Friday, July 15, 2011


Freshman director Jason Eisener’s contemporary vigilante thriller “Hobo With a Shotgun” (**** out of ****) epitomizes the essence of grindhouse movies from the 1970s and the 1980s. Grindhouse movies are typically low-brow, low-budget, politically-incorrect R-rated, epics that exploit shocking, often sensational subject matter for either high drama or comedy. Moreover, these films feature gratuitous amounts of blood, gore, profanity, sex, nudity, violence as well as sub-standard special effects. The most infamous grindhouse/exploitation movies appeared in the 1930s, including “The Road to Ruin” (1934), “Reefer Madness” (1936), “Marihuana” (1936), “Cocaine Fiends” (1935), “Child Bride” (1938), “Gambling with Souls” (1936) and “Sex Madness” (1938). A s you can imagine, the tawdry material that these movies tangled with didn't constitute polite supper table conversation. Mind you, back during the Great Depression, these movies were classified as sleazy. They are tame by today’s standards. Primarily, these movies were produced as warnings to parents and juveniles about sticking to the straight and narrow. The most controversial examples of grindhouse cinema illuminated screens during the 1970s and 1980s. These movies acquired the designation as ‘grindhouse’ because they were shown in antiquated, dilapidated theaters on the fringe. For example in Columbus, Mississippi, during the 1970s, Malco operated the Princess Theater as a grindhouse. I know because I've seen my share there. Minor Hollywood studios and foreign producers churned out these films by the hundreds. European sword & sandal sagas, Continental crime thrillers, historical hell-raisers, Spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong chop-socky epics, German & Italian cannibal adventures, American International biker flicks & teenage horror chillers, Blaxploitation movies were popular, especially with drive-in movie audiences. Many are finally being released on DVD and Blu-ray. Generally, these movies ran no longer than 90 minutes but some achieved fame, notably “Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), “Satan's Sadists” (1969), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), and “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980). If you thrive on trash cinema of the 1970s and the 1980s, then “Hobo With a Shotgun” is right up your alley. Alley is being used in a highly metaphorical sense. Rutger Hauer and Gregory Smith co-star in this overblown orgy of blood, gore, and profanity. Naked babes appear in a one scene. Indeed, nudity is largely subdued in this 86-minute, Technicolor release. Nevertheless, squeamish souls should shun this sadistic, shoot’em up that celebrates a homeless man as a hero.

An anonymous hobo (an unshaven Rutger Hauer of “Blade Runner”) arrives in Hope Town. Actually, vandals have crossed out Hope and replaced it with Scum. Beneath the town sign appears the slogan “Where the railway ends and life begins.” Those same vandals have replaced the word “life” with "Hell.” The hobo hasn'tbeen in town long before he encounters the local crime boss, The Drake (Brian Downey of the sci-fi TV show “Lexx”), and watches Drake dispense justice. “Mercy ain’t my style,” the Drake screams, decked out in an ice-cream white suit and tie with an automatic pistol wedged in his waistband. Drake and his two juvenile delinquent sons, Slick (Gregory Smith of “Small Soldiers”) and Ivan (Tom Cruise lookalike Nick Bateman), show up with pistols drawn. They surround their Uncle Logan (Robb Wells of “Trailer Park Boys, The Movie”) who pleads desperately for mercy as a crowd gathers on the scene. He begs the Hobo to cut the rope on his wrists. Drake makes Logan an example of his power to strike fear into the hearts of citizens. Logan wears a man-hole cover wrapped around his neck so he looks like his head is on a platter. Slick and Ivan deposit Logan in a man-hole, and Drake loops a barbed wire noose around his neck. Slick puts his truck in reverse and off comes Logan’s head. Afterward, Drake sticks it on the hood as a head ornament. Of course, the special effects are marginal. The blood is blatantly bogus! Meanwhile, no sooner has Logan’s head been torn from his neck than a bikini-clad babe in a white mink coat dances in the geyser of blood that erupts. If you can stomach this kind of ghoulish violence, you will love what Eisner and scenarists John Davies and Rob Cotterill have concocted.

Basically, “Hobo With a Shotgun” combines vintage town tamer westerns, such as “Fistful of Dollars,” with vigilante epics, like the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” franchise. All the poor Hobo wants is buy a $49.99 lawn mower so he can cut grass and earn money. Ironically, not a single blade of grass is in-sight in this urban sprawl. He collects aluminum cans and other assorted garbage in a grocery shopping cart, but he doesn’t get very far along in reaching his goal. Predictably, few folks ante up dimes, and the degenerate ruffians who run around leather jackets with Mohawk hair-cuts spit on him. Eventually, the public-spirited citizen hibernating within the Hobo emerges when Slick treats a defenseless hooker, Abby (newcomer Molly Dunsworth), with utter contempt and tries to assault her. Wielding his walking stick along with a sock filled with coins, the Hobo clobbers Slick and hauls him off to jail. Surprisingly, after a sympathetic police chief (Jeremy Ackerman of “K-19: The Widowmaker”) applauds the Hobo’s efforts, he turns on him and lets Slick carve the word SCUM into the Hobo’s chest. Once they finish with him, Slick and the Police Chief pitch the Hobo into the trash.

You cannot keep a good man down long. The Hobo staggers out of the trash, and Abby takes pity on him and lets him spend the night in her apartment. She gives him a sweatshirt with a bear on it and the Hobo turns into a bear of a vigilante. During a pawn shop hold-up, three hoods grab a mother and her baby in a carriage and threaten to kill them if the owner doesn’t empty his cash register. The Hobo happens to be in the pawn shop admiring the $49.99 lawn mower when this takes place. Abruptly, Hobo seizes a pump-action shotgun and splatters the three robbers with blasts to the belly. Things get so bad that Drake that tells Slick that he must establish fear in the hearts of the town. Consequently, Slick finds himself a flame-thrower and torches a school bus filled with kids. During a televised news report of his sadistic shenanigans, Slick and Ivan invade the studio and sling a skate boot so that its' blade embeds itself in the newscaster’s chest. Later, the Drake dispatches the police to exterminate all homeless people with extreme prejudice.

According to the Dread Central website, Canadian filmmaker Jason Eisner made a bogus trailer of “Hobo With a Shotgun” and entered it in director Robert Rodriguez's South by Southwest “Grindhouse” trailers competition back in 2007. The trailer won first place, and Eisner set about making the film. The Internet Movie Database has reported that this $3-million movie has made slightly more than a half-million dollars during its brief May release and has since gone onto DVD and Blu-ray. Indeed, Eisner upholds the standards of “Fistful of Dollars” and the “Death Wish” movies in terms of blood, gore and more. The Hobo cleans up the town and inspires citizens to gun down their corrupt police and reclaim the streets from them. Nevertheless, Eisner doesn’t drag out the inevitable in this formulaic actioneer. The villains are utterly despicable and deserve the worst that they receive. Eisner leaves little to the imagination, and some of the action is so ramped up that you want to laugh rather than cringe. Despite its entirely depraved subject matter, “Hobo With a Shotgun” delivers more enthusiasm and action than most big-screen fare. Eisner and his scenarist never the largely straightforward action bog down in a surfeit of exposition. They have pared down the plot to its extreme essentials and served it up like a shotgun blast to the belly.