Jim Hosking, director and co-writer of The Greasy Strangler, wasn’t expecting people to be quite so disgusted by his film. “In the States, audiences said they found the grease to be really, really revolting,” he says, cackling to himself. “I can’t say that I even really thought that much about the grease.” This visceral response wasn’t limited to viewers, either. “When I was making it, I was feeling like I was making a comedy,” Hosking recalls, “and a lot of the crew, who were American, were blanching while we were filming various scenes. It just doesn’t feel that strange to me.”
When your film features scenes of grease being slathered over sausages, extended doggy style sex between two overweight misfits, and an elephantine prosthetic penis, these things are a matter of perspective. “I remember thinking, ‘For a film that’s got the word ‘greasy’ in the title, there’s not very much grease in this film,” says Hosking. “It was quite an arbitrary concept, it wasn’t like I had a fascination for grease and really wanted to film some.”
Disgusting or not, The Greasy Strangler is a weird film. It tells the story of disco-loving geriatric Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels) and his oddly-endearing son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), two men living in a community of oddballs and deviants, one of whom is being pursued by a murderer known as the Greasy Strangler, a larded-up sociopath who shrieks and grunts as he chokes his victims.
The Greasy Strangler’s identity isn’t exactly a secret; this isn’t a murder mystery. But in a film filled with obvious lies and strange repetition, it’s not entirely clear what is true and what is not – that is, until you see Ronnie, grease and all, brutally dispatch a group of miscreants outside a motel. The old man lives a double life for most of the movie: murdering drifters and a hapless hot dog salesman one moment, and taking baffled tourists on irrelevant tours of alleged “disco landmarks” with his son the next.
It’s on one of these tours that Brayden meets the flirtatious Janet (a brilliantly cringey Elizabeth De Razzo), the film’s only female character and de facto love interest. The two begin a strange love affair, until Ronnie steals Janet from his hapless son. While Brayden is heartbroken, he doesn’t seem to feel all that betrayed, grudgingly putting up with the sounds of his father and his girlfriend noisily copulating next door. “She’s probably the first woman that they’ve met in three-and-a-half years,” Hosking explains. “We really enjoyed writing a female character who was so liberated and brazen and manipulative. Maybe there aren’t enough female characters who just don’t give a fuck, who are just fun.”
“Brazen” is a good way to describe the film’s general ideological outlook. Nothing really matters all that much in this world: instead of calling the police when he finds out his father is a murderer, Brayden calls Janet, and the first detective on the scene is Ronnie in an unconvincing disguise. As Hosking puts it: “There’s just a lack of self-consciousness in all the characters that’s just funny to us, like it’s a completely amoral world where nobody bears any grudges.” The bleak landscape does a lot to heighten the oddness: run down houses, grimy deserted disco clubs and grotty RUVs all feature, and there’s a lingering sense that this band of misfits could actually be the last people on earth. It’s almost a little tragic. “I definitely wanted it to feel quite sad,” says Hosking.
Despite this, he is fully aware that his film is a difficult watch: scenes go on longer than they should and the pace of the plot, combined with an unnerving soundtrack by Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hong, makes for a viewing experience that will leave you questioning your choices in life. “The joke is in the fact that it keeps going and keeps going and keeps going, but then you either enjoy that, or you don’t. I wanted it to feel more like an immersion in a peculiar world and a style of speaking, it’s kind of purposefully claustrophobic and maddening and frustrating and irritating or even boring or alienating.”
Conversely, Hosking admits he’s not all that concerned about how the film is received. “Part of the appeal was to make something that outstayed its welcome,” says Jim. “Stretching scenes or stretching material further than it should. When I was writing it I would have been thinking, ‘God, how much can people take?’” In an age where comedy seems increasingly focused on social commentary and meta pop culture references, there’s something almost liberating about the film’s anarchic approach. Hosking’s work has been compared to Tim and Eric, but there’s also something of The Eric Andre Show in its aggressive surrealism. Greasy Strangler is absolutely ridiculous, sometimes infuriating, sometimes baffling, but it’s also loads of fun. Go see it – and make sure your popcorn is extra greasy.
Look out for Halloween screenings of The Greasy Strangler or buy it on Blu-ray and DVD now.
Published 31 Oct 2016
A dreadfully silly serial killer movie involving crotchless trousers, an all-night car wash and lots and lots of grease.
By Ewan Cameron
London meets its maker in this charming, frazzled shoestring road movie about two pals braving the apocalypse.