Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Review first appeared in Sight & Sound, August 2011

Synopsis: Dreaming of starting up his own lawnmowing business, an aging Hobo rides the freight train to Hopetown, only to discover that it has been renamed Fucktown and reduced to a dilapidated hellhole of violence and vice under the sadistic control of crimelord Drake and his sons Slick and Ivan. After bearing witness to all manner of outrages, Hobo finally intervenes, making a ‘citizen’s arrest’ as Slick is about to have good-hearted prostitute Abby gang-raped – but the corrupt chief allows Slick and Ivan to torture Hobo. Abby tends Hobo in her apartment. The next day, Hobo submits to a humiliating ‘bumfight’ video to raise money for a used lawnmower – but walking into an armed robbery at the pawnshop, he instead selects a shotgun and kills the robbers, thus beginning a bloody campaign of vigilante justice and winning the attention of the media and public.

Instructed by Drake to reassert the family’s reign of terror, Slick incinerates a busload of schoolchildren, and appears on the news declaring open season on Hobo and the homeless in general. As Hobo and Abby prepare to skip town, Slick and Ivan attack, severely injuring Abby. Hobo kills Slick and rushes Abby to hospital. Drake summons a pair of armoured thugs known as ‘the Plague’ who murder all the hospital’s doctors and abduct Hobo. Recovered, Abby converts the pawnshop lawnmower into a rotor-bladed shield, and inspires the mob with a speech.

As Drake prepares Hobo for public decapitation, Ivan is taken hostage by Abby and shot by his own father. Abby kills half of the Plague. After Drake forces her hand into the rotor blade, Abby stabs him with her arm bone and frees Hobo. Hobo shoots Drake dead, and is himself shot by the police. The mob turns on the police.

Review: Let’s go back.

In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released Death Proof and Planet Terror as the double feature Grindhouse in the US, complete with lovingly crafted fake trailers for imagined retro schlockfests (Rodriguez’ Machete, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving Day, Edgar Wright’s Don’t and Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS). These highly economic, sensation-crammed parodies were in many ways more memorable than the two main features that they accompanied and, thanks to a bite-sized format readily suited to YouTube, earned themselves a cult fanbase online. A fake trailer competition arranged that year by Rodriguez  at the SXSW Film Festival was won by Canadian Jason Eisener, whose hyperbolic short Hobo With A Shotgun went on to be included in the Canadian release of Grindhouse. This, along with Machete and the Soska twins‘ similarly Grindhouse-inspired fake trailer for Dead Hooker In A Trunk, would all, in a move that practically defines exploitation, be extended into real feature films, cashing in on the reputation of the original fake trailers.

Eisener’s story of an itinerant hobo meting out vigilante justice in a corrupted urban environment is an affectionate tribute to the scuzziest back alleys of cinema from a bygone Reagan era, and should appeal to devotees of The Warriors (1979), Escape From New York (1981), Class of 1984 (1982), Savage Streets (1984), Street Trash (1987) and the Mad Max sequels. Everything here bears an Eighties imprint, from the lurid primary hues (“Color by Technicolor”, boasts an opening credit) to the apocalyptic view of demimonde existence, from the synth-heavy score to the Risky Business uniform (jock jacket and dark sunglasses) sported by young gangster Slick (Gregory Smith). Absent here are such Noughties signifiers as PCs (although we do see oldschool arcade games), cellphones (characters communicate strictly by phonebooth) and CGI (although there are lashings of corn-syrup-and-latex gore). Naturally the Hobo is played by Eighties throwback Rutger Hauer (replacing David Brunt from the original $150 trailer), and naturally he speaks, as every ‘character’ does, in overwrought ‘Arnie-isms’ that are funny precisely for their witlessness. “You’re so fuckin’ hot,” declares an ardent john to hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Abby (Molly Dunsworth), “you make me want to cut my dick off and rub it on your titties.” It is a line that no-one would ever say, except in a film like this – which is precisely what lends Hobo With A Shotgun its rarefied brand of authenticity. Like Scott Sanders’ Black Dynamite (2009), this comes so very close to what it apes that pinning down exactly where reproduction ends and lampoon begins proves impossible. After all, the cartoonishly violent inspirations for Hobo With A Shotgun were hardly less knowingly silly.

Still, while Eisener and his crew are to be admired for painstakingly recreating a certain kind of Eighties sleaze, the result essentially remains cinematic dross – or worse, ersatz dross – while the joke of the original fake trailer has become somewhat overstretched. All the best bits of Hobo With A Shotgun – like the paedophile Santa (“I’ll come down both your chimneys!”), or the surreal, half-glimpsed spectacle of armoured thugs wrestling a giant octopus – are also the most throwaway. Perhaps that is always the way with trash, whether old or archaising.

Anton Bitel