The Greasy Strangler has got to be one of the most bizarre cinematic experiences I can recall having in years.
I’ve seen a lot of weird shit, but this one is almost off the spectrum in terms of strangeness. The film is definitely worth watching if you’ve got a fairly high tolerance for abstract thinking. In fact, The Greasy Strangler seems to exist in its own little universe. Think of the strangest sketches from Tim & Eric meeting at a crossroads with the film Hobo With a Shotgun.
If you can put that image together, you might enjoy the strangeness that ensues. If you’re not familiar with those two properties, or don’t like them, abandon hope all ye who enter here. Jim Hosking wrote and directed this film, which is also his feature debut. He is also responsible for one of the most memorably disturbing segments from The ABC’s of Death 2…”G is for Grandad.” Frankly I’m not sure how this film exists, but thanks to Spectrevision and a few other indie labels, we have this…whatever THIS is.
I’m going to do my best to explain The Greasy Strangler, although I’m not sure that anyone really can. The film was a 2016 standout at both Sundance and Fantastic Fest, although it was pretty divisive. I think it probably comes from the fact that the film is either incredibly hi-brow, or bottom of the barrel exploitative trash. I’m not even sure at this juncture that I know which one it is…can it be both? The line between art and trash is often razor thin and this film will require an electron microscope to determine where it lies. I won’t even say that it’s good or bad, however it is memorable and won’t soon be forgotten.
Big Ronnie and his son Big Brayden run a disco walking tour, which apparently requires them to wear matching pink outfits and short shorts. Come to think of it, the majority of characters in this film wear short shorts…not sure what the statement is there. However, Ronnie and Brayden encounter the “lovely” Julia on one of their tours and the fight for her affection begins. I wouldn’t describe anyone in the film as “lovely”. Actually, I would bet that the majority of the actors were chosen for their unconventional appearances and body types. In addition to this relationship drama, Brayden and Ronnie have a very strange father/son dynamic as well. Ronnie is foul-mouthed, vulgar, and takes his food with Costco levels of thick grease. Brayden is more of the gentle soul, who takes orders from his father.
As a side note -for inexplicable reasons- Ronnie seems to turn into a grease covered monster that strangles people in the night. He makes almost no effort to hide this fact, and is defensive in a way that only the guilty are. What plays out is some sort of psycho-sexual love triangle, with a splash of what appears to be supernatural serial killer mayhem. These are the most rational, and cohesive plot elements I could put together. The rest is just plain weird and uncomfortable, but in a very unsettlingly entertaining way.
I can’t understate the grotesqueness of this film. It’s disturbing on so many levels while still finding the humor. The film is a full on gross out with all manner of misshapen bodies, greasy food close-ups, and sex scenes that will make your skin crawl.
I love bacon, and this film manages to make all food horrifying, but especially bacon. Whatever the filmmakers use for grease is thick and gooey, and it’s all over the place. You’ll never look at a carwash the same again after seeing Ronnie clean himself off concluding one of his murder sprees.
Oh, and how can I forget the almost constant full-frontal nudity using giant prosthetic “appliances”. Think “appliances” in terms of Mark Wahlberg’s enhanced penis in the film Boogie Nights. Ronnie is pretty much completely nude the entire film. Every character has deeply exaggerated features and the entire film has a level of grime that is almost palpable. If you have an issue with male full frontal nudity, steer clear. Even if the full frontal is fake, it’s front and center, and gross as hell.
The acting is bad. The dialogue is atrocious, vulgar, and poorly delivered. The special FX are good, but very cartoonish in nature. The use of wigs, costumes, and prosthetics are over-exaggerated and almost comical. Now for the million-dollar question…are these atrocities intentional?
I argue that they most definitely are! If you can handle the almost complete lack of plot and gross out humor, the film is nearly impossible to take your eyes off of. The visual design is clearly well thought out, even if the rest of the film seems like some mad experiment. The use of bright color and costumes give the film the feel like it might be found in some seedy, ’70s era red light district. You can practically hear the buzzing of the neon signs, if only subconsciously.
This film is a must for anyone that claims to have seen it all. I guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like this. It’s definitely in a class all its own, for better or worse. I’m very disappointed that I was not able to attend any film fest screenings for The Greasy Strangler. I sincerely wish I could’ve heard some of the conversations following the screenings for those who made it through. I would absolutely love to hear some of the pretentious arguments about art versus trash. It’s one of those instances where the film is probably best viewed with a crowd and probably a few drinks (or something stronger).
If you’re not saying, or at least thinking, the words “bullshit artist” and “hootie tootie disco cutie” after watching this, you’ll have to teach me that trick sometime. Tread lightly and be careful whom you show this to. I don’t know that I would want to be the friend who recommended this one. You’ve been warned, now go forth and disturb yourself.
As of this writing the film is available to stream via Amazon Prime for free. There have also been rumors about recent censorship acts regarding various properties on the Prime platform. I personally can’t explain how The Greasy Strangler made the cut if that’s even remotely true.