I get what director Jason Eisner was trying to accomplish with Hobo With A Shotgun. Really, I do. It revels in anarchy, contains the sort of ultra-violence that would make Alex DeLarge blush and seems to sweat sleaze from every pore. And yet, the feature length adaptation of the Grindhouse faux trailer contest winner is lacking in a way that can’t be explained away with the “…but it’s supposed to be bad!” excuse. Eisner might have had the best of intentions with his poorly plotted film loaded with bad, unfunny dialogue, but do the characters have to yell at me the entire time like I did something wrong?
Hobo attempts to pull off the vulgar charm that Troma had during their heyday, inspiring uncomfortable, nervous laughter as the set pieces become more and more over-the-top. But it’s never random enough to be truly brilliant and never rises above being sadistic and downright mean-spirited. Bad things happening to innocent people is the name of the game and, boy, does it happen a lot in Scum Town.
In The Toxic Avenger, one of the greatest cheese ball flicks of all-time, there’s a pretty gruesome scene where Bozo and Slug’s gang runs over a kid with their car and then take photos of the body. It’s never meant to be funny, but rather to show that they’re really dangerous people, not just health spa meatheads, who get off on violence because up until that point, all they’ve done is pick on poor Melvin Junko. In Hobo, we’re shown numerous times how awful The Drake (Brian Downey) and his sons are (murder, attempted rape, etc.) and, although you’d figure the citizens AND the audience would understand that by the film’s midway point, someone decided it was in everyone’s best interest to set a school bus full of children on fire.
Now, the act precedes a decree by the villains that if the people of Scum Town don’t start murdering homeless people, they’ll start killing off children. So, a setup is warranted, except that Eisner has been setting the speech up for half the movie and it makes the scene pretty pointless because we already know that the Drakes are capable of pretty much anything. Not only that, but by having two jocks with Letterman jackets and sunglasses – they’re in a town that’s more overcast than Seattle on its worst day, mind you – hijack a bus with a boom box and flamethrower, it’s pretty clear that they’re going for laughs. But it’s not funny. Or offensive. Or anything really. It’s just there as a segue between increasingly mean moments, but nothing after that really tops it. In comparison, the rest of the flick is extremely tame in that respect.
Surprisingly, the film actually has a fun moment or two afterwards, such as a duo of armor-clad bounty hunters known as The Plague fighting the Hobo (Rutger Hauer) in a hospital – which seems to be empty except for the nursery and the handful of doctors and workers wandering the hall, an odd thing considering how much carnage occurs in Scum Town on a daily basis – and an out-of-the-blue octopus fight. It’s that kind of gleeful ridiculousness the film should’ve been full of and the reason why films like Black Dynamite and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra work: they’re self-aware and they don’t pad themselves with glass-chewing scenes or take forty-five minutes to get going.
Maybe I’ve really hated exploitation films all along and have been oblivious to that, but aside from a very intense performance by Hauer and any scene involving The Plague, there’s nothing fun about Hobo With A Shotgun, which is a shame considering how great the faux trailer was. Where’s my submarine scene?
Magnolia’s 1080p encode does a good job of balancing grittiness and clarity, giving Hobo the picture quality it deserves. The film was shot using the Red Mysterium X system, so the sharpness of the picture and the boldness of the colors is through the roof, creating an appropriate presentation that looks great when juxtaposed to the effects done in post, such as color saturation and grain enhancement. It wasn’t shot on 16mm, so Eisner did everything shy of adding digital scratches to make sure it had an old school look, and I think this transfer proves that. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the exact opposite of its video presentation in that it does not try to mimic the sound quality of yesteryear. The track is very robust, the Carpenter-esque score will pound on your speakers like they owe it money and the sound effects are crystal clear.
Commentaries – Two tracks are included, the first of which features director Jason Eisner and star Rutger Hauer. It goes over a lot of the same info that can be found elsewhere on the disc, but it’s more scene specific here; it basically amounts to them talking about their influences, what happened on set, and how they came up with the idea/got involved. The second track, with Eisner, producer Rob Cotterill and actor David Brunt (the original “Hobo”), is far more entertaining, mainly because Brunt is insane and spends a lot of time talking about the lifetime’s worth of research he’s done on bears.
Shotgun Mode (106:27) – A special features track that runs alongside the film, which you can access every time a crosshair appears on screen. Some of the clips provide some great behind-the-scenes info, such as how they set up the beheadings and blood sprinkler dance, and others are just on-set antics. And, in case you didn’t listen to the commentary, Brunt goes on about his obsession with bears on at least three occasions. There’s also an option to watch all 44 Shotgun Mode clips by themselves, without interrupting your feature film viewing experience.
More Blood, More Heart: The Making of Hobo with a Shotgun (45:22) – A lengthy documentary about the creation of the film, starting with the faux trailer and ending with the Sundance premiere. It covers almost every facet of the production and shows the enthusiasm on the set. Easily the best supplement on the disc.
Deleted Scenes (5:58) – Two of the scenes further show how awful the Hobo’s reception is in Scum Town; they’re very brief and don’t really add anything, hence their inclusion in the deleted scenes section. The other scene is a montage of some of the more bizarre parts of the film, like The Plague killing an octopus in their lair.
Alternate Ending (0:33) – This would’ve been incredible as an epilogue scene after the credits, not really sure why it isn’t.
Video Blogs (6:27) – Nine short video blogs that premiered on the Hobo website during principal photography. They’re pretty jokey, but occasionally give some insight into the production.
Camera Test Footage (3:28) – Exactly what you think it is, shot using the Red Mysterium X, Mark IV and T2I.
Interviews (44:29) – Separate video interviews with Hauer and Eisner, as they gush about making Hobo. They share a lot of information and they’re pretty great sit-downs, but almost all of it is overlap if you’ve listened to the commentaries or watched More Blood, More Heart.
HDNet: A Look at Hobo with a Shotgun (5:13) – Except for the fact the Eisner and Hauer are in bed together during their interview segments, this is your typical HDNet EPK.
Grindhouse Trailer Contest Winner: Hobo with a Shotgun (2:07) – The trailer that started it all! If only it had been stretched out into something fun…
Hobo with a Shotgun Faux Trailer Contest Winner: Van Gore (2:01) – Since Hobo started out as a faux trailer contest winner, Eisner turned around and gave aspiring filmmakers a chance to be included on the DVD/Blu release. Van Gore, which is basically an updated version of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Color Me Blood Red, was voted the winner by a panel comprised of Joe Dante, Brian Trenchard-Smith, and Katt Shea.