"...and who the fuck are you?"
"Put the knife away, kid, or I'll use it to cut welfare checks from your rotting skin."
"Well, you better cut one to Mother Teresa so you can give it to her while she's fingerbanging you in Hell!"
"Shut your filthy mouth! Mother Teresa is a Goddamn saint!"
...and then that nameless hobo pulls out a sock filled with change he got from panhandling and breaks it over the punk's head.
I mean, you're gonna read something like that and think, "well, I guess I have to see Hobo with a Shotgun now" - or - you're heaving some unnecessarily loud sigh and clicking off to read a review
of anything else, ever. No surprise here which side I fall on. When I was 13 or 14, I was obsessively watching USA Up All Night, I'd even tape it every weekend so I could give schlock like Hell Comes to Frogtown and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell another look whenever I wanted, I had a dog-eared copy of Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In that I kept handy for easy reference, and I spent big chunks of my weekly allowance gobbling up VHS copies of every Troma movie I could get my grubby little hands on. Hobo with a Shotgun would've been Junior-High-Adam's favorite movie ever, and there's more than enough of that geeky little kid left in me to feel pretty much the same way now.
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A bunch of grindhouse homages have been churned out over the past few years, smirkingly looking back on '70s exploitation with all the tits, buckets of blood, and complete lack of restraint you'd expect. There's just always something so...post-modern or whatever about them, though, with clunky digital effects, painstakingly crafted terrible dialogue, and that annoying feeling that their goofy senses of humor are shouting "get it? get it? get it?" at you for an hour and a half straight. If they'd been released 35 years earlier alongside the movies that inspired 'em, hardly any would actually pass as authentic. Hobo with a Shotgun, meanwhile, wouldn't feel even a little bit out of place in a drive-in double feature with Street Trash back when Debbie Gibson was still topping the charts. While all those other directors have been turning to the early-to-mid 1970s for inspiration, director/co-writer Jason Eisener grew up with splatterfests from the '80s, so Hobo with a Shotgun kind of comes across as the best movie Troma never made: dementedly over-the-top violence (and certified 100% CGI-free!), a spastic sense of humor, theatrically oversized badniks, a shit-kicking outsider hero type, and a short enough runtime to leave 'em wanting more. It's not a spoof. It's not a parody. It's a hand-to-God
exploitation flick from 1987 that somehow just wound up being produced in 2010 instead.
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The title tells you just about everything you need to know about the plot of Hobo with a Shotgun, but I'll keep going on anyway. A nameless bum (Rutger Hauer) rides the railways over to Hope Town, and with a name like that, you're probably expecting rainbows and unicorns and all the Whos in Whoville singing together in perfect harmony. ...but no, not so much. This city is a festering open wound where crime is rampant and every last one of the cops are on the take. Drake (Brian Downey), the local crime lord in that snazzy white suit, doesn't even pretend to give a shit, not content to just openly murder his enemies in broad daylight but gussying up the whole thing like it's some kind of network game show. That hobo with no name just pushes his cart right past it all, staring longingly at an old lawnmower in a pawn shop window...his little slice of the American (or Canadian or whatever) dream. Oh, but when he storms into that pawn shop with the change he's collected and some Bumfight cash, he doesn't buy a lawnmower; no, he buys a fucking shotgun. Seen too much. Pushed too far. This hobo starts cleaning up the streets, gunning down every pimp, pusher, rapist, thief, and corrupt cop he comes across. 'Course, the bad guys push right back, and it's open season on the homeless...
If you've seen the $120, two minute version of Hobo with a Shotgun -- y'know, that trailer that was on the Grindhouse Blu-ray disc and attached to Canadian screenings of that double-feature a few years back -- then you've gotten a very small taste of just how gleefully demented and batshit insane the multi-million dollar, feature-length version is. So much of the violence is deliriously over-the-top. When someone gets blasted by that shotgun, they're flung twenty feet across the room and a geyser of blood starts gushing out. You're looking a bumper car head crushing, an oversized mallet-to-the-foot, barbed wire garrotting, glass chewing, charbroiled kiddies, electrocution courtesy of everyday household appliances, a hooker versus a hacksaw, a couple of assassins in full metal armor, a masturbating pedophile Santa's head exploding, ice skate-fu, crane-fu, grappling hook-fu, lawnmower-fu...it's the
sort of cacklingly, awesomely ridiculous splatter you'd get outta Class of Nuke 'Em High or a Toxic Avenger flick, and the bad guys play it big, broad, and theatrical. The thing that makes Hobo with a Shotgun work -- that lets it stand out as more than just a campy '80s throwback -- is that with as absurd and cartoonish as everything else in the movie is, Rutger Hauer and Molly Dunsworth (as Abby, the hobo's twentysomething prostitute sidekick) play it completely straight. I mean, when dialogue's traded like "You can't solve all the world's problems with a shotgun" / "It's all I know", Hauer approaches it like this is King Lear. There's a real gravity and emotional resonance to those two performances, and Jason Eisener works all that in without reams of exposition or ever dragging down the momentum of the flick. When some random prick with a gun explodes into bloody, pulpy mush, I'd laugh. That's kinda the point. When the tables are turned and Abby or the hobo are tortured...are mutilated...I'd cringe. Their suffering matters, and, well, that's kinda the point there too. If Hobo with a Shotgun hadn't had Hauer and Dunsworth to anchor it, I'd still probably have given the flick a thumbs-up 'cause I love splattercamp, but the two of them elevate it into an actual movie. Hauer couldn't be more perfectly cast, and Dunsworth is a pretty amazing discovery with this surely just the first of many, many feature film roles to come.
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Hobo with a Shotgun delivers everything I was hoping for from its title and that demented Grindhouse trailer, and...well, it delivers a whole helluva lot more while it's at it too. A movie this far out there definitely isn't gonna be for all tastes, seeing as how intensely negative the other two reviews of the movie on this site are, but...man, I loved the holy hell out of Hobo with a Shotgun. Of the huge stack of grindhouse homages over the past few years, this might be my favorite, and that's coming from the guy who gave Grindhouse a five-star review. It's an unrepentently trashy, offensive, deliriously over-the-top splatterfest...the sort of movie Troma always tried to make but hardly ever actually did. Goddamn, I love this. Highly Recommended.
It seems like pretty much every genre flick coming down the pike anymore -- especially all the grindhouse and '70s throwbacks -- wind up looking the same: gritty, grainy, bleak, and desaturated. Hobo with a Shotgun shrugs off just about all of that. Its palette is bright and hypersaturated, and you won't need to tune into Hobo's audio commentary to pick up on the influence of Suspiria or Inferno there. The photography sports really, really, really high contrast and deep, punchy black levels. Detail and clarity are both rock solid too. Unlike the Hobo with a Shotgun trailer shot for that Grindhouse contest a few years back, no speckling or damage have been digitally heaped on this time around. There is some artificial grain that I guess has been added to make the whole thing look more filmic, and that's pulled off really well. Hobo with a Shotgun could pretty convincingly pass for having been shot on 35mm even though it's a completely digital production, and for a gleefully trashy Troma throwback like this, that's kind of essential.
To make room for several hours' worth of high-def extras elsewhere on the disc, Hobo with a Shotgun's AVC encode kinda has to keep the bitrate low. Even after tossing on a beefy, lossless soundtrack, the encode for the movie still doesn't break the 16 gig mark. Generally, that's not a problem here, but the compression really struggles in the couple of scenes that are drenched in red. I don't mean this in some overly nitpicky looks-lousy-if-you-pause-then-press-your-nose-right-up-against-the-screen-and-squint kind of way either...these sequences wind up looking really noisy and unstable even at a normal viewing distance...enough to distract me, at least. Not that you can really tell from the tiny thumbnails below, but click to open them up to full-size if you wanna see what I mean:
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My list of gripes pretty much begins and ends with the unfortunate compression hiccups in those couple of scenes. Other than that, Hobo with a Shotgun looks more than a little bit incredible on Blu-ray. As I write this, at least, the two-disc DVD collector's edition has the same sticker price on Amazon as this Blu-ray set, so you're not even paying a premium for 1080p24 video and lossless audio. That's always appreciated.
Hobo with a Shotgun is packing a hell of a soundtrack. This 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is bolstered by a thunderous low-end, and with the wall-to-wall havoc unleashed here, it kinda goes without saying that the surround channels are pretty unrelenting too. Along with debris and various body parts scattered across the rear speakers, there's also a pretty nice sense of atmosphere. The film's dialogue is balanced cleanly and clearly in the mix too, and no hiss or distortion ever once creeps in. By far the best thing about Hobo with a Shotgun's audio is its score, composed by Russ Howard III, Adam Burke, and Darius Holbert. The music here is wildly eclectic: the gentle orchestral number that opens the movie that practically sounds like it's playing on vinyl, droning synths straight of a John Carpenter film, a punk-tinged new wave song as if The Dickies and Devo were caught a head-on collision, and cues that I'd swear were nicked from some Cannon Films music library. I mean, I even poked around on iTunes afterwards to see if I could buy the score on its own, and I pretty much never do that. No complaints or gripes at all.
Aside from a couple of commentary tracks, the only other audio options are subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.
So, yeah, there are a couple of extras here:
Tucked inside the case is a download code for a digital copy via iTunes. There's a BD Live icon on the menu, but the switch hadn't been flipped on for that as I write this. It may be worth keeping an eye on that, though...Magnolia/Magnet is one of the few studios out there that really takes advantage of this sort of thing. Hobo with a Shotgun comes packaged with an embossed slipcover for anyone keeping track at home.
- Shotgun Mode (HD): I know there are a lot of discs that are really into picture-in-picture video, but I've gotta admit: this is Blu-ray, and if the behind-the-scenes stuff was shot in high definition in the first place, gimme it in 1080p, not in some tiny little box in the corner of the screen. I guess someone at Magnet felt the same way 'cause that's what this Shotgun Mode does. If you dive into Hobo with a Shotgun with this feature flipped on, a little target will pop up every once in a while, and if you mash a button on your remote, it'll branch off to one of forty-four different behind-the-scenes clips. Even better, if you want to take a look at this stuff without having to rewatch the movie, every last bit of this footage -- all 106 minutes of it! -- is available in the extras menu, and you can watch it all back-to-back or select a specific clip if you want. As you could probably guess by its feature-length-and-then-some runtime, there's a hell of a lot here, including a
primer to Halifax automotive history, wardrobe and splatter effects tests, a bear-centric rant by original hobo David Brunt, behind-the-scenes with Abby and her bloody bukkake, director Jason Eisener getting a tour of the shoot's armory, chatting up some kiddies before they get charbroiled, and ::sniffles!:: a picture wrap on some of the key cast in the flick. The behind-the-scenes stuff here is really great, from blood-filled eggshells to Eisener shouting for different readings of "live, you fucking whore!" in a hospital set while everyone around him is eating chicken salad sandwiches or something. Awesome.
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Audio Commentaries: There are two commentary tracks this time around, kicking off with a conversation between Rutger Hauer and Jason Eisener. It's a really laid-back, casual, relaxed track...kinda veering off too far in that direction for my tastes, really. I didn't find myself scribbling down all that many highlights, but to rattle off a few anyway, Eisener runs through losing out on Drake's original bowling alley headquarters because of the shoot's notoriety, just how much Eisener disappointed his mom during one particularly exploitation-tastic day on the set, which '80s rassler was being mulled over for the lead role, and how an essentially blind stunt performer was flinging around a sword and hoping not to seriously injure anyone. It's not a bad commentary, but I tend to go more for really talkative, hypercaffeinated tracks.
...and I guess that's the easiest way to sum up commentary number two, with Jason Eisener joined in the recording booth with writer John Davies, producer Rob Cotterill, and original hobo David Brunt. The tone and energy are pretty much a complete 180° from the other track, and I kind of learned a lot. If I'm in Halifax and want to get a grocery store bag boy to fix me up with a hooker, now I know which codeword to use. I know how to react if I happen to bump into a grizzly bear. I even learned how to make a baby cry on a movie set. A few other things were of particular interest to me, such as the originally scripted Prom-mageddon ending that was completely unfilmable on a $3 million budget. I also really loved hearing about the long, long list of movies and pop culture touchstones that inspired Hobo with a Shotgun, from video games like "River City Ransom" (one of my favorites growing up, for anyone keeping track at home) to Canadian slasher Curtains to Suspiria all the way to Mission Thunderbolt. Brunt's rambling is kind of great in small doses, but he does overwhelm the track a couple of times. That's the only remotely negative thing I can think to say about this commentary track...just a ridiculous amount of fun.
- Deleted Scenes (7 min.; HD): I guess I'll lead with the alternate ending first, although this thirty second clip doesn't really change anything that happened in the movie itself but just adds on what would've been a really awesome epilogue. Would've been a blast to play after the credits, but Hobo with a Shotgun really needed to end where it did. There are also two very short scenes that further flesh out just how much of an unliveable shithole Hope Town has become. There are less than two minutes of actual scenes, and the rest of what didn't make it in -- really short miscellaneous shots -- are piled together in a four and a half minute montage, including a lot more of the red stuff being violently sloshed around.
- Fangoria Interviews (44 min.; HD): Director Jason Eisener and Rutger Hauer sit down with Fango's Michael Gingold for right at 45 minutes of interviews. Hauer is first to bat, touching on his kneejerk reaction to the script, explaining how the vigilante hobo took shape, and spinning a story about bumrushing a screening with a shotgun in hand. Eisener's interview is a lot longer and a lot more thorough, clocking in at more than half an hour. Among the long list of highlights...? Making a real exploitation flick rather than just settling for a spoof or homage, delving into how the original idea and that $120 trailer from a few years back came together, the years it took to write the script and line up financing, the spectre of Machete looming overhead during the shoot, and dreaming up the perfect look of the movie, practical gore and all. Even with the kinda staggering volume of other extras on this Blu-ray disc, a good bit of what's covered here isn't touched on anywhere else, so these interviews are definitely worth taking the time to watch.
- More Blood, More Heart: The Making of Hobo with a Shotgun (45 min.; HD): Just to get this out of the way, "More Blood, More Heart" isn't some standard issue making-of featurette...it's cut together like an actual documentary, probably because that's exactly what it is. The doc charts pretty much every step of getting Hobo with a Shotgun off the ground, from putting together that fan trailer a few years back all the way to a triumphant screening at Sundance. It's pretty heavy on casting, explaining why original hobo David Brunt didn't score the lead the second time around, how much stronger a character Abby became once Molly Dunsworth was cast, and even raiding the production offices for just the right teenage
prostitute. Costume design, the fabrication of The Plague's metal armor, the staggering volume of blood, audition tapes, rehearsals and table readings, oodles of behind-the-scenes footage...you name it an' it's probably in here somewhere. Really, really, really well-done.
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- HDNet: A Look at Hobo with a Shotgun (5 min.; HD): It's a promotional featurette, yeah, but since Rutger Hauer and Jason Eisener do all the talking head stuff snuggling up next to each other in bed, that definitely sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
- Video Blogs (6 min.; HD): Nine really short, quippy vlogs are piled on here...everything from a prop-and-splatter montage to in-character chats with a couple of the cops in the flick. Pretty much all of 'em are played for laughs, and if you don't like the main joke in one of the blogs...well, the next one's all of twentysomething seconds away.
- Camera Tests (3 min.; HD): A slew of digital cameras were tested with different lenses, gels, lighting, and even a completely different slate of actors. If you're dweeby enough to want a laundry list of the brands and models, tested here are the mighty RED, the Canon Mark 4, and the Canon T21.
- Trailers (9 min.; SD): Lotsa trailers here. First up is the original Hobo with a Shotgun trailer from the Grindhouse contest, and considering that the script for the movie didn't even exist back then, it's impressive just how much of the feature-length flick -- even these quick, seemingly throwaway glimpses of stuff -- got its start here. There are also a couple of red band trailers for the movie-movie along with two Canadian TV spots. Seeing as how Hobo with a Shotgun got its start with a contest promoted by another flick, they returned the favor with their own contest. The winner -- a painter-themed slasher called Van Gore -- is showcased here, and it's pretty amazing too.
The Final Word
Hobo with a Shotgun is a blood-drenched Valentine to '80s trashsploitation. Unlike a lot of the grindhouse throwbacks that look back to the '70s and '80s and smirkingly goof on how ridiculous those old exploitation flicks are, Hobo with a Shotgun straight-up is one of those movies. We're talking about a pretty-much-direct-to-video Troma splatterfest from 1987 that somehow wound up being written and produced twenty-five years after the fact. However gleefully insane and sopping with blood you're expecting Hobo with a Shotgun to be, multiply that by fifty or sixty, and you might be somewhere in the ballpark. The really inspired casting of Rutger Hauer grounds the movie in something kind of resembling reality too so it doesn't devolve into just gloriously mindless camp. I don't really want to write a review...I wanna slap my hands on my face, let out a gutteral scream, and shout "oh, that was fucking awesome!" Hobo with a Shotgun is the sort of movie that feels like it was made expressly for an audience of me. Your mileage may vary, but Goddamn did I love this movie. Helluva Blu-ray disc too. Looks great. Sounds great. Enough extras to kill a full weekend. Priced cheap to boot. Highly Recommended.