s schtick unfortunately begins to wear thin early on. This is largely due to the often problematic script penned by Hosking and Toby Harvard, which is overstuffed with repetitive jokes and non-sequiturs that vary too little over the course of its hour and a half run. The film feels far longer than it should and jokes that would have had more of an effect in shorter supply grow unbelievably stale (by the time The Greasy Strangler reaches its nonsensical finale, Ronnie and Brayden’s catchphrase will come to function as an emotional trigger). Admittedly, some of the more out-of-left-field dialogue is a riot at times; Ronnie’s consistent, mid-conversation assertions that people “must think [he’s] the Greasy Strangler” is the right kind of ludicrous gimmick here, and there are offbeat exchanges between the film’s leads and one-off characters that feel wholly improvised, but work remarkably well. Ultimately though, the film is far too concerned with its one-note approach to porta-potty grade humor, which will surely grate on even the most seasoned of transgressive genre fans.
On the performance front, St. Michaels, Elobar, and De Razzo are all wholly willing to degrade themselves in the name of poo humor and certainly get points for committing to Hosking’s vision. St. Michaels delivers an especially stomach-churning performance as the obnoxious Ronnie, a truly vile human in every sense of the word. There is definitely a class of B-movie aficionados that will no doubt come to idolize his outright shameless portrayal, and whether you end up loving or loathing the film, St. Michaels definitely leaves a lasting impression. As lovers Brayden and Janet, Elobar and De Razzo’s scenes of unsavory romance also notably provide many of the occasionally clever moments of humor in The Greasy Strangler. Ultimately, though, most of the film’s characters present more like abstract figments of people stumbling out of an aimless, dreamlike wasteland into an equally aimless world and it becomes a chore to follow along with any of them after a while.
For all of its attempts to discomfit viewers, there is ultimately an overall meandering air to The Greasy Strangler; many scenes end up feeling like they are trying too hard to baffle or disgust that they forget to actually entertain. It’s a shame, too, because when The Greasy Strangler’s script does work in its more inspired moments of outrageous cohesion, there is indeed a glimmer of a wonderfully filthy, cult-ready comedy here. Perhaps down the road some level of bizarre genius will be detectable in Hosking’s disjointed exercise in schlock for a post-Waters generation of B-movie enthusiasts. For now, however, The Greasy Strangler feels too swallowed up in its rather reductive and curdled layers of pointless grotesquery to amount to much more than occasional chuckles and brief moments of obscene fun that wash off far too easily.