Processing a film like The Greasy Strangler occurs in several stages. First, standing up and walking out of the theater, there’s that initial, unsettled feeling of “what the fuck did I just watch?” Then, somewhere around the concession stand, a buoyant exuberance takes over as you and your friends—don’t see this one alone, unless you want to feel like a total creep—start laughing and shouting the film’s many catchphrases at each other. But by the time you get to the parking lot, close the car door, and insert the key into the ignition, a wave of malaise may overwhelm you as you realize that you’ve been had. You just watched the big-screen equivalent of that “2 Girls, 1 Cup” video that teenagers loved to spring on their unsuspecting friends a few years back. And you paid $10 (or more!) for it, you miserable bastard.
Of course, there are people out there who find gross-out internet videos funny, and these people will wholeheartedly embrace Jim Hosking’s feature directorial debut. The Greasy Strangler could technically be categorized as a horror-comedy, with a bare-bones plot revolving around the search for a slasher who leaves puddles of gelatinous goo behind at every crime scene. But none of these scenes are even remotely scary, and besides, the killer’s identity is obvious early on. Instead, the majority of the film revolves around the romantic rivalry between father Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and son Brayden (Sky Elobar), a psychosexual cesspool that plays out like a drunken game of exquisite corpse played by Tim & Eric and Lars Von Trier.
You see, Big Ronnie and Brayden make their meager living leading “disco walking tours” of what appears to be Los Angeles, often clad in matching pink turtlenecks. Then one day a flirty woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) takes the tour, and takes the virginal Brayden up on his offer of a date. But soon after the relationship is (graphically) consummated and Janet and Brayden fall in love, Big Ronnie moves in on Janet, propositioning her while wearing an unforgettable purple velvet jumpsuit with a see-through mesh crotch. The faithless Janet takes Big Ronnie up on his offer, and Brayden channels the heartbreak of listening to his dad and his girlfriend screwing in the next room into searching for the “Greasy Strangler,” who just so happened to show up at the same time as his first love.
The Greasy Strangler revels in the grotesque, with extensive male and female full-frontal nudity—there’s enough prosthetic penis, both of the micro and macro variety, to last several lifetimes—cartoonish violence, garish outfits, and exaggerated stereotypes. This freak-show approach would seem to recall John Waters’ cinema of filth, except that Waters really loves the maladjusted outcasts that populate his films. Hosking, on the other hand, seems to find the sight of an old (or fat or not conventionally attractive) person, especially a naked one, inherently hilarious, rendering the line between laughing with the actors and laughing at them dangerously thin. Meanwhile, the recurring visual motif of oil and grease—in one scene, Big Ronnie dips an entire hot dog, with bun, into a vat of lard—is much less complicated. It’s supposed to be nauseating and is extremely effective in achieving that purpose.
It’s not an attractive comparison, but The Greasy Strangler in some ways recalls The Human Centipede III, in that it raises questions about a filmmaker’s relationship with the viewer. This is a far better and less offensive film than Tom Six’s, but it also comes custom-built to discomfit the majority of its audience. No, a movie does not have to please everyone. In fact, movies that try to please everyone usually end up about as interesting as instant mashed potatoes. But this is like that slumber-party game where you take everything out of the refrigerator, mix it all into one glass, and dare someone to drink it. And if you swallow and find that it tastes disgusting, well, don’t say we didn’t warn you.