When I saw Grindhouse on opening night four years ago, I enjoyed it well enough. Death Proof was a bit long and dull between the slow motion dismemberments and thrilling chase sequences. Planet Terror was campy and fun.
The best part? Undoubtedly, the collection of trailers between both films. These quick teasers made up of one-liners, over-the-top-action and barely held together premises were perfect snippets of films never to be. Too awesome to be created, too gory to exist. Too bad it didn't stay that way.
With the majority of films currently in theatres either being direct remakes or thinly vieled ripoffs of existing stories, the obvious decision was made to turn some of these trailers into full length features. Machete was the first to be opted and released, and as I've yet to see it, I can't comment on it. Also, my bias towards enjoying just about everything Danny Trejo shows up in would prevent an objective review.
Hobo with a Shotgun screened in Toronto on March 22, with the director (Jason Eisener), writers (John Davies & Rob Cotterill) and several actors in attendance. Sadly, Rutger Hauer was not among them. The director was introduced before the film and gave us some backstory as to how the trailer and film came to be. His excitement and enthusiasm for the project ramped up my own excitement as the film started. What if these over the top, hilarious one-liner, not-based-in-reality grindhouse films could really make a comeback?
The enthusiasm stuck with me for about 10 minutes. The opening sequence was very iconic. Great music, rolling hills and stunning scenery contrasting against the red cargo containers on the train rolling by. Rutger Hauer looking every bit the hobo part, shuffling into a new city. Until of course, "reality" sets in and we see that Hope Town is now more commonly referred to as Scum Town.
Cue ominous music.
The villains are introduced very early on, and they are suitably evil and excessive. In fact, just about everything is excessive. The camera angles, the dialogue, the characters, the film treatment. I know this is a part of the grindhouse genre -- having people doing seemingly impossible things in impossible worlds -- but it was off on more than a few occasions in Hobo. After the brutal killing via decapitation, which involved a manhole cover, a barbed wire noose and an SUV (one of the few unique methods of slaughter featured in the film), a bikini clad, attractive young lass in a lovely white fur pimp jacket started writhing in the subsequent blood spray as if it were the ultimate aphrodisiac. That's when I asked myself what I'd gotten into.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against gore, bikinis or writhing for that matter!
It was just... over the top and yet not at the same time. It felt like everyone was perpetually screaming "AREN'T WE EXTREME?!?" when in reality, the majority of the gore and dialogue is fairly commonplace in a lot of modern films. When so many films feature such graphic content already, you can't include it in your grindhouse film and expect it to elicit the reactions it would have when grindhouse first emerged. I think for a film that genre to be made and survive in modern times, it needs to stand apart in some way. Whether it's really witty writing, gore that's never been seen before, or the character's self awareness that they're just a show for a happy audience, there needs to be more of a hook to make it work.
Hobo with a Shotgun was missing that hook. Yes, there were good, even great moments. Rutger Hauer's performance was manic but genuinely entertaining. There were moments of clever banter from the villains and lots of gore if that's what floats your boat. Parts of the cinematography were inspired, with unique angles and strong setup shots for crucial scenes. The female lead was not entirely useless (as is generally the case in a lot of horror films), though she seemed to run on an infinite supply of air to power her grating screams. Hell, even George Stromboloupolos' cameo was especially satisfying on a level I can't really explain. As much as my teenaged self was saddened by it.
In the end though, there was not enough to make this film viewable more than once for me. A large part due to the fact that close to the end, it suddenly stopped making much sense. Characters were introduced with powers beyond those previously established in the Scum Town universe, like some sort of LARP inspired Deus Ex Machina to conveniently set up the final scene. If you're going to create your own universe, play by its rules while you're in it.
But I digress. If you're interested in checking it out, I'd recommend it as a 3am guilty pleasure, when these sorts of movies seem like exactly the right thing to be watching.
Overall? It was better as a trailer.