The Greasy Strangler has spent the last nine months causing quite the ruckus in festival circuits thanks to its unapologetic indecency, gruesome imagery, and oddball sense of humor, but it’s not the gross-out gore gag you may have come to expect. Sure, it certainly can be gross, and yes, greasy, but at its heart, the film is a very goofy, very original comedy that somehow manages to one-up itself at every turn. Point blank, The Greasy Strangler is not for everyone (as if the title wasn’t a pretty clear indication) but those who can dig into the cartoonish gruesomeness of its world — and, it should be said, those who aren’t easily offended — will find a lot to love about Jim Hosking‘s seedy little midnight movie.
Set on the unwholesome streets of Los Angeles, far from Hollywood glamour, The Greasy Strangler stars Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar as Big Ronnie and Big Brayden, a grotesquely co-dependent adult father-son duo who spend their days bickering non-stop and running Big Ronnie’s Disco Tours. They march around in matching neon pink knitted hot-pants and live in discordant squalor, screaming “bullshit artist!” at each other incessantly as they argue about the merits of grease. See, Big Ronnie wants everything greasy AF, oily as sin, and he’s an abrasive fellow with no compunction against shouting about it — that is of course unless he’s taking a break for one of his regular, increasingly unconvincing denials that he’s The Greasy Strangler tormenting the city.
But of course, Ronnie does in fact slather himself up in a thick sheath of oil by night and stalks the streets as his murderous alter-ego. After he’s choked the life out of his latest victim, the lumbering, lean giant heads to the local drive-through car wash (run by a blind man) where he walks through it buck naked, his enormous and enormously unpleasant prosthetic penis flapping in the air dry cycle.
Things get interesting when the duo meets Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), a seductive patron of their disco walking tour who charms both men and threatens to drive a sexed-up wedge between the inseparable pair. Along the way, there are greasy grapefruit massages, exploding eyeballs, smashed in faces, a lot of flatulence, a chanting butt, and some of the most outrageous prosthetic penises (yep, plural) in the history of cinema. The context of these events will do nothing to make them seem less odd, I promise. And while there’s a whiff of the provocateur auteur to it all, Hosking seems more interested in eliciting chuckles than outrage.
But outrage there has been, and it’s not too hard to see why. The Greasy Strangler, for all its fun, can be unsettling throughout. Not necessarily for the surface level nastiness, though the thick layer of grease sometimes threatens to come through the screen Samara-style and send you into cardiac arrest. What’s most unsettling is the film’s complete disregard for propriety and making an audience comfortable. It makes no explanations for itself as it puts the audience through the ringer with an intentionally repetitive narrative construct that sees violence followed by sex, followed by violence, followed by sex, punctuating the cycles with Ronnie’s nightly trips through the car wash.
It’s an impressive command of mood from Hoskins, who hones in on a determinedly dry eccentricity — As if Napoleon Dynamite went through an extreme dark period that involved way too much porn — never letting the barrage of gruesome imagery turn towards the horrifying. It’s all just too ridiculous and comical to ever be scary. While watching St. Michaels scarf down a pair of freshly fried eyeballs may test the stomach a bit, nobody is going to stay up at nights in fear of The Greasy Strangler. And that was clearly never Hosking’s intention.
That’s the hideous beauty of The Greasy Strangler: it’s a one of a kind true artistic expression in a time when such films feel harder and harder to come by. It feels completely all but completely out of touch with our own reality, both in terms of narrative and what we’ve come to expect with cinema — something that exists in a universe just a couple ticks left of our own. It’s kind of a miracle that a film like this exists, especially when you consider how it must have read on the page before Hosking’s commanding directorial vision smoothed out the rougher parts. Huge credit is also due to the performers, who are game at ever increasingly outrageous turn, never shying from the next unseemly act and falling effortlessly into the singular tone of the film’s humor.
You should have determined by now if The Greasy Strangler is the kind of film you’d enjoy. If you like unflinching oddity and a heavy helping of twisted humor, The Greasy Strangler delights with a high-saturated dose of WTF that will stick to your ribs long after the film is over, and not just because of the incredibly catchy score by Andrew Hung or the all-too-quotable one-liners. It’s richly explicit and deviously cheeky with just enough of a father-son narrative to provide a backbone for the surreal antics on display.
The Greasy Strangler opens in US theaters on October 7th.