In an age of retro grindhouse tributes, this particular style of filmmaking can grow tiresome. After Planet Terror, Death Proof, Hell Ride, Black Dynamite and Machete, among others, it appears as though this sub-genre may have run its course. How much more goofy can you make an action film before the joke just isn’t funny? Thankfully, Hobo with a Shotgun manages to deliver on that special element missing from other attempts to recapture that era of cinema: a simple plot with the tone and earnest to keep it entertaining.
An unnamed hobo (Rutger Hauer) wanders into Hope Town, a community plagued by frequent attacks from a crime-boss known as The Drake (Brian Downey). Not much is known about this hobo other than his dream of owning a lawnmower and his value for human decency. There is no tragic backstory about his family or his previous travels as it is unneeded for a movie like this. After witnessing several horrible incidents and getting carved up by the sons of Drake, the hobo puts his dream on hold to purchase a shotgun and turn vigilante. It isn’t long before a showdown occurs between Drake and the hobo, but not before a series of gruesome killings involving ice skates, razor blade bats, harpoons and decapitation via motorcycles.
The over-the-top exploitation of this film embodies many elements of the 80’s, but never reserves itself to just one. The bombastic gore rings bells of Troma films as the bad-ass nature of the main character harkens back to Death Wish. The hobo monologues in corny speeches that perfectly fit a simplistic action hero. The villains dress in outfits straight out of a late-80’s catalog with an over-the-top attitude to make them extra scummy. Although the film has its moments of silliness with all the absurd action and scenery-chewing acting, it never felt like the film was winking at the audience. There are no wacky tributes to the musical styling of Isaac Hayes nor are there any goofy references to the culture of grindhouse cinema. Abandoning these clichés allows the movie to truly become what other grindhouse salutes were only hinting at: a bad movie you love for all the wrong reasons.
Gore-wise, the film is a triumph of violent imagination. Characters are brutally beaten, sliced, disemboweled, electrocuted and burned in a manner that would make even Tarantino blush. One scene in particular involves a bikini-clad lady bathing in the geyser of blood from a decapitated man, seemingly out of nowhere. With that in mind, it should be mentioned that this is a very brutal movie that breaks the movie taboo of killing children. In a rather dark scene, the Drake boys incinerate a bus full of children and drag one of their charred corpses onto the evening news (after murdering the news anchor, of course). And I won’t even go into the details of the depressing scene in which the hobo eats shards of glass for cash.
But for the iron-stomached action lover, Hobo with a Shotgun is a real treat. For a film based on a faux trailer for a grindhouse contest, the end result is surprisingly effective and more committed than the similarly produced Machete, which tried too hard to be entertaining. The courage of director Jason Eisener to create a fearless action-packed exploitation film not shying away from the ugly moments displays a true love for the genre. But, more importantly, it’s really cool to see Rutger Hauer as a grizzled bum shooting up bad guys. That is the main reason most of us would watch such a film after all.
Mark McCoy 10/14/2011