“You’re such a gross-out, Dad. I might barf,” says Big Brayden (Sky Elobar, “Lady Dynamite”) to his aggressively disgusting father, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels). And he’s got a point. The pair live in a grimy house, exclusively eat food dunked into sludgy grease, and tend to go about their days in flimsy bikini underwear or completely naked. (The film’s prosthetic penis department deserves recognition for its commitment to the construction of cartoonishly ugly fake genitalia.)
When they do put on clothes, it usually comes down to matching pink turtleneck sweaters and knit short-shorts, their uniform for the disco walking tours they conduct in a rundown section of Los Angeles. On these tours, Big Ronnie tells bold lies, such as, “The Earth, the Wind, and the Fire, did you know that all three of them lived in that apartment?”
At night, Big Ronnie slathers himself with a thick coating of that dinner grease, and becomes The Greasy Strangler. His favorite trick involves making his victims’ eyeballs pop out so that he may eat them, sautéed or roasted on sticks. Ronnie’s other favorite activity is, in Brayden’s words, “being a smoothie,” which he executes perfectly, and pervertedly, by stealing Brayden’s new girlfriend,Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo, “Eastbound & Down”) and turning their already freakish lives into a depraved sexual nightmare.
If reading this plot synopsis has made you excited to see “The Greasy Strangler,” you’re absolutely the target audience. An ugly and frequently hilarious descent into all things repellent, the debut feature from director Jim Hosking plants itself firmly in a world of filth and shock. (Hosking co-wrote with Toby Harvard; the two previously collaborated on a segment in “The ABCs of Death 2.”)
Hosking and Harvard position this triangle of love and death in a nearly hermetically sealed environment of awkward humanity and frenzied shouting. Characters repeat lines of dialogue — the cast and director agreeing to disregard current quality-based practices in acting — to the point of comic madness, daring the audience to laugh for a moment as the intentionally torturous repetition just keeps on going.
And as the sexual competition between Ronnie and Brayden intensifies, the psychological cruelty ramps up. Ronnie’s preferred outfit for whisking ladies off their feet at the discotheque is a crotchless, crushed velvet jumpsuit, one that puts his enormous prosthetic on full display. Naturally, his overtly grotesque manner can’t lose. Janet disposes of the younger in favor of the elder, Ronnie responds to Brayden’s anguish with extended farts, Brayden develops a taste for murder himself, and the corpses pile up, all set to Andrew Hung’s dissonant electronic score, a squelching series of blurts, gurgles, and bleeps, somewhat like a children’s show theme with the batteries winding down.
Hosking and Harvard are in league with and in debt to an array of difficult, provocation-based filmmakers and artists who came before them, people like the Kuchar brothers, John Waters, Otto Muehl, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Kern. It’s the kind of movie that works very well at midnight with a rowdy audience, at home with outliers such as Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber,” Alex Cox’s “Repo Man” and Harmony Korine‘s “Trash Humpers.” This WTF genre’s commonalities are absurdist torture as comedy, everybody yelling all the time, splatter, and a pronounced smirk.
What distinguishes Hosking and Harvard is their tendency toward, of all things, sweetness. Ronnie and Brayden, killer and killer’s apprentice, are a father and son from the depths of brutal weirdness. They are fragments of human beings whose job is to approximate life on the margins of sanity, and they exist in an equally fragmented, oddly static landscape.
With the exception of the automatic car wash brushes that scour the layer of lard from Ronnie’s lanky body after a night of greasy strangling, the only things that move in front of cinematographer Marten Tiden’s camera are these abstract near-humans. They wriggle and flail on the ground or jump up and down screaming, “HOOTIE TOOTIE DISCO CUTIE!” before detouring into monologues about Michael Jackson, nachos, and the quality of Ronnie’s ejaculate. Then someone’s eyeballs pop out.
So, yes, this father and son’s relationship may not be any rational person’s idea of functional; it may, in fact, be less preferable than forming a relationship with any number of the alleged murderous clowns stalking various part of America right now, but their affection is real, and their agreement on the fundamentals is solid. They make a disturbingly entertaining comedy team, and their best joke is one about death.