Hobo With A Shotgun
A lot of things have found themselves put to use as source material for a movie. The most obvious and subsequently popular choices are the more literary inclined options like novels, short stories and plays. Industrious screenwriters have branched out from there to include television series, comic books and even a song or two have become serviceable scripts. I figured if I watched films for long enough even jaded cinephiles as me would eventually be surprised. That day has finally come as I sit here to ponder the cinematic merits of a new movie ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’. The concept for this flick was derived from a Grind house trailer contest; in particular the ‘South by Southwest Grind house trailer competition host by Robert Rodriguez. Along with his friend and fellow filmmaker Quentin Tarentino, they revived the public interest in the peculiar art form known as Grind house flicks. Like many who came of age during the time these movies dominated drive-in theaters and broken down local movie houses throughout the country they developed a fondness for these cheap and quickly produced movies. Typically they fell into a broader general category; exploitation flicks. There were numerous subsets branching off this central variety ranging from black exploitation to horror thrillers and movies espousing the general use of gratuitous nudity and senseless violence. While shunned by the contemporary critical community, (if indeed the film was ever presented for review) and universally condemned by parents and civil authorities the flicks remained exceptionally popular with their target demographic consisting largely of teenage boys. The horror variation was usually great for a date film as the young lady would inevitably bury her face against you to protect her delicate sensibilities from the graphic carnage depicted on the tattered screen.
Using a trailer of this type of a movie is not as farfetched an idea as it may seem to those uninitiated into the legion of grind house fandom. One of the best parts of those Friday night showings was the trailers. In a matter of a couple minutes there was sufficient amount of sex and violence to put the flick on our radar for a future viewing. Frequently a hint of plot was revealed but typical of the genre these movies were never what you would refer to as plot dependent. The plot usually did not extend much beyond the meager innuendo provided by the trailer. In the case here, ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ the filmmaker successfully endeavors to recreate the essence of an exploitation flick. It posses every requirement that defines the genre and the fact that the normal progression of culling the trailer from the film comes across as a brilliant ploy relying on the shallowness of story the it a perfect commentary on Grind House.
The underlying foundation of this film is flimsy but it manages to incorporate as number of well known archetypes. Chief among these is the drifter, the loner cut off from the usual respect and protection afforded to those living within the safe boundaries established by society. The protagonist and titular Hobo (Rutger Hauer) is such a man; riding the rails around the countryside refusing to capitulate to the misfortunes of fate that have assaulted him. In a touch of heavy handed visualization of the prevailing sense of despair Hobo drifts into ‘Hope Town’ only the word hope had been painted over with Scum. ‘Scum Town’ was under the by the brutal Drake family headed by patriarch (Gregory Smith) and his enforcer sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith). Being part of this clan is no assurance of safety as The Drake’s brother Logan (Robb Wells) discovers during his beheading before a passive public. The main thing that is required in an exploitation flick is to quickly polarize the circumstances eliminating moral ambiguity for the audience. Filmmaker, Jason Eisener, quickly establishes Drakes and sons as the most reprehensible villains possible; ruthless and devoid of any socially redeeming qualities. He then sets up the Hobo on the relative moral high ground. He wants to raise $50 to purchase a serviceable used lawn mower planning on using it to provide a steady day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Unfortunately the Catch 22 is Hobo is without any resources to obtain the startup funds except to resort to panhandling. The juxtaposition this sets up is that Hobo is a man willing to work to provide for himself; "there but for fortune go you or I. " at one point Hobo follows Slick and Ivan into a building where they proceed to torture people basically for their amusement. A prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth) steps in when their attention is turned to s boy leading to the sick siblings turning their eye to her. Hobo intervenes and trying to bring in the police for help but they are corrupt, bought and sold by The Drakes. The Hobo, now unable to pursue his plan to raise cash resorts to so called ‘bum fights’, gladiatorial like fights using the homeless as well as other demeaning activities. Just as he was about to finally purchase his lawnmower he sees another and her child held at gunpoint. He grabs s shot gun also priced at $50 and rushes off to save the day; a hobo with a shotgun.
I’m not certain whether ‘Hobo’ is considered a politically correct term currently but grind house flicks never gave much concern about such matters. After all racial stereotypes were common place in these movies. Hobo takes on the trope of a man on a mission akin to the solitary gunman of the old west. He has no ties to the community he just wanders into town to right some wrong or destabilize a local crime boss and moves on anonymously into the night. This movie perfectly returns to the age when such films were the highlight of our week. School was out for the weekend and it was time to kick back and surrender to the moment. I can’t think of anyone other than Hauer in this role. At least not anyone who could pull off the combination of social pariah and vigilante with such an amazing degree of credibility.