Who would have thought that one of the most violent and depraved movies of 2010 would also be one of the most gorgeously photographed and wonderfully inventive movies of the past several years? The film I speak of, friends, is Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun, the full-length feature version of Eisener’s winning entry in the mock trailer contest put together by the folks behind Grindhouse. While it was a hilarious concept for a fake trailer, I had my doubts that a premise as paper thin as this could carry an entire feature, but, man, was I ever wrong. This “Technicolor” paean to low-brow z-grade exploitation cinema is the greatest movie Troma never made, and Jason Eisener has immediately vaulted to the top of my “can’t wait to see what he does next” list.
Rutger Hauer stars as the titular Hobo who rides the rails into a charming little burg the locals refer to as “Scumtown”. Almost as soon as he finds a shopping cart, he bears witness to a stunning display of violence courtesy of local crime kingpin, Drake (Brian Downey), who has his own brother decapitated in the broad daylight while Drake’s bloodthirsty sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), force the community to watch. Later that evening, the Hobo watches as a group of punks drag some fellow homeless into one of Drake’s clubs. Once inside, the Hobo watches as his kind are beaten and brutalized at the hands of Drake’s drug-addled clientele, while Slick and Ivan look on. When Slick starts to get rough with one of his own customers, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), a gorgeous young streetwalker, comes to the young addicts defense. Slick decides that Abby needs to be taught a lesson, but, before he can dole out his brand of discipline, the Hobo beats him senseless and drags him off to the local police in hopes that they’ll put the psycho behind bars where he belongs. It’s not long, however, before the Hobo realizes that Scumtown is Drake’s town, and everyone’s on his payroll, including the cops. Our heroic vagrant is beaten, horribly mutilated, and thrown in a dumpster before he eventually stumbles into the arms of Abby who takes him back to her place to tend to his wounds. While there, Abby learns of the Hobo’s only desire – to buy a $40 dollar lawn mower from the local pawn shop so that he can start his own landscaping business. The next morning, the Hobo decides to do just that, but when a group of thugs aim to rob the very same pawn shop, the Hobo grabs himself a shotgun (also $40!) and sets out to clean up Scumtown once and for all.
Hobo with a Shotgun is one of the goriest and most morally corrupt motion pictures I’ve had the pleasure of laughing my way through, and, like the early films of Peter Jackson, John Waters, and Lloyd Kauffman before it, one that’s destined for cult status. It’s a movie where naked chicks bathe in blood, heads are torn off with chains attached to truck fenders, and a busload of schoolchildren is torched with a flamethrower; if any of that sounds remotely off-putting to you, stay away –far, far away – from Hobo with a Shotgun as those bits are some of the film’s milder moments. Of course, it’s all low-brow, high-camp stuff; gross but funny, like that weird kid in grade school who ate his own snots and flipped his eyelids inside out. The incredible thing about Hobo with a Shotgun isn’t that it’s so over-the-top violent or blatantly offensive but rather how downright beautiful it is! This is one of the most visually appealing and colorful genre films I’ve seen in quite some time. This is some serious eye candy, here; from the inventive use of lenses and filters and angles and blocking to the Bava-esque set lighting, this is a movie that commands your attention from the opening scene and never relinquishes it. Whether it be a geyser of gore or the craggy features and ice blue eyes of the ingeniously cast Rutger Hauer, Eisener and cinematographer, Karim Hussain, photograph each and every scene with a sense of richness and detail seldom seen in film, let alone a low-budget parody of exploitation cinema. It’s a testament to their individual skills as well as to the potential of the RED camera system that made this extraordinary look possible for a budget that amounts to chump change by Hollywood standards ($3 million, give or take).
Magnolia brings Hobo with a Shotgun to Blu-ray through its Magnet label and, as you can probably already tell by my breathless description of the film’s clarity, vibrance, and beauty, the results are nothing short of stunning. Here’s where films shot digitally really shine, as every ounce of detail comes through with near three dimensional quality, while bright splashes of color merge with deep, true blacks that lend an almost tangible sense of depth to the image. Sure, the film may have that “rough around the edges” grindhouse aesthete, but it’s belied by the intrinsic beauty of Hussain’s photography; gorgeously composed images that no amount of post-process scrapes and scratches can hinder. The transfer is complimented by a smartly mixed 5.1 DTS HD soundtrack that manages to sound at once retro (thanks to the hilariously apropos synth score) and cutting-edge at the same time. Dialogue is spot on, surround effects are well-implemented, and the bass is just potent enough to make your teeth rattle at all the right moments.
Extra features are abundant and of especially high quality, with the beefy featurette, More Blood, More Heart: The Making of Hobo with a Shotgun (HD), offering a fun and informative look at the film from its humble origins to public reception; a collection of Deleted Scenes (HD) and an Alternate Ending (HD); a pair of feature-length commentary tracks – the first with Jason Eisener and Rutger Hauer, the other featuring Eisener, writer John Davies, producer Rob Cotterill, and the actor who portrayed the Hobo in the original trailer, David Brunt; an HDNet EPK entitled HDNet: A Look at Hobo with a Shotgun, and much more, including, of course, the hilarious trailer that kicked this whole thing off.
Hobo with a Shotgun won’t appeal to everyone, as its sophomoric humor and gross-out FX really are tailor-made for a very particular breed of moviegoer (like me). Still, that’s a pretty wide swath of filmdom, and fans of anything from Troma-style excess and over-the-top exploitation cinema to cultists who worship at the altars of John Waters and Paul Bartel will find much to love here. Magnolia’s Blu-ray presentation is near-flawless stuff, with excellent PQ and audio, and loaded with great extras, making this one an easy recommendation.