The problem with being a cinephile who likes to make new discoveries is that sometimes you encounter a film that leaves you utterly confused as to what you just watched. I am not talking about the grandiose and philosophical masterpieces cinema has harbored in the past, such as The Tree of Life and Inception. I am talking about a film that just leaves you at a loss for words about how something like that could have ever been made. When I heard about The Greasy Strangler, I was curious and somewhat intrigued. After having watched it, I am not entirely sure what in the world I just saw, and I am still pretty shocked. The film was outrageous, disgusting and there isn’t any reason in the world for this film to have been made – and I loved it.
Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and his son, Brayden (Sky Elobar) are a pair of offbeat, slightly-disturbed bachelors who run a disco walking tour in an unnamed city. Brayden is an eccentric man-child who longs for affection to be free of his abusive and cruel father. Big Ronnie is a misanthropic, short-tempered curmudgeon who has a peculiar hobby – he greases himself up and kills anybody that slightly insults or angers him, and often eats their eyeballs. The latter part is actually one of the least disturbing aspects of this film. When a young woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) enters into their lives, father and son fight for her affection. I will not explain the plot further, because some of the most incredibly deranged moments are best left to be experienced, and I would hate to spoil the rest of the film. However, I can assure you that this film is far more disgusting and disturbing than I have made it appear.
I was confused as to why this film was composed of a cast of incredibly obscure Z-list actors. I thought they’d be able to coax at least one recognizable name to be in this film – it had high production values for what it was (and it is strange when the most recognizable actor in your film is the man who played a tiny role in Adam Sandler’s Blended). I soon realized why this was – there isn’t an actor alive who would dare touch this film. I have to give kudos to the actors in this film, particularly the three leads – they were certainly team players and pushed themselves to giving performances I doubt even our finest actors would ever dare to do. What St. Michaels, Elobar and De Razzo do in this film can only be described as a putrefying version of Shakespeare. The performances are actually revoltingly terrible – with the exception of De Razzo (who isn’t nearly that bad), everyone in this film is artificial, over-the-top and excessive – the line deliveries are horrendous, the chemistry is non-existent and all the actors rely on lame jokes. Yet this was an absolute genius move, because if even vaguely believable performances were given in this film, The Greasy Strangler wouldn’t come close to being as fun and outrageous as it turned out to be. I am not advocating for bad performances – but we have to admit that we can’t have subtle, moving performances in every film, and sometimes a horrible performance is just as entertaining (if you want further proof, refer to the fact that The Room is one of the most endearingly brilliant films ever made).
What I loved about The Greasy Strangler is how it comes off as a blend of various styles and influences. I have not been shy about the fact that I adore John Waters, and The Greasy Strangler comes off as the most Waterian film in years, and considering that The Pope of Trash himself has retired from filmmaking, it seems like he has managed to leave quite a legacy behind, clearly influencing the likes of The Greasy Strangler’s Jim Hosking and Suburban Gothic‘s Richard Bates Jr. (with whom Waters has worked twice). The Greasy Strangler continues the tradition of absolutely shocking and revolting cinema. The quirkiness of this film, combined with the fact that it is utterly, gut-wrenchingly gross, reminds me of so many great films that just go way to far, but are unflinching in how they are proud of their own disgusting nature.
I want to give a major disclaimer here – this film is absolutely not for the faint of heart. It is one of the most grotesque films I have ever seen. I won’t pretend that I am adept at handling excessive films, but I still consider myself someone who can handle a lot when it comes to films going too far. I found myself actively cringing and screaming out loud at various moments in this film – it is unbelievably disgusting – there is so much macabre humor that Hosking never attempts to downplay – and while a more restrained director may choose to imply rather than to show, Hosking throws it in the face of the audience. There were so many moments where I wanted to turn off the film and run for the hills, but I managed to get through it (one of the longest 93 minutes of my life), and it was worth it, because the film becomes so surreal and incredibly strange, it almost feels like a spiritual enlightenment. The Greasy Strangler is most certainly not for everyone – in fact, I expect this to appeal to an incredibly small group of people. This is not simple escapism – this is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen – and I am so glad I watched it, maybe because it was hilarious and very quirky, but also because it makes A Nightmare on Elm Street look like a children’s movie. I think I’ll go and watch Saw as a detox after this film.
The Greasy Strangler is a strange film, and that is an understatement if there ever was one. I fully expect this to become a cult film that will be the joy of many. It is a film I don’t think I want to watch again – but I would implore anyone who thinks they can handle it to see if they can manage to make it through. Underneath the disgusting nature of this film, there is something very entertaining and quirky, and while it isn’t for those with a weak stomach (and anyone who wants wit and smart humour need not apply – The Greasy Strangler is a hilarious film, but its comedy comes from how dumb and absurd it is), anyone who wants to see something utterly bizarre and off-the-wall may love it. I think it is one of the most original film experiences I’ve had in years, and while I feel pretty disturbed after watching it, I could easily see this as being one of the best films of the year – just because it is so original, so audacious and just plain bonkers.
One more thing – I was shocked and pleased to see that Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley both served as executive producers on this film – it made me feel a bit more comfortable to know that this film was grounded in reality.