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Hanger: 2 Disc Collectors Edition
Ryan Nicholson movies are either an acquired taste, or you're a proud reprobate. No judgement here, I count myself a member of the latter group, and one affected by the former dynamic. My exposure to Nicholson's movies is somewhat limited, (gotta remedy that) but this is my second go-round at watching Hanger a movie in which the auteur seems hell-bent on pushing every button possible. To wit, if you have a zero-tolerance policy regarding offensive material, just stop reading now. Don't even bother with this movie. However, if you're looking for A Serbian Film-style offense, you also are barking up the wrong tree. Hanger means to offend, but means no offense. Combining 13-year-old-boy macho humor with a horrifying world-view and genital fascination, what the late director wanted to do, I think, was to tout for the values of being responsible parents. Maybe.
Hanger is the title character, the end-result of an impromptu abortion by a vengeful pimp. After being graphically ripped from the womb by the title instrument, thus hideously mutilated and thrown in a garbage can, the poor boy is rescued and raised by an insane homeless man. On his 18th birthday, he's thrown out of the tent, at which point his real father, ‘The John" (Dan Ellis) comes to give him a real chance at a normal life. That ‘normal life' is a nightmare picnic, but includes the promise of justice for Hanger. As the tag-line says: "revenge is a bitch of a whore."
No need to go into the details of the plot, really. Hanger gets a job at a garbage dump (a metal recycling facility does a poor job in this role) working with a couple of other mutant-types who constantly insult and degrade each other in the least-politically correct way possible. (On this note, if you think you might be able to handle the casual racism, misogyny, ableism, fat-shaming, trans-phobia and homophobia of Hanger vis-a-vis today's climate, I believe most people will make it about 70-seconds into the movie before giving up.) But, again, none of this is meant to be taken seriously at all. Is it offensive? Absolutely! Have we moved past the times where the viewer is to blame if they ‘can't take the joke'? Probably. Was Nicholson a teddy-bear who loved everyone, had not a discriminatory bone in his body, and simply had an insanely warped, stunted sense of humor? All signs point to ‘yes'.
As far as cinematic language goes, and an engaging 90-minutes of your viewing time, I'll give the movie a ‘C' grade, maybe ‘C-plus', on the whole. It's effectively constructed, but doesn't have a ton of drive, being less concerned with the revenge aspect, and more-so with characters lackadaisically insulting each other. Two performances stand out, primarily Debbie Rochon as Hanger's mother Rose. She does all the heavy lifting and does it quite well, bringing pathos and strength to a punishing role. ‘The John', Dan Ellis, gently hints at something underneath the angry stoicism of his mission to give his son a chance at life, and a chance to kill the pimp who tried to kill him. Everyone else does fine too, actually, they just have less to work with, except for Hanger himself (played by Nathan Dashwood) who manages to bring a bit of nuance to his character.
Interestingly, almost all of the characters, save the prostitutes and the horny junkyard secretary, are disguised by heavy makeup. In Hanger's case, it makes sense, but is it otherwise a thematic gambit, or just a way for Nicholson to show off his love for his primary profession? So yeah, Hanger deals a healthy dose of graphic murder, mutilation, extremely offensive humor, genital exposure (especially in the XXX version (not really XXX) included in this release) and more. In fact, there are a couple set-pieces that may just test your gag-reflex, and this is coming from a dude who has spent his life watching offensive movies. As they say, if you've read this far, you are either into it, or just morbidly curious. For the former group, this extras-packed release is leaning toward the DVD Talk Collector Series. For the latter, just run away and keep quiet. (For fun, check out how my perspective on this movie has changed in the ten years since it first crossed my path, here: Hanger.)
Unearthed films is apologetic about the 1.85:1 ratio transfer included on this disc, in a pre-movie note. The original digital-video elements are the best available for this release, but as such aren't perfect for a low-budget, shot-almost-entirely-at-night-without-much-in-the-way-of-lighting production. Incidents of ghosting and some original minor compression artifacts are present, and details are not fantastic, (which might be a blessing, frankly) but overall Hanger looks as good as it ever will, with the sickly, bloody color scheme in full effect. The "XXX" version is the worse for wear as far as visual acuity is concerned, but, again, who really cares?
A Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound audio mix is probably overkill, but sounds fine, with some dimensionality, a good dynamic range, and dialog serviceable. I think again it should be noted that this was a ground-level production, and to get to caught up in AV quality is to miss all the naked hookers, blood, and other disgusting bodily effluvia.
Unearthed Films does the late, great director Ryan Nicholson a real honor with this two-disc Blu-ray release, one that supplies an embarrassment of riches. Several Behind the Scenes featurettes and a legitimate feature are presented. The first Making Of featurette runs 20 minutes. The second Behind the Scenes featurette runs almost two hours, going seriously in depth and revealing the actors' serious craft, as well as much more. Indie directors and fans will be delighted. A Behind the Scenes with Lloyd Kaufman (ported over from the original DVD release) runs 11 minutes, detailing his cameo experience. A brief snippet of Bloopers is included, as are 6 minutes of Deleted Scenes, and 20 minutes of Additional Scenes. The 3-minute version of the porno tape featured in the movie, Black on White Bred is included, as well as Trailers for 5 other Unearthed releases, and an auto-navigated Photo Gallery that movies at a brisk clip and runs for 30 minutes. You also get a (ported over) Director's Commentary Track with Nicholson. That's about three-and-a-half-hours of extras, plus commentary (and did I mention the slightly racier, more genitally-focused XXX Version included as well?) Not bad, right? But there's another disc, with approximately 17 hours (you read that right) of raw footage. Audio fluctuates from inaudible to sketchy to really loud, but you get to see what feels like every second of footage shot, to understand how it was boiled down to 90 minutes. I'm tempted to deduct a star from my extras-rating due to the overload of material.
Hanger deals a healthy dose of graphic murder, mutilation, extremely offensive humor, genital exposure (especially in the XXX (not really XXX) version included in this release) and more. In fact, there are a couple set-pieces that may just test your gag-reflex, and this is coming from a dude who has spent his life watching offensive movies. As they say, if you've read this far, you are either into it, or just morbidly curious. For the former group, this extras-packed release is leaning toward the DVD Talk Collector Series. For the latter, just run away and keep quiet.