The Greasy Strangler (2016)

First published in Sight & Sound, October 2016

Review: “You’re such a gross-out, dad. I think I might barf,” says manchild Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) in the opening sequence of The Greasy Strangler. Sporting nothing more than thick-rimmed glasses, a desperate combover and underpants, Brayden has just heard his similarly near-naked father, the sly, silver-haired Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels, The Video Dead, 1987), wondering aloud why people do not put grease instead of milk in their coffee. In the dilapidated home that they share, father-son tensions are evident. “You probably think I’m the Greasy Strangler,” confides Ronnie. “Tell you a secret: I am the Greasy Strangler.”

Despite Ronnie’s all-out obsession with oily fat, his war on dry food and his declared desire to “lubricate the world”, Brayden prefers, at least at first, to think of his father as a “bullshit artist” than as the mysterious, grease-covered figure who has been gruesomely murdering people at night. The phrase “bullshit artist” becomes a recurrent motif in the film, directed mostly at Ronnie but also at Brayden. Sure enough, Ronnie is prone to fabrication, whether in the information he dishes out on the disco walking tours of LA that he and Brayden conduct together, or in the name-dropping narratives that he tells about his past. Yet from early on we know two things: that lecherous, cranky Ronnie really is the Greasy Strangler, taking bestial vengeance upon all who mildly annoy him; and that barf-inducing excess is very much on the agenda.

In a film which uses a barebones slasher format to frame its Oedipal psychodrama, crude, appetitive, flatulent Ronnie plays the rampaging id to Brayden’s restrained ego. While the virginal son sweetly romances the more experienced Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), his sidelined father goes a-killing – yet when Brayden’s (prosthetic) micropenis risks being inadequate for Janet, Ronnie dives in with his grotesquely outsized member (that “looks like a massive mouse’s head”) and takes over. A bizarre, possibly schizophrenic love triangle emerges, but ultimately there can only be two in this relationship, and Brayden finds himself torn between Janet, Ronnie and his own inner Greasy Strangler.

Director/co-writer Jim Hosking revels in offering a skew-whiff view of the strange world that his even stranger characters inhabit – conjured from the secondary smoke of Russ Meyer, John Waters and even Alejandro Jodorowsky (at his most Freudian). In this priapic parade of wrongness, littered with gross-out gags and outré transgressions, urges are base, lines are jaw-dropping and all the lowest tastes are eventually catered – while Andrew Hung’s Eighties-aping synth score provides the perfect cheesy accompaniment to Ronnie’s love of ‘creamy cocktails’. Yet beneath the surreal stylisation remains a rich story of a divided self. For as abused, ‘manic-depressive’ Brayden belatedly comes of age by adopting his questionable legacy and finally, fully becoming his father’s son, The Greasy Strangler proves to be a patriarchal Psycho (1960) by way of Fight Club (1999), with more than a touch of post-Troma-tic unhingedness.

Synopsis: Los Angeles. Virginal manchild Brayden still lives with his father Ronnie, decades after his mother left with abusive bodybuilder Rick Prickles. On the disco tour that he runs with Ronnie, Brayden meets Janet, and they start dating. By nights, Ronnie covers himself in grease and becomes the Greasy Strangler, murdering those who annoy him – first some tourists, then a hot dog vendor – before cleaning the grease off himself at the car wash owned by his blind friend Paul. After Ronnie also murders Brayden’s best friend Oinker, Brayden tells Janet that he will investigate, expose and kill the Greasy Strangler himself. Brayden suspects that Ronnie is the Greasy Strangler. After a night out dancing with Paul, Ronnie intercepts Janet and enjoys a ‘sensual’ night with her. The next morning, Ronnie tells a crestfallen Brayden that he is now officially dating Janet. Janet is torn. As the Greasy Strangler, Ronnie kills Paul. Brayden contacts a detective, Jody, and shows him grease found in Ronnie’s room. Jody (in fact Ronnie in disguise) tells Brayden to ‘end all enquiries’, but Brayden is determined to expose the Greasy Strangler. Janet offers to help, and agrees to marry Brayden. Enraged, Ronnie evicts Brayden, storms off, and returns as the Greasy Strangler, abducting Janet. “I can be the Greasy Strangler too,” declares Brayden, covering himself in his father’s grease – and then helping Ronnie strangle Janet. Reconciled, father and son kill Rick Prickles, imagine their own firing-squad execution, and frolic together in the wilderness.

© Anton Bitel