Big Ronnie is not the Greasy Strangler. Or so he says. Either way, someone is, and someone is a bullshit artist. Big Ronnie might be smooth, but his son Big Brayden suspects his father is the Greasy Strangler. Brayden loves Janet, but Big Ronnie thinks she is a bullshit artist. Janet can’t decide if she loves Brayden or not, so tries Big Ronnie on for size, after he watches her pee; he’s not called “big” for nothing. His knowledge of disco is smooth; “no one knows Disco” like Big Ronnie. His disco pants have an open crotch. He loves to eat grease. Meanwhile people are being killed in horrific ways. Strangled, and then parts of their bodies consumed. Their heads are ripped off. Their eyes eaten. Their brain matter digested. The only clue, piles of yellow grease left at the scene and a trail of bodies that just continues to grow.
Part John Waters, part Steptoe and Son, and part The Oily Maniac, Jim Hosking’s breakout indie hit The Greasy Strangler is a bit of an enigma that proves difficult to resist, once it gets its dirty mitts on you. It’s gross, disgusting in fact. It makes you question your own sanity. It revels in absurd and profane humour. It is an absolute riot from start to finish. Rarely is an energy so fresh and so gloriously obscene let loose in today’s “don’t step on my feelings” culture of apologetic cinema. One thing is for sure, director Hosking doesn’t appear to care. Neither do I. I have always found there is a special sort of liberation to be found in allowing yourself to fully immerse and enjoy rare experiences such as these. And you can find liberation too, if you can get past choking on your own vomit as a naked and well built Big Ronnie fondles a grease drenched grapefruit in an act of seduction, that is. Adding to the charm, you also have a series of catchy quotable catchphrases— that are already hurtling toward icon status—to relish. Phrases like “bullshit artist”, “smooth”, and “hootie tootie disco cutie” (the latter must be chanted whilst psychotically pointing alternate shoulders in time to the beat).
But there’s more, because despite the cunt references, the random acts of grotesque freakery, stomach churning, mind boggling, absurdist shock humour, The Greasy Strangler offers something far more complex. Deep down, under that grimy facade, is a solid tale about love: parental love, first love, unrequited love, lost love. Hosking and Toby Havard’s script is a lot more sophisticated than immediately apparent: the punchline is, they actually make you care. This all stems from the fractious relationship between Brayden and Ronnie and the dynamic surrounding that. Just like Albert Steptoe and poor old Harold, in the aforementioned classic British sitcom Steptoe and Son, Ronnie can’t seem to stand to see his son happy—he would rather keep him at home, doing the chores, cooking for him as he screams for more grease on his food—and Brayden can’t escape his father’s clutches, no matter how much he tries. Likewise, for all his bravado, jeering and undermining, Ronnie needs his son; his spiteful venom stems from his own insecurities and fear of being alone, from the trauma of marital breakdown.Somewhere along the road, in amongst all this chaos, old wounds are healed; even if it does take a spot of murder and cannibalism to act as the catalyst.
In many ways it is clear this is the work of a British director, even though he relies on an international cast; with the humour in keeping with our bleak, dark, cynical roots. There are references that spread much further afield than Steptoe, that follows British tradition; you have the archetypal underdog you can root for (Brayden, with his acute sensitivity) and pantomime villain (Big Ronnie) who is fuelled by his own sense of insecurity and self loathing, but still manages to elicit some weird kind of sympathy you can’t really explain, despite acting like a complete prick. The film also crosses into contemporary British comedy too, with similarities to the surreal and outrageous Little Britain (the “potato” joke wouldn’t be out of place here) and The League of Gentleman. That is not to say that The Greasy Strangler copies elements of any of these shows in any substantial way. It is more like a kindred spirit, with Hosking’s piece standing firmly on its own feet in terms of originality and anarchic style.
The performances across the board are wonderful. There isn’t one weak link to be found. Each actor is put through their paces and rises to the challenge with zeal. Kudos to the three main players Michael St Michaels (Big Ronnie) Sky Elobar (Big Brayden) and Elizabeth De Razzo (Janet), for having to strip off for a large portion of the running time— although they are spared from going full frontal by the guys wearing some hilarious prosthetic dicks, and Janet boasting the best hairy mirkin every commited to celluloid— and also for acting out some disgusting situations, yet clearly lapping up every minute.There is a tremendous amount of energy between the trio that translates into sublime comic tragedy; often delving into the most surreal and freakishly whimsical territory, with the mix between splatstick comedy and dramatic nuance proving well balanced. Elobar, in particular, is thoroughly loveable; even though you wouldn’t really want to touch him or have him anywhere near you. The sex scenes between him and co-star De Razzo, are perversely fascinating and absolutely revolting all at the same time. While Michael St Michael’s portrayal of Big Ronnie steals every scene he appears in; waving his massive penis around, spouting off stories of his disco days, where, according to him he was a bit of a big shot (but he is now reduced to selling “disco tours”, and wearing a matching pink outfit with the son he professes to loathe so much). Wherever he appears, he is being either spiteful or sleazy, or a combination of both, and he is an absolute joy to watch every second he is on screen.
Stylistically Hosking opts for a lurid comic book aesthetic, in keeping with the energy of the script. The violence is over the top, aligning in many ways with the gloriously OTT, but in not any way realistic, J-splatter movement or Troma (think low budget CGI that only appears to work with this particular style of cinema). Heads exploding, eyes popping out; one guy gets his face punched in before he perishes; another, who doesn’t have a nose in the first place, has his brain matter eaten up, scooped out from the gaping hole in the middle of his face. While the colour scheme is as bold as the jokes; sickening yellows and pinks highlight all the way through, adding to the nauseating effect. The soundtrack— provided by Andrew Hung (Fuck Buttons) — just ramps up the eccentricity of it all; tracks with names like Get On the Greasy, Stoned on Fart Fumes, Oily Grapefruit and Brightly Coloured Pills, conjure a fun circus vibe by way of a simple 80s electronica inspired soundscape. This comprises of crude repetitive hooks, many of which sound like they belong in a Commodore 64 game, beefed up with funk, the odd bit of electric guitar and some catchy vocal samples.
The film boasts some big name producers; including Ben Wheatley and Elijah Wood. Although it is listed as a US production, it is important to note it is also part funded by BFI money, which provides an interesting juxtaposition in terms of its status as an American film, with an extremely offbeat British vibe, interpreted by Stateside actors.
So, don’t be a bullshit artist and check out The Greasy Strangler today. Guaranteed to make you feel utterly sick to your stomach for all the right reasons. Smooth.