Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Hobo with a Shotgun
Well Abby, can I tell you something about bears?
Jarv’s Rating: The resident, now sadly absent, monkey, in a fit of positively zen like calm, once rated this film as one hobo with a shotgun out of one hobo with a shotgun, in that it is the quintessential example of a hobo with a shotgun. For my part, it can have one chang, because while it really is a very good example of a shotgun wielding itinerant, it isn’t an entertaining piece of exploitation and wonders dangerously near to torture porn on more than one occasion.
We can blame Cokey McFrankensteinhead for many of the sins that plague modern cinema, but there’s one sin that I really think we have to hold him and his cohort Robert Rodriguez to account for: the rise of the modern “exploitation” movie. Back before I realised that Tarantino was the cinematic embodiment of the stark bollock naked Emperor, I was genuinely quite excited by the thought of ultimate geek cinephile Tarantino making an homage to the 1970’s exploitation trash films. Sadly, the end product was the heinously bloated and monstrously boring Death Proof, where he managed to dash all the good will built up by Rodriguez’ mediocre Planet Terror and the incredibly entertaining intermission trailers. The Grindhouse film was, thankfully, a massive flop and Planet Terror and Death Proof were split up for most of the world, but as a completely unwanted side-effect it has so far managed to spawn two full length films from the trailer idea. The first is Rodriguez’ own Machete, and the second was the winner of a competition created specifically to promote Grindhouse, Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun.
This is now the fifth of the modern exploitation films that I’ve seen (Planet Terror, Death Proof, Nude Nuns with Big Guns, and Machete are the others) and by far the best of the quintet is Machete. Interestingly, probably the worst is Death Proof, but that’s neither here nor there. I completely understand the attraction, these films were a blast back in the 70’s, promising an orgy of violence, cheesy dialogue, illicit nudity and so forth. However, the dominating feature of the 70’s version is that they were, well, cheap. As a result of financial constraints they were shot on 16MM, shown as part of a cheesy double feature with something else, and tended to have an awful lot of grain and close up camera work. Modern directors have comparatively more money than their 70’s counterparts, and as such artificially create the look and style of the originals. Whereas on one hand it was done from necessity, nowadays it is replicated through a faux-hipster sense of irony that’s completely unmerited. Not to mention unwanted. Furthermore, of the ones that I’ve seen, I would argue that only really Machete, and to some extent Planet Terror, understood what it was that made the originals fun. Tarantino’s Death Proof, for example, is not fun. It’s an interminable couple of bloodless and boobless hours listening to obnoxious women talking Tarantino. Whereas, in direct contrast, Machete stuffs the film full of boob at every available opportunity and the dialogue is cheesier than a Kraft factory. Which one of those do you think is nearer to the spirit of Grindhouse?
Hobo with a Shotgun falls between these two extremes. The story is pure trash cinema: Hobo turns up in a town run by Drake and his two psychotic sons Slick and Ivan, falls in with the local hooker and eventually cleans the town up. With a Shotgun. However, while it certainly supplies the gore, and has a reasonable stab at the cheesy dialogue, it also imitates the camera techniques to a fault and, worse than that, isn’t any fun. This, actually, is a film that skirts dangerously near to Torture Porn in my opinion, in that the entire raison d’être of the film is to watch suffering inflicted on cardboard cut out characters. That it isn’t torture porn, despite the utter lack of entertainment, is that the killings are not protracted, for the most part, and the slaughter has a sense of justice to it. The first half of the film sees Drake et al committing atrocities, and the second has the Hobo’s revenge.
Eisener has set out deliberately to be as close to those 70’s exploitation films as he can, and as such he stuffs the film full of a hell of a lot of gore and bloodshed. However, there’s a very, very unpleasant edge to a lot of the violence here. In fact, it feels remarkably mean spirited on several occasions. The shining example I would give is the Hobo having to eat broken glass for $50. I, actually, don’t mind this particularly, but he’s already been degraded, hurt and humiliated so it feels a step too far, and therefore gratuitous. In contrast, some of the gore, such as Slick carving “Scum” into the Hobo’s chest doesn’t feel like this, it feels necessary for the atmosphere that the film is going for. I just feel that Eisener didn’t know where to stop on occasion, and when he goes too far, he goes far too far.
There are other moments like this that operate to the detriment of the film: Ivan ejaculating when electrocuted with the toaster and Abby using the bloody stump of her arm to lever up the manhole grid being two easy examples to pick on. However, and it’s an interesting however, this is contrasted against (while no doubt incredibly violent sequences) whole scenes that do work incredibly well. Particularly amusing are the montage scenes with the newspaper headlines (actually the best bit of the film is the execution of the paedophile Father Christmas), and the Plague’s assault on the hospital.
Part of the problem here is the writing. I’ve struggled with how to enunciate the failure here and I think it can best be described as too knowing. There’s a smug sense of cleverness running underneath the script: Ivan’s “I just came” line being a prime example of this. It’s very difficult to pinpoint the precise moments and I am aware that I’m operating on an entirely subjective nuance here, but this faux-post modernism gave me the feeling that the film was far too pleased with itself, and quite unjustifiably so at that.
I’m really coming down hard on this film, and I’m very probably been harsh on it. However, as much as the script is trying too hard, the acting is, for the most part, far better than the film deserves. Nick Bateman, Gregory Smith and Brian Downey are deliberately over the top as Ivan, Slick and Drake respectively, and I would like to see Molly Dunsworth (who plays Abby the hooker) in something better, as she clearly can act. Nevertheless, the film has a trump card to play, and play it it does: Rutger Hauer is on great form as the Hobo. We all know that Rutger can play unhinged in his sleep (honestly, those Guinness advertisements from the 80’s scarred me, never mind Blade Runner, The Hitcher, Split Second etc) but what I didn’t know was how good his timing can be. He’s head and shoulders above everyone else here, and the story really does waste his not inconsiderable talents. Shame.
Overall, I can’t help but feel that this should have stayed a trailer. It’s just too unpleasant a watch, too smug and entirely too self satisfied. There really isn’t a lot going for Hobo with a Shotgun, and needless to say I don’t recommend it. If you remember my roll call of modern exploitation at the beginning, there’s one film missing from that list: Rick Jacobsen’s Bitch Slap. This is the film that modern exploitation cinema should be watching- and I really do wish that they would rather than returning to the increasingly tired well of faux-irony. That, really, sums up my feelings about Hobo with a Shotgun: I sat there thinking “I wish Rick Jacobsen had made this”.
Next up is the final modern exploitation film that I’m doing: Machete, and I’ve certainly saved the best for last.
Until next time,