Following in the footsteps of last year's Machete, Hobo With A Shotgun marks the second film to be spawned from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's ode to the murkier side of cinema, 2007's surprise box-office bomb Grindhouse. Unlike the mock Machete trailer which kick-started that film, Jason Eisner's Hobo With A Shotgun began life as the winning entry in a companion competition for filmmakers to come up with their own faux trailers, and had to settle for playing before the main feature in select cinemas across Canada (though it can also be found amongst the Grindhouse DVD/Blu-ray Special Features). While the Machete spin-off would eventually go on to be co-written and co-directed by Rodriguez and attracted an array of Hollywood talent, Hobo With A Shotgun is entirely more authentic in its low budget interpretation of exploitation cinema of old, with added levels of video-nasty style cheap shocks and plenty of gore.
In fact, the violent nature of Hobo With A Shotgun is probably the only real lasting memory that the majority of viewers will leave cinemas with, but after wiping away the bucketload of corn syrup that glazes much of the film, there are hints of a good natured and well meaning piece that attempts to address such lofty concerns as social exclusion, the desensitisation and compliance of audiences, and the acceptance of corruption throughout organisational structures.
Let's be honest with ourselves, though. The level of moral messaging achieved by any film that features a villain torching a school bus full of children with a flamethrower is going to be limited to say the least. If you came for the schlock, the grit and the guts, you’ll enjoy the ride. Even for those less easily offended, Hobo With A Shotgun can prove to be a tough proposition at times.
Opening with a nostalgically over-saturated traincar ride through nowheresville USA, Rutger Hauer’s titular Hobo finds his way to the aptly renamed Scum Town in his search of a new home. The warm tones of the opening montage are soon replaced by oppressive and muted greys as the optimism of the 70s inspired introduction swiftly fades. All the Hobo finds for his troubles is near irreparable hardship and brutality as he makes his way through the streets hacking and coughing, shopping cart in tow.
The man at the centre of the cities problems, a nefarious crime lord named Drake (played by a wonderfully flamboyant LEXX star Brian Downey) makes examples of anybody foolish enough to interfere with his reign of terror, including his own brother, who we see dispatched early in to the film via a unique and messy method of decapitation.
Drake’s sons Ivan and Slick are learning the ropes of the business, and are looking to strike out on their own as crime lords in-the-making by dealing in their own brand of violence, drugs and prostitution. When about to perform some unspeakable act against defenceless hooker-with-a-heart Abby, the Hobo takes the initiative against the evil organisations favourite son. His rebellion is short lived however, as our unlikely hero learns that the city’s bad blood runs deep, with even the police department in Drake’s pocket. Abby returns the earlier favour by rescuing the badly wounded Hobo, and their blossoming relationship of innocent and protector forms the heart of the narrative.
From there on out, Hobo With A Shotgun spews forth all the blood and guts that a gore-fiend could hope for, in a convincing replication of trashy drive-thru film that even manages to make a brief stylistic detour via way of European fetish film in its final act. In fact, seeing the film in a modern multiplex offers a strange moviegoing experience in itself - festival screenings or late night DVD marathons will suit the film's style and theme far better than a popcorn and Coke environment. The dialogue is suitably overblown and tacky, with some instantly quotable lines frequently cropping up, and even the end credits song alone (comprising of a reused theme from one of Canada's most beloved media exports) will provide fans of the genre a great deal to enjoy and discuss.
Amidst the vigilante chaos, the central relationship of Abby and the Hobo is engaging and believable enough to carry the viewer through the film and almost justifies the on screen madness. While most of the cast are Canadian unknowns (those accents are tough to hide), Hauer’s grounded performance is surprisingly moving, and makes his grotesque journey worth making for a reason other than the ludicrous violence that genre fans will no doubt delight in. It’s not quite as reflexive and clever as its creators may think, but it’s very hard not to love a movie that features a trio of baseball bat wielding topless models playfully beating on a suspended victim like a meat piñata as a backdrop to character dialogue.
Hobo With A Shotgun is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray August 1st.