Hobo with a Shotgun

Years ago, I had a group of friends who liked to watch bad movies. No, I don’t mean “so bad it’s good” movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Robot Monster. I mean movies that are just bad. I’m talking about low budget exploitation films that make you feel unclean while you’re watching them. The idea seems to have been that these guys would get together and share a common feeling of smug superiority towards the people who made these films, sneering at the bad acting and the inept camera work. Try as hard as I could, I was never able to buy into this aesthetic. I would sit squirming in my chair, wanting to say, “ Wouldn’t it be more fun to watch a good movie?”

Hobo with a Shotgun seems to belong to a similar aesthetic, although the attitude here seems to be one of morbid fascination rather than smug superiority. The main reason I went to see this film is because I thought the trailer was funny. Considering that even the trailers for Hollywood “comedies” aren’t funny, I thought this had to be a promising sign. I have since learned that it originally was one of a series of joke trailers that were made for the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino concoction, Grindhouse, which I haven’t seen. I have, however, seen Rodriguez’s Machete, which also started out as one of these joke trailers. Although I liked that this film takes the side of immigrants, I must admit that I didn’t think it was very good. The characters were too cartoonish to be interesting, and the action sequences weren’t well done. (Well-done action sequences, in my opinion, are the bare minimum requirement for a good action film.) I suppose some would argue that this film’s badness is the whole joke, although, in my opinion, it is a joke that wears thin pretty quickly.

Hobo with a Shotgun, directed by Jason Eisener and written by John Davies, is the second of these Grindhouse spin-offs. The film has a 1970’s look and feel to it. (I take it the seventies were a sort of Golden Age of exploitation films.) The basic plot is an example of a peculiarly American genre. It’s that type of story in which a stranger arrives in a corrupt city or town and, using ruthless methods, proceeds to clean the place up. (The best example of this type of story is Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest.) One morning, a hobo (Rutger Hauer) arrives in Hope Town, which is known by its residents as either “Scum Town” or “Fuck Town”. (In keeping with the rules of the genre, we are never told the hobo’s name, just as we are never told the name of Hammett’s Continental Op.) The hobo finds that there is rampant crime in the city. The place is run by The Drake (Brian Downey), who is a combination gangster, preacher and carnival barker. The Drake holds public executions of people who displease him, including his own brother. The police are completely under The Drake’s control. The hobo befriends a prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), who is far and away the most sympathetic character in the film. When he sees a robber threatening to kill a baby, the hobo snaps. He gets a shotgun, and soon the bodies start to pile up.

Hobo with a Shotgun is the most violent film I have ever seen. Eisener and Davies cram as much gratuitous violence as they can into each scene. There are depictions of torture, disembowelment, mutilation and people being burned alive. Yet the film has a Grand Guignol feel to it that makes it hard to take seriously. Everything is so ridiculously overdone that I couldn’t help laughing at times. Other people in the audience reacted the same way. However, several people got up and left.

I have deeply mixed feelings about this film. I can’t say that I didn’t find it entertaining, yet I can’t really recommend it. It has no redeeming value, even though Eisener and Davies try to inject some social consciousness into it. In one scene, for example, Abby makes a speech defending homeless people. The problem is that when you present an argument like that in the cynical context of an exploitation film, it rings hollow.

I have a suggestion for Rodriguez, Eisener and Davies: wouldn’t it be more fun to make good movies?

One Response to “Hobo with a Shotgun”

  1. Hobo with a Shotgun « The Spanish Prisoner | Action Films / Action Films News Says:

    […] the rest here: Hobo with a Shotgun « The Spanish Prisoner Tags: action, action-film, action-sequences, bare-minimum, characters-were, opinion, […]

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