The Greasy Strangler is gross, but also kind of compelling, like picking a giant scab and rummaging around in the wound with your fingernail.
It’s a carnival of the grotesque, wilfully offensive, trying every trick in the book – and some it came up with itself – to turn your stomach. As the title suggests, grease is a source of major fascination, with endless nauseating shots of plates piled high with cooking oil and fingers slicked with fat.
The plot – for what it is – focuses on a father, Big Ronnie, and son, Big Brayden, who make a living hosting low-fi disco walking-tours of dubious veracity. Big Ronnie, it soon transpires, is also fond of smearing himself head-to-toe in grease and throttling people until their eyes pop out of their head. The main thrust of the story, to use an appropriate term, is an incestuous psycho-sexual battle between the two for the heart of a young woman.
Eating and getting naked are big themes in The Greasy Strangler
Harking back to the joyfully vulgar movies of Troma Entertainment (clad in his greasy body-suit, Michael St. Michaels even looks a little bit like the Toxic Avenger), it feels like a comeback project by an 80s B-movie director. It is actually, however, Jim Hosking’s debut feature, although St. Michaels is best known for a bit-part in 1987 shlocky straight-to-VHS movie The Video Dead.
The structure is scatty and disjointed, with frenetic sketch-show pacing. Each scene could stand alone as a freakish vignette, and many are repeated with gleeful regularity, such as a shot of a naked old man with a gigantic prosthetic penis washing off a thick coat of grease in a carwash.
Some of the humour is slightly dubious; the majority of the male cast are, to greater or lesser degrees, transvestites, for no other reason than they look funny, and we’re invited to laugh – or wince – at the naked bodies of over-weight or wrinkly people, which feels mean-spirited.
To what end any of this? I’m not sure. It could be a comment on America’s reliance on greasy food, or a more general inability to exercise self control. Or it could just be a film about a man who likes to smear himself in fat. It’s not for everyone. I don’t think it’s for me.
First published in City A.M.