Hobo With a Shotgun

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Welcome to Hope Town! Or to give it its more appropriate name...Scum Town. This is a city that makes the Old Detroit of RoboCop look like Princeton. A city that makes Mogadishu look like an attractive place to spend your retirement. Hope Town is probably as bad as it gets.

Despite this, an elderly hobo, played by Rutger Hauer, takes up residence in this cesspool. He’s on the streets for no longer than a few minutes when he encounters The Drake (the city’s mob boss) and his two sons, Slick and Ivan, pursuing The Drake’s brother. By using a specially rigged sewer grate, they decapitate The Drake’s brother by pulling his head clean off with a car. Oh, and then an Asian woman in very little clothing dances rhythmically in the fountain of blood that gushes from the freshly made man-geyser. If this doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.

Even though he witnesses this atrocity, the Hobo still harbours dreams of a better life. In a pawn shop window he looks misty eyed at some black and white footage of a 1950s man mowing his lawn. This seems to represent a lost innocence that the Hobo wants to regain and he dreams of purchasing the lawnmower that sits near the TV in the shop window. He only needs $50.

In order to accumulate this money, the Hobo takes to begging on the streets. There’s an amusing scene where he’s trying to write a sign. On the first couple, he lies. He then gives up on this and we see him sitting on the street with a sign that simply says he needs the money so that he can buy a lawnmower. Such sentimentality is completely at odds with this hellish backdrop.

As nasty as the violence is in Hobo With a Shotgun, it’s also incredibly cartoonish. Hammers make feet shatter into bloody pieces and bumper cars make heads explode like they’re watermelons. It isn’t in the least bit realistic. But despite this, the film does have a pervasive grime and grubbiness to it. As ludicrously far-fetched as this world is, it still gets to you. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film greatly, rocking back and forth in my seat with pleasure as I guzzled the Colt 45 that my friend and I had smuggled into the screening. But the characters are so despicable and the backdrop so depressing that I felt like I needed a bath afterwards.

The ruthlessness of the villains on display here, though, does make the Hobo’s revenge extra enjoyable. I mean, take The Drake. Here’s a guy that decapitates his own brother. He’s also a man who holds torture parties - there’s a scene where some scantily clad women are using a man as a pinata; The Drake, however, brings this to an end with the immortal line ‘When life gives you razor blades...you make a bat, covered in razor blades’ and disembowels the man as the women jump up and down with glee.

Probably worse then The Drake, though, is Slick, The Drake’s son. With a narcissistic smile, slicked back hair and Wayfarers, he’s kind of like a psychotic Tom Cruise. In one hilarious scene, when the Hobo has become a shotgun wielding vigilante, he boards a school bus with his Cristiano Ronaldo lookalie brother Ivan. ‘Disco Inferno’ pumps from a boombox and Slick begins asking the kids questions like he’s Scorpio from Dirty Harry. He asks them if they like ice cream, he asks them if they like school, he asks them if they like bicycles and he asks them if they like hobos. They give each question a resounding yes. We then have a close-up of Slick’s Wayfarers and he says that he hates hobos. He then torches the entire school bus with his flamethrower as ‘Burn, baby, burn’ pounds from the soundtrack, his brother nodding with approval.

Now yes, you might be thinking that I’m a sick bastard for finding amusement in a scene where lots of children are incinerated, but it just flies in the face of what usually happens in films. Children never get hurt. So to see such cartoonish carnage and to see it so gleefully rendered, I couldn’t help but guffaw.

I also have to give Slick credit for referencing the Who song, ‘See Me, Feel Me’ while intimidating a woman. And also for defaming Mother Teresa: ‘Tell it to Mother Teresa while she’s fingerbanging you in hell!’

So what can the Hobo possibly hope to do in the face of such evil? Well, the Hobo holds out for as long as he can. He even debases himself to a Bum Fights-style filmmaker. The guy in question gleefully makes the Hobo eat glass for a few bucks and makes him take the money with his mouth. And Hauer’s acting in this scene is great. Everything is in the eyes - the confusion, the anger and the resignation; he manages to look just like a dog.

Once the Hobo gets to the pawn shop to pick up his lawnmower, it’s overrun by a gang of robbers. They threaten to shoot a baby and the quivering shopkeeper hands over his cash. But its not enough and the criminals become even more desperate. It’s here, with the lawnmower in his hands, that the Hobo sees a shotgun on the wall. Luckily it also costs $50 (and seems to be miraculously full of ammo) and the Hobo blows the thieves away. The choice has been made: the sentimental dreams have been exchanged in favour of grim reality. The Hobo is going to make these criminals pay.

The Hobo works his way through town, killing pimps and scumbags with reckless abandon. Perhaps my favourite slaying is his killing of a paedophile Santa Claus. Santa’s head almost completely explodes. But the Hobo saves the best for Slick. The Hobo kills him by blowing his penis off. A very apt death for a sex-obsessed psychopath who at one point literally saws into the heroine’s neck. This is maybe the Slick’s idea of penetration - to be hacking away at a woman’s flesh.

But it’s both a joyous and a disappointing moment to see Slick get killed. It’s joyous because he’s a fucking punk, but it’s disappointing because he’s such a great antagonist. Every time he’s on the screen, the film is even more despicably entertaining. But in a surreal moment, we get to see Slick carted off to hell in the back of the school bus where he incinerated lots of children.

This moment, however, seems positively normal to what comes later. Enraged by his son’s death, The Drake calls for ‘The Plague’. I can remember at the time asking myself what The Plague was. Well, turns out it’s a pair of armour-clad demons. These guys, dressed like steam-punk assassins on steroids, slaughter an entire hospital-full of people to get to the Hobo. Once they have him, they stick him in a metal coffin and drag him to The Drake on the back of their motorcycles. Oh, and in one scene, we see The Plague fighting a massive pet octopus?!?? Yes, for me, this only adds to the enjoyment of this crazy film.

But just when you think that The Plague is some sort of unbeatable, undead Legion of Doom duo from hell, one of them gets slaughtered by The Hobo’s partner, an armour-clad prostitute called Abby who has a weaponised lawn-mower motor. She uses the motor to kill one half of the duo and then the other half, who kind of resembles a low-rent Doctor Doom, asks her to join him. The Hobo gets involved and says no and the second half of The Plague just walks off. Yep, it’s a weird sequence.

In the same scene, Abby also gets her arm cut off by The Drake and she then begins stabbing him with the exposed bone. How the hell can this film possibly end, you think? Well, the Hobo kills The Drake and then the cops kill the Hobo. But then the cops end up getting slaughtered by the general populace. The final shot is of the shotgun on the floor.

What to take from this film? I’m not sure how much political or social commentary there is here. It’s certainly not on par with RoboCop. But maybe its a criticism of a society that has become so desensitised that it is literally amusing itself to death.

Maybe it’s also playing on our fear of the poor. Part of the story involves The Drake forcing the general populace to kill every hobo in town, otherwise he’ll make everyone suffer. The people are easily intimidated and do The Drake’s biding. Unfortunately, this is pretty close to reality. Politicians and media outlets are always playing on the people’s fears and the poor are an especially easy target. People certainly hate the poor more they should and hate the rich less - the rich deserve far more contempt than they receive.

But the greater, albeit more shallow, joy to take from Hobo is in how well filmed it is. For such a cheap film, it’s looks wonderful. There are some great shots and the use of colour in some scenes kind of reminded me of Dick Tracy. And in a couple of moments the film succeeds in actually being a little creepy. There’s a scene where the Hobo is in a police station talking to the Chief of Police and you cut to a shot of Ivan’s grinning mug as he slowly slinks into the room. The colour, the composition and Ivan’s smug smile make it a weirdly memorable visual.

In such a brutal film the two protagonists are also pleasingly sympathetic and likeable. Yes the Hobo is clearly bonkers, going on as he does about bears and talking to his brain, and yes Abby is a cliched hooker with a heart of gold, but they’re two bright sparks in a sea of shit. And with their silly dream of opening a lawnmower business (‘You grow it, we cut it!’) they remind you that mankind isn’t totally fucked. While we still have the power to have sentimental dreams, while we still have the ability to empathise with other people and while we can still summon an appropriate level of outrage at the degradation of those weaker than us, we’re still human...even if we need a huge shotgun to express it.

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