Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 29th, 2011
Delivering justice one shell at a time
The 1970s is the decade most closely associated with the grindhouse theater. The Fifties had television, the Sixties the arthouse, and the Eighties saw the rise of home video, leaving only a brief time for exploitation fare to flower as it did in the grindhouse. All of which makes the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse that much more interesting, because rather than sticking completely in the 1970s, Grindhouse moves between eras. Sure, Death Proof is absolutely a product of the Seventies fascination with muscle cars and road movies, but Planet Terror felt more like an Eighties action flick mixed with a Seventies zombie opus. As if to balance the scales, when Rodriguez made a feature out of his trailer Machete, he went straight for a Seventies aesthetic, cleaving much closer to a traditional grindhouse vibe. Now, Hobo with a Shotgun is the second feature to come out of the Grindhouse camp (after winning a contest with a fake trailer). It returns to the Eighties for inspiration, offering an action-packed and gore-soaked take on the Eighties homeless genre (like Street Trash). It's a fun ride for fans of grindhouse, but the over-the-top atmosphere in Hobo with a Shotgun: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray) might be a bit much for some viewers.
A hobo (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner) rides the rails into Hope Town (a.k.a. Scum Town) with the hope of collecting enough money to buy a lawn mower and start a business. After jumping off the train, the hobo encounters a number of nasty people, including The Drake (Brian Downey, Lexx) and his boys. They control drugs and crime in Scum City. When the hobo sees one of the boys attempting to molest Abby, he intervenes, starting a war between this hobo (who naturally acquires a shotgun) and the criminal elements of Scum Town.
Planet Terror and Machete had a lot of influences, but Death Proof owes a lot of its existence to Roger Corman, who perhaps made more automotive-exploitation movies than anyone else. If Corman deserves credit for Death Proof, then Lloyd Kaufman should be getting a piece of Hobo with a Shotgun. Everything, from the focus on society's marginalized to the sometimes-ridiculous gore, has the aroma-du-Troma. Sure, its budget is about six times what Lloyd & Co. can afford to spend on a film, but it's all there: beheading, bleeding shotgun-wounds, even the occasional gratuitous naked breast, just with a hobo instead of the Toxic Avenger.
That's not a bad thing. Hobo With a Shotgun, by its very nature, is intended as a throwback to an earlier era of filmmaking, and it's nice to see the Eighties underground getting its due. Luckily, Hobo with a Shotgun isn't a mere Troma pastiche. The film also relies on Rutger Hauer's iconic status as the star of numerous genre flicks (like Blade Runner), and other Eighties flicks (like Street Trash). The result is a film that, surprisingly, feels timeless. There's very little to date the film (aside from Rutger Hauer's worn visage), and it wouldn't be too difficult to convince people that this is some kind of lost genre classic unearthed from somewhere between 1985 and 1995.
With a name like Hobo with a Shotgun, the film has surprisingly little to live up to. Fans want to see Rutger Hauer blow away some bad guys, and on that level the film works marvelously. In an 80-minute film, barely five minutes goes by without some kind of gore set piece, and Hauer gets plenty of screen time to glower and act indignant at the criminals infesting the city. On that level, Hobo with a Shotgun succeeds as a "check your brain off at the door" exploitation flick, and that's fine with me.
However, the Blu-ray release of Hobo with a Shotgun is really annoying. Don't worry, it's a fine release, and that's the problem. The original Grindhouse took an agonizing three years to come to Blu-ray, and the edition still wasn't definitive. Hobo with a Shotgun gets it right straight out of the gate, with an extras-packed release. The AVC-encoded transfer does a great job with Hobo's oversaturated visuals. This is a film that wants the screen to bleed, and the deep blacks and strong colors testify to that. However, there are a few moments where compression problems detract from the otherwise strong level of detail. They're few and far between, but nitpickers might find them a turn off. The audio is similarly impressive. With the word "shotgun" in the title, a strong low end is key, and this DTS-HD track delivers. Dialogue is crisp and clear in the center channel, the score is well-balanced (and straight out of a John Carpenter film), and the shotgun blasts with appropriate fury.
Extras, though, are where this disc really shine. First up is "Shotgun Mode," which allows fans to watch forty-four different behind-the-scenes clips by pressing on their remote when the crosshairs pop up. Rather than picture-in-picture, these hi-def clips show up full screen, and are also accessible from the extras menu. Then we get a pair of audio commentaries. The first is a low-key track featuring Hauer and director Jason Eisener talking about the film and its genesis; they're rarely quiet, but the track isn't as info-packed as I'd like. In contrast, the second commentary is a group affair, with Eisener, writer John Davis, producer Rob Cotterill, and David Brunt (who played the hobo in the first trailer). This gang share stories, and more importantly, a list of influences on the film. It's both fun and informative. Then we get a few deleted scenes and some unused footage (mainly of gore). Focusing more on the making of the film, we get Fangoria interviews with Hauer and Eisener, and a 45-minute making of and a 5-minute HDNet special on the film. For fans of small things, we also get a few video logs from the production and some camera tests. All of these extras, amazingly, are in HD. The extras switch to standard def for a collection of trailers, including the original Hobo trailer, plus a few red bands and a TV spot. Hobo had its own trailer contest, and the winner (Van Gore) is included here.
Hobo with a Shotgun isn't out to change the world. It's a gross, violent, unapologetic throwback to a much earlier era of filmmaking.
The title alone should be a big clue as to whether the film is for you, 'cause this is one flick that lives up to its name. We get a hobo, a shotgun, and lots of bodies. If that's your cup of tea, pick up this excellent Blu-ray release knowing that the presentation is top-notch and the extras excellent.
Hobo with a Shotgun is out for justice, and totally not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Shotgun Mode
* Deleted Scenes