It’s a hold holds barred crowd pleaser.
As with so many hip things in life, we tend to look to the past for inspiration. Whether it’s fashion, music or film, we are forever digging deeper and finding new depths to exploit and give that modern twist to, yearning for those days when we were kids and finding safety in Christmas’s past. The strip mining of exploitation films of the 70s and 80s has been spearheaded by one Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps strip mining is too harsh a term, but he’s certainly tapped a vein that prospectors young and old have descended upon with vampiric fervour.
While working on his sixth film Grindhouse, the Fanboy Extraordinaire decided to pay tribute to the trailer phenomena by inviting fellow directors to create their own exploitation inspired trailers. Shedding light on what may at first seem an odd thing to obsess about, let alone collect, trailers are a fascinating way to traverse the exploitation landscape in two minute snippets. Found on small forgotten 35mm trailer reels tucked behind stacks of dust covered tins of rotting celluloid or pilfered from static-ridden, tracking-defying VHS tapes, these 120 second gems give you exciting glimpses of outrageous films, some renowned, some lost, and some never even completed. Little bundles of exploitation history, so full of promise and energy. Each trying to outdo the last.
The floodgates of this otherwise overlooked pastime were thrust wider when Grindhouse co-director Robert Rodriguez announced a competition at SXSW for the best fake exploitation/grindhouse trailers as part of the feature’s promotion; Grindhouse itself being a tribute to those films of a time gone by, a double feature recalling those hallowed pits of infestation on Forty Deuce. Canadian Jason Eisener, already a fan of genre films, leapt at the chance and fired off his Hobo with a Shotgun fake trailer. His entry was wildly received and Eisener was no doubt elated at the opportunity to have his work screened alongside the likes of Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Robert Rodriguez’s own faux trailers.
Fakes they may have been, but the trailers were perhaps the best-received aspect of the ill-fated Grindhouse venture, and talk soon turned to making the fictional features a reality. The first feature spawned from these little glimpses was Rodriguez’s own Mexploitation flick, Machete, which had been stuck in development hell since 1993, and whilst the likelihood of ever seeing Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS is sadly slim to none, Hobo with a Shotgun was a sure thing. The simple idea of the pump action derelict, defender of moral codes of society struck chords with audiences across the world, and even though Grindhouse was released in most other territories as two separate films, Death Proof and Planet Terror (losing most of the faux previews along the way), Eisener‘s trailer took on a life of its own and went viral, its popularity giving him the chance to take his Hobo to Hollywood.
In 2008, Eisener, no doubt reeling from all the excitement, went on to direct his Treevenge short film, itself a tribute to genre films of the 70s and 80s, albeit with a distinct twist. A dark Christmas tale of trees taking – you guessed it – revenge for the genocidal vigour with which humans chop them down and separate them from their wooded families and forested homelands, before torturing and demeaning them with tarty displays of baubles and tinsel. Following much the same style, Hobo with a Shotgun is a relentless trip down memory lane, tipping its ragged old beanie cap to each and every film it passes along the genre high street. Eisener knows his source material, be it over-the-top Italian knockoffs or American sleaze, and this modern day grot-fest strikes a pleasurably nostalgic nerve.
Rolling into frame in a boxcar, our hero (played by Rutger Hauer) unknowingly disembarks in Hope Town, a community which has succumbed to the worst of human corruption and criminality. Immediately thrust into the thick of it, he witnesses various acts of exploitation and brutal murder before finally falling victim to the local police force, themselves fully complicit in the town’s degradation. Upon release he realises that there is no greater justice, just us; and in Hope Town, there isn’t even an us.
Hauer’s hobo, desperate, cynical yet defiantly moral, proceeds to wage a one man war on Hope Town’s ruling authority, the vile, vengeful Drake, a criminal overlord without a spare scruple, whose two sons are free to do whatever they want, wherever they want. Looking like the evil twins of Tom Cruise in Cocktail, raping and pillaging are the least of their crimes as they rampage through the crime-infested town. Killing and destroying everything that even considers getting in their way, striking fear into the hearts of the helpless populace. And the only thing that can stand up to them is… a hobo, with a shotgun.
You could start to wonder about this film, perhaps you feel inclined to pull allegories out of the air. Thinking about a homeless traveller who falls in love with a prostitute, sharing his wisdom with her. Demanding repentance from the sinners, sacrificing himself so that others can be free…. But you know, Christ! It’s a cheap exploitation film full of snapping bones and geysers of blood.
Premièring at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and subsequently hitting our shores with the double whammy of a UK première at Glasgow Frightfest and a London preview as part of Bizarre Magazine’s CUT! series and most recently a London première courtesy of Midnight Movies, Hobo with a Shotgun has been receiving nothing but adoration from critics and fans alike. Casting off the Hollywood studio shackles as only a truly independent film can, Hobo is from start to finish a true crowd pleaser.
And so, as we forever try to move forward, advancing our chosen arts, we nevertheless continue to look backwards for inspiration. Be it Ti West’s period piece, House of the Devil, masterfully recalling the days of the satanic panic, Machete, with Danny Trejo as the Mexican super cop relentlessly charging through corruption at every level, or with Jason Eisener’s instant sleaze classic Hobo with a Shotgun. All films drawing on their past, learning from it and adapting it for today. This new wave of grindhouse looks set to to stick around for awhile. Stalwarts may cringe and complain, but ultimately, cheap exploitation isn’t about the art or some misguided sense of honesty and staying true. It’s about getting punters through the door and if they enjoy themselves enough to turn you a profit, then job’s a good ‘un.
Don’t over think it, just enjoy it.
You can catch Hobo with a Shotgun alongside the complete Grindhouse at the Prince Charles Cinema this Thursday, 14th July.