The Greasy Strangler, directed by Jim Hosking, is an oddball film that doesn’t follow the rules and leaves you in a creepy grossed out state of mind. This is a film that is definitely not for everyone, but for those people out there looking for something VERY different (like me) then this is certainly a film that’ll tickle your fancy. So let’s slide greasily into this review and see what oddities it throws out.
A plot synopsis will be interesting to achieve, to say the least, but here we go. Ronnie – played by Michael St. Michaels – runs a disco walking tour with his son, Brayden – played by Sky Elobar (which is a great name). While conducting one of their tours, Brayden catches the eye of a beautiful woman, Janet – played by Elizabeth De Razzo – and the two start dating. But this not only results in a war for Janet’s love between Ronnie and Brayden, but it also sees the arrival of a strange killer in the area; The Greasy Strangler. I want to point out that the plot synopsis I just gave of the film is quite generous, as this is not a film that sticks to the conventional way of storytelling… in any way whatsoever!
It perhaps doesn’t get any stranger than this film. I went on an adventure filled with laughing, wincing, slight recoiling and total amazement at the things I was seeing. I don’t think I was ever left to mull over what I had just witnessed, because the film would then move onto something as equally odd or gross and I’d immediately be focusing on that weirdness. It’s not until the film finished, did I then have the time to start thinking back over all the bizarre and creepy moments that the film offered up. And so now somehow I’m going talk about those things in a way that is coherent(?) but boy! That’s not going to be an easy path for either of us.
I think what catches your attention quickly is just how outside of reality or normality this film is; nothing fits where it feels it should and everyone feels just out of reach of understand-ability. Watching this film is like if aliens watched a handful of different movies, and then tried to emulate those many elements and ‘The Greasy Stranger’ is what came out of that attempt. It makes for something that goes against everything you’ve learned from watching films; including the presentation of characters, the motivations of the people in the film and structurally how things are set out.
So not following the rules of conventional filmmaking actually benefits the film in some areas but also harms it in others. I think what is harmed by the unconventional ways of the film is primarily the plot and its structure. When you peel back all the quirks and gag-inducing scenes, you have a film that is lacking a coherent story, one that adequately drives the film. There are attempts to have some sort of story, but it feels out-of-place anytime it is touched upon and never really moves the film along in a way that is satisfying. But then I guess it doesn’t really matter, as the film does its own thing to such an overpowering degree, that for it to bow down to the rules of normal storytelling, would have probably in a weird sort of way not been right. Its own way sort of works (emphasis on the ‘sort of’) and if you’re willing to go along with it; then you’re the better for it.
Which is a point I feel needs to be stressed: you need to go into this film with an open mind. Be willing to let the subversive techniques in, and don’t let your initial expectations of how a film should be constructed stop you from experiencing something completely foreign. While this will definitely not be a film that everyone will want to see or like, it is still a film worth the benefit of not being confined to how you think it should be done. If you go in wanting/expecting something, then I think you’ll struggle a lot with ‘The Greasy Strangler’.
But I I got a little off track there, so I want to rein this back in and get back to talking specifically about how the film doesn’t follow the rules of conventional filmmaking and how it actually benefits the film. Some of the ways I think it works for the film is in the humour and in the direct way in which the film approaches its very different concept. In ‘The Greasy Strangler’ you will probably never miss a joke, and that’s because the film never allows you too. One scene can be dedicated to one singular joke, and the film has no qualms with dragging it along for the entirety of that scene. What this does is take the joke on an interesting path: it starts off funny – it just being as ridiculously drawn out as it is makes something in your mind want to chuckle – but then it does start to get tiresome and you fall out of favour with it, but then something interesting happens where it’s now been going on for so long, that you come back around and find it to be funny again. Thankfully one thing you can count on is that no matter the length of the joke, you’ll nearly always be rewarded with a decent punchline (conclusion) to the scene and the joke.
Another way in which the film benefits from its lack of normality is in the presentation of its ‘out there’ concept. You won’t find the film giving you explanations or detailed exposition as to what the hell is going on. This is a film that very much stays within its own weird little world, and is happy to never leave it – the result? Well it means you are well and truly in the hands of the film. You’re on its bizarre terms, and if you’re not willing to get on board and follow along… well then you might as well turn back and direct your attention towards something else, because ‘The Greasy Strangler’ has no intention of playing by any other rules but its own. I found it enjoyable and different just how… well different the film was. Sure I wasn’t completely on board for everything, but I was still more than satiated by many of its offerings.
I think the next point I want to touch upon is one that people of a weaker intestinal disposition will struggle with. I want to talk about the aspect of the film that more than once, challenged my stomach: the unwavering, upfront grossness and explicitness of the film. ‘The Greasy Strangler’ does NOT shy away from showing the all-out disgustingness of its world. In fact it almost seems to make an effort to focus in on it and then linger on it for just a little too long. So there were one or two times where I felt a slight gurgle in my stomach, but thankfully my viewing of the film was a barf free zone (which was lucky as I had just wolfed down a plate of Chinese food before watching the film).
But despite the grotesque look to the film, there are some things within that grotesqueness to appreciate. Let’s take some of the special effects make-up as an example: it has an 80’s b-movie style to them, one that adds even more character to a film that is already filled with character. The same can also be said for the unique looking outfits, and the out of touch looking locations that the characters frequent. So much of this film is just interesting to look at, as it has a style that is very much its own.
Speaking of the characters in the film; boy oh boy are they completely normal – NOT. Much like everything else in the film, they are people who just attract your attention. They’re just so different and at times unsettlingly weird. Interestingly, they are also really well-defined individuals – something I was not expecting. By the end of the film I felt I knew who they were and what the characteristics that drove them were. It’s actually surprisingly nice to see the film go to so much effort to define people who are so beyond the definition of normal; it’s also something that you just don’t expect.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I didn’t know what I had just experienced – a feeling you might initially have after watching the film – but I knew it was something I had to see. So when the opportunity arose to have a movie night with a friend and see just what the hell ‘The Greasy Strangler’ was, well then, that was something I was eager to do. I’m glad I watched this film as it’s always good to see something that is completely out of your wheelhouse.
So for that reason and all the other ones I have talked about, I am going to recommend ‘The Greasy Strangler’. This is a film that will unsettle some, distress others and leave all with a weird feeling in them. Make the effort to watch this odd little delight. No matter your end opinion, you’ll definitely have some sort of meaningful reaction to it.
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