Few titles so effectively embody their film’s tone the way The Greasy Strangler does. In his feature film debut, director Jim Hosking has attempted to manufacture a cult hit, crafting a gross-out machine meant to test an audience’s endurance for perverse oddities. Whether the film will carve out its midnight movie niche is up to the audiences, but Hosking certainly swings for the fences, even if the moves do seem a little calculated.
The Greasy Strangler stars Michael St. Michaels (The Video Dead) as Big Ronnie, who runs disco tours in a sleepy town with his son Big Brayden, (Sky Elobar, Don Verdean). When Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo, The 33) attends their tour, she sparks a competition between the two for her affection. At the same time, big Ronnie begins moonlighting as a mysterious strangler who roams the streets covered in grease.
It won’t take long to figure out if The Greasy Strangler is your cup of tea. A solid chunk of moviegoers will likely check out just from the title, and the rest will have to decide if the film’s predilection for repetitive, atonal humor and sleaze strikes them as offbeat genius, or tasteless garbage. The script written by Hosking and Toby Harvard keeps things simple and consistently strange. The film is much more about tone than it is about plot, and for better or worse, the film sticks to it. The whole thing has a fascinatingly childlike quality to it, both from the carefully composed but simple camera work by Marten Tedin to the bouncy, 80’s video game inspired score by Andrew Hung.
When it comes to it’s unique brand of weirdness, Hosking and his crew should be commended for swing for the fences. The film is at its best when it’s cultivating a unique sense of weirdness, frequently by running its jokes into and through the ground, finally breaking into some kind of bizarre, not quite profound headspace. One of the film’s most memorable moments is a prolonged exchange about the pronunciation of ‘potato chips’. It’s strange that in a film teeming with graphic nudity and cartoon violence, it’s wordplay that leaves a lasting impression.
The Greasy Strangler is uncomfortable but in a way that feels too calculated to be truly nerve fraying. The film’s predilection for gross out humor leaves it feeling tired by the end of its relatively brief running time. It’s not just the penises that are overtly fake. The whole thing feels too artificial to be really unnerving. Hosking is definitely not pulling his punches, but he his telegraphing them quite a bit. Everything in The Greasy Strangler feels manufactured, and while that may not make its oddities any less jarring, it does diminish their power to stay with you.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
With The Greasy Strangler, Hosking is attempting to do the impossible: manufacture a cult hit. This film is not The Room. It’s odd and alienating and designed to be that way. The Greasy Strangler will undoubtedly find its audience and maybe that’s what’s most upsetting. It’s releasing itself into the world as a known quantity. Films that fall into the ‘so bad it’s good / how did this get made’ pantheon are special because watching them feels like an act of discovery. Communities form around these films in ways that are unexpected. Everything about The Greasy Strangler is planned. That doesn’t make it any less bizarre, but it does make it a little less fun to watch.