Film Review: The Greasy Strangler

Director: Jim Hosking

18 | 1h 33min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller |October 7 2016 (UK) and available VOD from the 10th -see 

RATING: ★★★☆☆

How best to describe writer-director Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, which hits cinemas on limited release this month? A deliberate, deviously disgusting throwback to the trash cinema of old, this skin-crawlingly grotesque C-movie with a nearly impossible-to-describe plot isn't really as subversive as, say, John Waters was at his peak, but should still please “midnight movie” fans who glory in flabby, slimy pestilence. This is a movie you will smell in your mind, as much as see with your eyes.

The titular Greasy Strangler is a Los Angeles humanoid monster who’s appearance is that of, well…a guy covered in grease. In particular, the kind of grease you get from a heart-clogging fry-up. Browbeaten, portly son Brayden (Sky Elobar), who’s day job is to run “Disco Walking Tours” around LA with his obnoxious scarecrow of a father, Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels), is growing increasingly worried that his old man might in fact be the Greasy Strangler during the night hours. Why should Brayden think this? Well, for one thing his father is a one-man freakshow, with a hair-trigger temper and the sex drive of a rutting rhino, which makes him a somewhat unstable character, to say the least. He sports a bizarre wardrobe that ranges from pink cutoff tracksuits to onesies with a cellphone-covered crotchhole. The oddball Ronnie (who looks a little like if Doc Emmet Brown from Back to the Future slept for a week in a bush) also has a lust for grease, lots of grease, all day and all night. At several key moments in the plot we are blessed with the stomach-churning vision of a humbled, mewling Brayden creating several distinctly unappetising breakfasts for his imperious father in their shithole of a kitchen, and all portions must be served floating in grease. Needless to say, the filmmakers probably got through a substantial amount of whatever prop substance they used to create this viscous gunk: it sure isn't any real grease you will recognise. Fans of gore and grossness will lap this kind of thing up.

Brayden and Ronnie, and in fact every other character that crosses their path, are a motley assortment of freaks and reprobates: exactly the kind of fringe figures whose sheer absurdity and unattractiveness were celebrated by John Waters back in the day, though Hoskings’ attitude towards his creations doesn’t seem anywhere near as affectionate. The father-son duo share the same paunchy figures, shiny, sweaty skin, offensively bad flyaway hair, and most of the time they are attired simply in wince-inducingly tiny briefs (which are often discarded, so be ready). When Ronnie isn't cracking open his ass-cheeks to cut the cheese in front of his son, he is making shameless, sleazy moves on Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo): a sexy, alluring woman who came on one of their shambolic tours, and who Brayden has a hopeless crush on. This competition between father and son and the coincidental appearance of the oily, slimy inhuman maniac dubbed “The Greasy Strangler” could technically be called the main plot spine, but the film’s most striking feature is really how free-association the narrative feels. There are some sections of this film which truly approximate the kind of late night, junk-food fuelled dreams that plague us all at some point in our lives, with Hosking’s screenplay delighting in showcasing mind-boggling repetitions and loops in already-meaningless conversations. When the Greasy Strangler first strikes, for example, it is only after the group of oddball secondary characters he is targeting have spent roughly ten minutes of screen time marvelling at the way one of their number keeps pronouncing the word “potato” in a heavy Indian accent.

Though at times it feels like Hoskins is trying too hard -  smacking away at the gross-out button and waiting for you to rise to it - he does at least have the courage of his convictions to stay firmly in full-on bonkers mode at all times with no quarter given, whist the overall aesthetic succeeds brilliantly at conveying a tangible sense of stickyness and ickyness. It might not feel much like it can deliver the same deviant impact of cult films of yesteryear given this kind of extreme material can be dug up in five seconds on Youtube, and Hoskins with this film is getting the kind of wide release and backing (it played Sundance for one thing, has the well-known cult favourite Drafthouse Films behind it, and is being released in multiple territories) that early John Waters could never have dreamed of, but if you need a dose of “WTF”, this will certainly be your bag.


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.