Cult Cinema: The Greasy Strangler (2016) - Reviewed

Courtesy of FilmRise
British cult director Jim Hoskin first came to the horror filmgoing public’s attention in 2014 with his contribution to The ABCs of Death 2, the short film segment G is for Granddad about a wrinkly grandfather who murders his grandson but not before pulling his pants down to show off his pubic hair covered crotch to the camera.  This style of surreal horror comedy uncomfortably placing young and old actors together in bizarre situations with a peculiar fixation on distinctly elderly male nudity would be expanded to feature length with the director’s first official movie, the gross-out darkly humorous father-son/murder vomitorium The Greasy Strangler.  Think of it as a slimy festering misbegotten love child of John Waters and Flying Lotus, a film about paternal bonding through the eyes of Kuso.

Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels), a wrinkly old reprobate running a disco-themed walking tour with his nebbish inept overweight son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), offers a roof over his son’s head when he isn’t demanding Brayden drowns his breakfast in Crisco grease.  Meanwhile at night a naked serial killer covered from head to toe in Crisco grease known as The Greasy Strangler is randomly murdering people in the area, making Big Ronnie’s own obsession with grease suspect.  But when a sexually alluring woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) takes the tour and falls for Brayden, it creates a competitive romantic triangle in the household between Ronnie and Brayden over her affections and further stokes the murderous rages of The Greasy Strangler.

An ugly duckling bastard lovechild with the DNA of John Waters, Harmony Korine and Flying Lotus sandwiched together, this perversely gross and disgusting shockfest believe it or not is coproduced by both Ben Wheatley (In the Earth) and Elijah Wood.  Loaded with deliberately inventively offensive and often flat-out stupid dialogue including a certain chant involving another character’s anus, The Greasy Strangler means to gleefully offend and make queasiness within the viewer who hastily signs up for this thing.  But running through the thing is a weird and oddly touching riff on the father-son story, anchoring the insanity down somewhat.  But when our titular Greasy Strangler washes off the Crisco the next morning in a car wash with particular emphasis on his wrinkly flaccid penis, we’ve lost track of how to take this movie all over again.

A bit like a Jackass episode as imagined by Luis Bunuel with a chortlingly offbeat-weird ass score by Andrew Hung which lets you know from afar something is amiss with the world of this movie, part of the film’s oddball vulgar strength comes from the cinematography by MÃ¥rten Tedin.  Largely shot at night with some daylight scenes with the Greasy Strangler lit in shadow, coupled with the bright pink sweaters worn by the main characters, the film takes on the candy colored romcom look of a Todd Solondz film where the more reprehensible the gags become, the more cheerful and bright the picture has to look.  

A lot of familiar character actors from the Happy Madison team and David Gordon Green’s Eastbound and Down show up including Abdoulaye NGom from Grandma’s Boy.  Sky Elobar from Under the Silver Lake does a good job playing a strangely effeminate Eric Wareheim, but it is mostly John Travolta’s former hairdresser Michael St. Michaels who completely steals this movie.

Lanky, wrinkly, crusty, hairy and often sporting an erection, Michael St. Michaels completely gives himself to physical gross out comedy and puts himself in more than a few awkward and uncomfortable situations.  That he was able to play this with a straight face and say the dialogue without bursting into obscene laughter is remarkable in and of itself.  Then there’s that gross drippy Greasy Strangler makeup which looks like he crawled out of a pit of quicksand, and many scenes of things that shouldn’t be covered in Crisco being drowned in it.  That any actor would allow themselves so confidently to be completely humiliated onscreen like this is a testament to his commitment to the piece.

Dumb, deliberately irritating, vulgar and offensive, The Greasy Strangler is the Old 96er scene from The Great Outdoors involving leftover gristle and fan played out to feature length.  Interspersed within the vomit gags is something resembling a human story but all the dialogue and actions are designed to be a rancid send up of those things, making us wonder if this dose of slimy icky feral surrealism is closer Waters or Lotus.  Either way, theater owners must’ve had a heyday cleaning up all the puke left on the floor from unsuspecting moviegoers who couldn’t keep their popcorn down.  For what it’s worth, The Greasy Strangler is either deeply infuriating or deliriously entertaining depending on the viewer.  I myself fall into the latter camp.

--Andrew Kotwicki