Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie!
Director Jim Hosking’s feature-length debut is…something unusual. Something special, even. Ronnie and Brayden (Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar) are the father-son proprietors of a disco walking tour, and although they have their fair share of arguments, things really get out of hand when the voluptuous Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) arrives on the scene. Suddenly the pair are competing for the lady lovely’s affection, causing their relationship to crumble. Furthermore, Brayden has reason to suspect that his father is leading a secret double life as the Greasy Strangler, an infamous local serial killer who is exactly what the title suggests.
A father and son with an unhealthy relationship, and one suspects the other of being a killer—that sounds like a pretty straight horror film when boiled down to its skeletal structure, but THE GREASY STRANGLER is something definitively different. It is a bizarre dark comedy with a juvenile sense of humor and mature subject matter. It is an off-kilter character piece with players who are as despicable as they are likable. And it is a horror film with gross out moments that challenge you to sit through them. THE GREASY STRANGLER is a film…but it is also an experience.
There are different types of weird in the world. There is weird like that kid that lives next door, who dresses all in black and mutters to himself. There’s weird like the early music of Beck or They Might Be Giants, which is tonally pleasant but not always the most straightforward. And there’s weird like the films of David Lynch, which are either strange for the sake of being strange, or are actually making an important comment that we simply cannot comprehend. For better or for worse, THE GREASY STRANGLER resides comfortably within the intersecting circles of this venn diagram.
Something is wrong with this place. Something is wrong with these people. The entire movie seems to exist in a free-floating bubble displaced in time and shunted slightly to the left of our universe. Our characters all dress in unusual and outdated fashions. They speak strangely, both in subject and in cadence. These aren’t normal people. These aren’t normal activities. And yet nobody bats an eye, because this is not a normal world.
Ronnie thrives on greasy food, lard, oil, you name it. Pretty much anything slippery that he can shove in his maw, he’s all about it. Grapefruit not slick enough? That’s no problem for Ronnie. He’ll drown that pink bastard in oil. He consumes it, he douses himself in it, he uses it as a sexual aid. He is, plainly speaking, one greasy son of a bitch. Is it any wonder that his son believes he could be the grease-covered strangler terrorizing the neighborhood? If this were a normal world, would there be any doubt that it was him?
It’s absurd. It’s all absurd. It’s the absurdism from where the bulk of the dark humor in the film stems from, though it’s played fairly straight in-universe. The closest comparison I can come up with is, What if Napoleon Dynamite grew to middle age and took a decidedly wrong turn?
There’s a bit of gore here, but it’s mostly goofball stuff. The performances are solid for this sort of endeavor, but would be panned in a more conventional film. The actors are all somehow off, but not due to lack of talent or skill. Every “bad” aspect of this film isn’t actually bad, it’s just not traditionally good. And none of it occurs by happenstance. It’s an artistic choice, which ought to be respected even by those who cannot appreciate it.
There’s a lot of literal dick-wagging and juvenile humor (between this and SWISS ARMY MAN, I’ve had my fill of arthouse flatulence, to be honest) that serve to divide the audience. And believe me, when it comes to this film, people are divided.
It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, and in fact won’t be for most people. It was a singularly bizarre experience from start to finish, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. That sort of a decision will take at least another watch or two. But I am glad that it exists, and that it has been so divisive. The filmmakers wanted to manufacture a midnight movie, and you cannot achieve that status with a product that has universal acclaim. I am typically a staunch believer that cult status has to happen earnestly and organically, and that films specifically manufactured for that purpose ring false. As always, though, there are exceptions to every rule, and THE GREASY STRANGLER is one such exception. It feels genuine and sincere, and as of right now, it is on the short list of tomorrow’s cult classics.
Not that you can take my word for it. I’m a bullshit artist, after all.