The big hit from this year’s ActionFest—and the first film to get me to attend a midnight show in some considerable time—comes to town for a regular run this Friday. And though it’s all more-or-less in twisted fun, let me say outright that Hobo with a Shotgun is not for the queasy or the weak of heart. If you’re on the delicate-sensibility side and don’t see the good in geysers of blood—however improbably juicy—this is probably not the movie for you. Even some gorehounds tend to think it goes too far, and I won’t deny that the word “restraint” is apparently not in director Jason Eisener’s lexicon. (The term “good taste” seems to be missing, too.) At the same time, I should note that my wife—who is not a gorehound, but is used to my tastes in these matters—merely found it “pretty silly” and wasn’t offended. Like the man says, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Personally, I think Hobo with a Shotgun is what downhome we’d call a “hoot.” Maybe two hoots. The title alone says it all. The idea is not dissimilar to other recent attempts to recreate—and top—grindhouse and drive-in fare of the 1960s and ‘70s. The biggest difference is that this comes closest to achieving that curious aim with its absurdly saturated Technicolor look, its utterly simplistic plot, and by working on the 2011 version of the kind of budget afforded the hacks that cranked out those earlier exploitation gems. It feels—well, authentic, but ramped up past what would have been attempted in sheer excess. That old drive-in fare generally had to satisfy the MPAA into giving them an R rating. (It’s actually amusing to envision those upstanding arbiters of taste sitting through such movies.) Hobo wisely chose to go out unrated, affording it a freedom those boys never had.
The story finds the Hobo (Rutger Hauer) riding the rails into a town that he’s unwisely chosen to settle down in. Considering he witnesses the rampant lawlessness of the place within a few minutes of his arrival—when the boss of the place, The Drake (Brian Downey), has a man’s head ripped off with a barbed wire noose while hookers dance in the spray of blood—it’s not real clear why he doesn’t hop a rattler to the next town. But then, there’d be no movie, so we don’t worry about that too much. The Hobo’s big ambition in life is to buy a lawnmower so he can start a yard-mowing business.
Unfortunately, he finds himself involved with a sympathetic hooker, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), who he takes a fatherly shine to—and who he bizarrely insists on thinking is a schoolteacher—and this leads him to become involved in the corruption of the town. Just when he has the money for the lawnmower, the pawnshop he’s in is beset by robbers who imperil the lives of a young mother and her child. So when he spies a pump shotgun that’s the same price as the lawnmower … well, let’s call it a career change. Once started (“I hate guns”), he sets out to clean up the town in various splattery ways.
This, of course, doesn’t suit the powers that be and is only the start of the mayhem, which continues in all manner of creatively tasteless ways for most of the rest of the film—there’s a little time-out for some stuff between the Hobo and Abby, and a scene where he addresses the babies in the hospital nursery, but it’s mostly juicy mayhem and affronts to good taste. And after all, isn’t that why you’d go to see a movie like this? Strangely, the film does have something on its mind concerning homelessness, and Hauer—who obviously understands how ridiculous all this is—manages to play it all with a degree of seriousness and a sense of humanity. But it’s mostly about exploitation for its own sake. That’s how it should be. Not Rated, but contains almost everything that could possibly be considered offensive and then some.