Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) are a father and son duo that live together and work together in the family business – fleecing tourists in a garishly fluorescent L.A. disco tour of spurious pedigree. Their prickly relationship soon becomes even more strained when they meet disco tour customer Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) and compete for her affections. Meanwhile, a slathered up serial killer known as The Greasy Strangler is offing community members in conveniently deserted locales.
What can one say about The Greasy Strangler, other than you have never seen anything like it before? First off the bat, it’s not a horror movie. It is an extremely juvenile black comedy. Horror fans looking for a fix are unlikely to find satisfaction in the strange, but relatively tame visuals on offer here. But fans of weirdo cinema can take unique delight in The Greasy Strangler’s crude existence.
Great films don’t have to be upbeat and enjoyable. Cinema can horrify, sadden and demand contemplation in equal measure. But has there ever been a movie with such a clear intent and singular dedication to getting on your nerves for an hour and a half? In its lesser moments, ‘Strangler delves into cod Family Guy territory and its awkward pauses, protracted silence and blunt force trauma repetition. In its better moments, it’s crass, gross-out mission statement and Neanderthal-level stupidity bring you to the crossroads of genuine laughter and shameful disbelief. The component parts mirror the film as whole – they shouldn’t work, they often don’t work, yet somehow you remain on board with this baffling love/hate double whammy.
The Strangler itself is a lumbering, snarling, inhuman monster, channelling the spirit of Christopher Lee’s Mummy for Hammer, or Peter Boyle’s straight-legged slapstick creation from Young Frankenstein. The rest of the cast look like Fury Road’s post-apocalyptic grotesques ditched the wasteland and rented a house in a rat hole L.A. suburb. It’s a freak show that wants you to laugh and baulk in equal measure at gutter humanity. Performances don’t really merit individual mention, as the entire cast shout and bicker and beat you over the head in the service of provocative annoyance.
Big Ronnie and Big Brayden are fitted out with macro and micro penis prostheses and let it all hang out for much of the movie’s duration. Confronting at first, the sight of penii quickly becomes ordinary, robbing it of the intended shock value and proving the old cliché that sometimes less is more (no pun intended). At times, The Greasy Strangler plays like outsider art. At other times, it is the bastard child of Napolean Dynamite and Dumb & Dumber. It’s not as funny as it thinks it is, it’s not as confronting as it thinks it is and it pales in comparison to its festival reputation… and yet… it is somehow captivating. It is a straight impossibility not to spend the entire week following a viewing of The Greasy Strangler secretly, repeatedly and gleefully singing “Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie” to yourself.
It’s like the cinematic equivalent of two siblings trying to annoy each other on a long road trip. Some laughs are had, but you need a lie down at the end of it.
It’s certainly debatable as to whether The Greasy Strangler would get the time of day from anyone without the involvement of producers Elijah Wood and Ben Wheatley, and the attendant festival hype. Nevertheless, ‘Strangler has been out there doing its own thing and its originality, if nothing else, should be applauded. It’s a genuine oddity and like a persistent head cold, it sticks around for days afterward.
So, should you watch it? Well, despite its flaws and overinflated reputation, it has an unfathomable appeal. All the components that should have you reaching for the ‘off’ switch combine to give it a demented watchabilty. Whether or not you will enjoy it, is a whole other question. Or am I just a “bullshit artist”?