The first thing I am going to suggest with this review is to just go and watch this film. Seriously. The less you know about it the more you will enjoy it, and trust me, you will love it. Well, you might love it, depending on your sensibility and taste. Actually you might hate it, or you might be confounded and disgusted, but you should definitely watch it and then come back and read this review.
The Greasy Strangler is the feature debut from Jim Hosking, a British writer/director who is known for several shorts and a segment on ABC’s of Death 2. The Greasy Strangler is an uniquely singular piece of cinema. It takes it’s cues from early John Waters, demented kids cartoons, and any other absurdist works that exist in their own universe of bizarre logic. If you are a fan of unusual comedy of any sort then I highly recommend you go grab a copy of this and don’t read or watch anything about it beforehand. Please.
The Greasy Strangler featured in 2016’s Monster Fest, a film festival run by local cult film weirdo’s Monster Pictures. Monster have just released it locally, on DVD, BluRay and a JB Hifi exclusive double BluRay “Greasy Down Under” deluxe edition. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the double BluRay versions and my life has changed for the better. I am happier, healthier, and my hair is definitely fluffier.
OK, so you’ve made it this far. Either you have seen the film already, or you don’t care for my advice. I won’t be filling this reviews with spoilers, but I highly recommend going in as blind as possible to this film. You have been warned.
“Time to get up dad. You sleep alright?”
“Who likes milky coffee? Why not put a little grease in your coffee?”
“No dad, that sounds gross.”
“Why not put a little grease in your java? Why not try it?”
“You’re such a gross-out dad. I think I might barf.”
The Greasy Strangler opens in a dilapidated, filthy house. Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) is in the kitchen. He brings coffee to his father, Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels). The wallpaper is peeling off. You can almost smell the rising damp. Both men are in their underpants. The dialogue is stilted, the editing hangs just a little too long between the lines. There is a certain sense of wrongness that imbues the opening scenes of the film, which only intensifies as the story unfolds.
Big Ronnie and Big Brayden exist in their own universe. It looks like our world, but it is theirs and theirs alone. They live and work together, running a Disco Tour company, taking unwitting tourists to seedy doorways to tell them that the Bee Gee’s wrote “Night Fever” while waiting to be picked up for Chinese dinner. They wear matching pink turtlenecks and shorts. Big Ronnie dominates Big Brayden, their relationship is fraught. Yes, The Greasy Strangler is a story of a father and son coming together through adversity. St Michael’s Big Ronnie is a sneering, unpleasant bully. Elobar’s Brayden is a shy, submissive man-child. Their turbulent relationship is undermined with the introduction of Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), who flirts with Big Brayden who promptly falls in love with her. In the parallel universe in which the story lives, there is a murderer stalking the streets. The Greasy Strangler. Big Brayden begins to suspect that his father is The Greasy Strangler and tries to stop his murderous rampage.
On paper, this film seems fairly straightforward. Reading the above synopsis might put you in mind of a dark thriller, or a family drama. It is Jim Hosking’s tone and treatment of the story that really sets the film apart. The Greasy Strangler is a comedy, a dark and strange comedy. The bleakness of the settings supports the story. The depressing lives of our main characters are juxtaposed against ridiculous dialogue and even more outlandish actions. Big Ronnie loves grease. He chastises Brayden for cooking “dry food”, sausages with not enough grease. He pours grease on a grapefruit and molests it in a disturbing manner. He dunks his hot dog in a vat of discarded grease. He sneers and bullies, regretting his life as a father, as he had to discard his former dreams of disco stardom.
De Razzo’s Janet stirs up conflict between the pair. She plays the men off against each other for her own benefit. She is also the only female actor in the entire film, a deliberate decision on Hosking’s part. Janet’s introduction into the greasy world is the turning point of the relationship between father and son. It is her that provokes Big Brayden’s action to attempt to thwart the mysterious Greasy Strangler. It is Janet who causes momentum in this world of bizarre mundanity.
The Greasy Strangler is filled with over the top dialogue and visual gags. Co-writers Hosking and Toby Harvard are both British, and seemingly accidentally reinforce this strange world with their interpretation of “American” vernacular. In the commentary Hosking states that he thought he was writing an American script, while Elobar prods him on terms such as “shit-scared”, one he had never heard nor spoken before. There is a running joke about being a “bullshit artist”, which results in one of the best dialogue scenes in the film, during a turbulent altercation between Ronnie and Brayden. The “potato” sequence is also one of the funniest things I have seen in years, and comes from the directors real life encounter at an Indian restaurant.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the prosthetic phalluses that abound in this film. The characters seem to only dress when leaving the house, and the nudity is very natural. Hosking deliberately cast “normal” looking actors, and Elobar put on about 15 pounds for the role. The acceptance and portrayal of actors with normal body shapes shouldn’t be remarkable, but in the cinematic world in which we live, almost every actor needs to be beautiful, particularly when it comes to nudity or sex scenes. Speaking of sex scenes, the scene in which Big Brayden loses his virginity is also hilarious.
The premise of The Greasy Strangler is simple, but the execution is outstanding. It is a rare thing to find a film that is almost indescribable, and that shares a cinematic space with so few other works. The oeuvre of Quentin Dupieux comes to mind as a comparison, as well as the dark British humour of Chris Morris. The absurdity of John Waters’ films such as Desperate Living or Female Trouble might give you a sense of where this film is coming from.
Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung provides the original score, and manages to reinforce the strangeness even further. The music is very idiosyncratic, utilising cheap sounding keyboards and nursery rhyme melodies, and accents the film with a bizarre pseudo-narration with pitched up “chipmunk” vocals. The combination of look, performance and score really pushes this film over the edge into something truly unique. The costumes and locations also deserve praise. Every element of this film works to reinforce the final product so well.
Monster Pictures’ double disc edition contains plenty of great extras for the greasy aficionado, interviews with the cast and director, extras on the practical visual effects and horrible looking location the film was shot in, as well as Australian only extras such as the Q&A from the Monster Fest screening, a short of the Greasy Down Under bus trip to Ballarat and Sky and Elizabeth eating a selection of “Australian” foods.
I have tried to avoid describing the film too much, outside of the premise for a reason. The less you know about this is truly the better. It won’t appeal to everybody, but those it speaks to will cherish it and share it amongst their peers. The Greasy Strangler is undoubtedly destined for cult status, and it is very deserved. It was definitely my top film for 2016, and hopefully this local release will bring a lot more devotees to the greasy army. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I know it will be one film I will return to and enjoy each time I see it. Go forth today and get a copy. Buy one for a friend too, they will love you forever. Go on, get on the grease.
Again, the trailer contains many spoilers. BEWARE!