In the tradition of Street Trash and the original Toxic Avenger, Hobo With A Shotgun is a gleefully over the top splatterfest with little redeeming social value. The film straddles a couple of lines with amazing ease; Hobo is outrageous without feeling like it’s trying too hard, and it’s nasty and bloodsoaked without ever feeling mean spirited.
The film comes from a short created by Jason Eisener for Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. You’ll remember there was a contest at the time to create a fake grindhouse trailer, with the winner playing in the film. Eisener’s short - his first - handily won. Eisener’s next short, the splattery tale of Christmas horror Treevenge, made it to Sundance. And then came the opportunity to turn his Hobo short into a feature, and Eisener jumped at it.
This is technically the second Grindhouse fake trailer to become a feature; Robert Rodriguez’ Machete hit theaters in 2010. While Rodriguez’ film is technically more polished and has better production values it pales in comparison to Eisener’s work. The feature length Hobo With A Shotgun takes the scenes and concepts from the fake trailer and makes them work in the context of the movie, not feeling like winks as they were in Machete.
Hobo plays at a heightened level right from the start. The city is under siege from a psychotic gang; they get even with their enemies by locking metal traps around their necks, hanging them in manholes, tying barbed wire around their necks with the other end tied to their car, and driving off at great speed, decapitating the enemy. It’s chaos, and the entire police force is on the take. Into this hell stumbles the Hobo, played with almost Shakespearian seriousness by Rutger Hauer. When he’s pushed too far he gets his hands on the titular shotgun and begins wreaking extraordinarily violent havoc on the bad guys.
I think Hauer is the ingredient that makes Hobo actually work; the whole film is pitched so broad, so cartoony, that Hauer’s performance - which almost seems like Eisener didn’t tell him the project was kind of a jokey one - creates a solid, centering element. With him grumbling and squinting through the movie everything else can fly farther and crazier. Which doesn’t mean Hauer’s playing it totally straight - there’s enough winking and silliness to his character (he dreams of just one day earning a living as a lawn mower) to keep him in the game.
The film’s design - garish and colorful - is remarkable. The movie looks like a fever dream of 80s direct to VHS films, a mishmash of insane style and nasty grunginess. Everything is pumped up to 12, and Eisener never met a gag he didn’t want to elevate to the next level of craziness. And it works, for some weird, impossible reason. The whole retro grindhouse thing is very played out, but the fact that Eisener is coming from another aesthetic - not the missing frames and scratched prints of Tarantino but the bad tracking and muddy image quality of the video store generation - gives his film a sense of freshness.
It’s not a perfect movie; Hobo feels a little long, and some of the scenes drag. Some of the gags get old. But generally the pacing is good; every time you think the film has topped itself it just gets crazier. Whether it’s torching a schoolbus full of kids or introducing two unstoppable armored punks straight out of an Italian post-apocalyptic film, Hobo doesn’t seem to believe that there is a ceiling and it keeps aiming higher and weirder.
Hobo is certainly a grossout film, and if you can’t handle extreme (if cartoony) gore, this isn’t for you. And the decibel level of everything from the acting to the lighting design to the set decoration isn’t for everyone; many people will be turned off by the film’s aesthetic right out the gate. But for the audience who gets the film, Hobo With A Shotgun is much-needed blast of buckshot to the solar plexus. It’s a film that will tickle the pleasure centers of anyone who grew up rifling through the most obscure, offensive-seeming VHS boxes at their video store. It’s the kind of film where you should be issued a flask upon entering. Raucous and crazy and gross and offensive, Hobo also manages to be kind of sweet and endearing. You can tell Eisener loves every spilled entrail, but he doesn’t mean anything bad by it. It’s just how he has fun.