Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Back when Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made Grindhouse they held a competition.  Famously, the movie itself had a number of fake trailers, but for its premiere at 2007's SXSW festival a number of homemade previews of exploitation and horror films were made for a contest run by director Robert Rodriguez.  One of my favorites was The Dead Won't Die, which featured a topless woman mowing down zombies with submachine guns.  Another favorite, and the eventual winner, was Jason Eisener's Hobo with a Shotgun.

The original featured David Brunt in the title role, cleaning up a city full of criminals and perverts.  It was well-made and a lot of fun, and it earned Eisener a little bit of prize money as well as the inclusion of Hobo with a Shotgun as one of the trailers in Canadian showings of Grindhouse.  Although both Planet Terror and Death Proof are good in their own right, the shorts were what really made the movie, and it was hoped that a few of them would be expanded into full films.  Although we never got feature-length versions of Eli Roth's Thanksgiving or Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS, Robert Rodriguez did give us a full-length version of Machete along with a sequel, Machete Kills!.  

While Rodiguez's films were decent, it seemed like, with Planet Terror, he couldn't get past winking at the audience throughout.  There was plenty of over-the-top gore and violence, as well as some scenes that one needs to live in the southwestern United States to get the humor, but most of what was in the full-length Machete didn't deliver anywhere near what the trailer promised.  The big surprise is that the other short that was made into a complete movie was Hobo with a Shotgun, with Rutger Hauer replacing Brunt in the title role, and John Davies, who wrote the script, expanding it into one of the strangest and most outrageous films of the time, while managing to capture that grindhouse feel better than Rodriguez and Tarantino did. 

An unnamed homeless man (Hauer) rides into Hope Town on the rail.  After he arrives he sees a lawnmower in a pawn shop window and tries to earn enough money begging to buy it and start his own lawn business.  Problem is, Hope Town is a place where dreams, and frequently people, go to die.  It is run by a crime lord called the Drake (Brian Downey) and his sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman).  They make the general population watch public executions of their enemies while supplying all of the drugs in the city, while letting the rest of the criminal element have free reign.  

After getting into a confrontation with Slick, knocking him out and trying to turn him into the police, the Hobo is beaten and mutilated.  He is rescued by Abby (Molly Dunsworth), a prostitute he saved from certain death by Slick.  After degrading himself to earn the last of the money he needs to by the lawnmower, he makes a split-second decision to fight back against the criminal element of Hope Town, buying a shotgun instead.  He soon becomes a hero to the people, but an enemy of the Drake.  After declaring war on the city's homeless population, the Drake hires a pair of bounty hunters, Rip (Bateman) and Grinder (Peter Simas), who are together known as the Plague.  They are given the job of  capturing the Hobo and bring him to the Drake for execution.  However, Abby has had enough as well, and decides it is time for her to make her stand. 

Hobo with a Shotgun definitely will test any regular audience from pretty much the beginning when the Drake executes his brother Logan (Robb Wells) and a stripper does a dance in the spray of Logan's blood.  That's not spoiling much, as it is one of the tamer scenes in a movie that features human piñatas, child molesting Santas and a tableau of The Last Supper made up of corpses.  It is also one of those movies that has that scene in it that sets it apart.  Surprisingly, and refreshingly, for a movie like this it doesn't involve rape, but it still might be a bit much for most people. 

Being the demented person I am, I loved every over-the-top minute of this.  It's loud, brash and nasty, just the way all those old exploitation posters promised movies would be and, unfortunately, rarely delivered.  Rutger Hauer is excellent, giving one of his usual intense but low-key performances, in contrast with Downey, Smith and Bateman chewing every line.  Molly Dunsworth is great throughout most of the movie as well, even if she does squeak a bit when giving her big rousing speech.  The big surprise is that throughout Hobo with a Shotgun both Davies and Eisener manage to surprise, as this could easily have been a one-note repetition of blood spraying and reprehensible acts to the point that it got boring.  The introduction of the two bounty hunters, known as the Plague, toward the end keeps things fresh.  As for David Brunt, the original Hobo, he shows up as a corrupt cop who has a thing for Abby. 

While it may be disappointing that many of the other Grindhouse trailers never saw a full realization, truth is most of them would have stumbled, either providing fun but forgettable entertainment like Machete or losing itself in Rob Zombie's directing tricks or Eli Roth's weird side stories.  Hobo with a Shotgun is a movie one does not easily forget.  I just hope some day Eisener and Davies get to shoot their prequel featuring the Plague, as the world definitely needs more of this deranged universe they created. 

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Time: 86 minutes
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman
Director: Jason Eisener


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