Trivia: How many times is the word "bullshit" used in this movie? If you know the answer, reply in the comments below!
Naked, Greasy Strangler with a large, weird penis
Eyeballs popping out of heads, followed by
Eyeball dining/fine cuisine (yes, that's a thing)
Crotch-exposing disco attire
Sleazy disco dancing
Porto chips (explanation below)
Ritualistic car wash bathing
Trailer-toilet death scene
Weird dude with a fake pig nose
Champagne and confetti-exploding heads
"Hootie tootie disco cutie!" chant
Catchy electronic score
CAUTION: This review provides an in-depth analysis as well as SPOILERS. For less detail and a summary, read the intro below and then skip to the ending for Final Take.
Let's start with the obvious: every lead character in this film is a self-proclaimed "bullshit artist," and none of them are really likable or decent people, but their antics do inspire plenty of guffaws, gross-out moments and wtf-head-rubbing. In addition, we have some pretty comical practical effects and ridiculous death scenes paired with awkward dialogue and a kick-ass electronic score by Andrew Hung, member of Fuck Buttons for any fans out there, which accentuates its bizarre flavor of dark comedy. All of these qualities have contributed to its status as a new cult classic.
This is no traditional horror movie by any stretch of the imagination. The oddball characters and offbeat humor, combined with an unusual fixation on 70's disco era and food, make this more of a twisted comedy with fantastical elements than a frightening, edge-of your-seat slasher.
If you ask me what a huge, dorky fan I am of this movie, I'll say I didn't hesitate for a second to buy the Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie tee or the original motion picture soundtrack LP from Mondo the moment they released. Suffice to say that accompanying the music are visual images and dialogue which will never leave your poor, violated brain. What has been seen cannot be unseen. The setup: Ronnie and his son Brayden live together in a ramshackle house and pay the bills by giving walking disco tours in matching hot pink outfits and knee-socks. Note: despite what the brochures say, there are NO FREE DRINKS! And if you're wondering how two men survive on the income of a walking disco tour career, well, Ronnie seems to pay everyone with fake money.
So what is The Greasy Strangler about? Really it's the story of the dangerously intertwined dynamic between father and son and the psychological unraveling that ensues when a female threatens to tear them apart. Also, there is disco. And a lot of hot dogs.
Among themes, there are of course: an intense focus on food (even body parts as food), preferably drenched in gluttonous portions of grease, and mostly hot dogs; genitalia and overflowing pubic hair (we'll go over that more a bit later), abundant nudity (not necessarily in a good way, so don't get too excited) and eyeballs (yes, eyeballs); familial relationships, particularly that between father and son; disco era obsession; strangling and physical violence; oddball humor; bodily functions, mostly crapping and farting; and the women who got away (Ronnie's ex-wife and Brayden's mother, as well as the romantic interest, Janet).
From the very first scene, Ronnie is already saying,"I bet you think I'm The Greasy Strangler."
We're exposed to the toxic and completely dysfunctional relationship between Ronnie and Brayden. Each morning, Brayden brings Ronnie a cup of coffee in bed, followed by typical bickering and playful banter. And farting. "Bullshit artist!" is a term you'll hear quite frequently, and you will learn to love it by the film's end.
These two are trapped in a seriously co-dependent relationship as neither of them does anything without the other. Any time Brayden considers excluding Ronnie, his father threatens him with eviction. And although Ronnie refuses to be separated from Brayden for even minutes at a time, he also never hesitates to insult or put him down both in private and in public. So the dynamic is somewhat love-hate and, grease aside, vastly unhealthy.
Every shot is dingy, dark and dirty (well, greasy), exacerbating the stifling feel of claustrophobia already oozing out the cracks of their shoddy home. Something is greasy, and it's dying to break out!
The atmospheric palette is painted in primary colors: deep reds, greens, blues, and yellows with splashes of tacky neons. The characters move and speak often surrealistically, with Andrew Hung's funky beats pulsating beneath the rays of an invisible, omniscient disco light.
At home, everyone is typically either completely naked or in their underwear, and often there is public indecency with Ronnie mooning his tour guests or exposing his genitilia at the disco. And The Greasy Strangler is clad only in, well, grease.
Ronnie is an aging divorced man who has raised his son Brayden from childbirth after his wife left. Beyond managing the disco tour, Ronnie's previous employment and education history is unknown. What is known is that he loves disco. And grease. He fabricates friendships with celebrities and wallows in the former glory of his disco days. Though he is dependent on Brayden for virtually everything, he makes a crass and monstrously immature father figure.
Brayden adopts the pitiable, dorky son role well, complete with ambition to write a fantasy audiobook series about dragons and trolls. Ronnie's constant verbal abuse combined with the alleged molestation suffered from his stepfather, Ricky Prickles, have misshapen the 40-something-year-old Brayden into an underdeveloped, weak little boy.
Brayden's developmental oppression is also conveyed physically or sexually in penis sizes - throughout the consistent exhibition of pubic areas, Ronnie is always shown with an abnormally large and oddly pointed penis with a red, triangular tip while Brayden's is a micro-sized version of the same peculiar shape. Ronnie is the alpha.
Whereas Ronnie's path deals with the transformation and struggle of being overtaken by The Greasy Strangler, the arc of Brayden, essentially our only protagonist, involves deciding what kind of man he wants to be and whether or not he will finally break free from his father's suffocating presence.
Along comes Janet. She and Brayden engage flirtatiously one day on a disco tour, and immediately Ronnie is jealous. He attempts to squelch Brayden's excitement by telling him that Janet will never love him. But Brayden is not dissuaded, and the two have a creepily romantic dinner conversation over, of course, hot dogs.
Brayden tells Janet the sad tale of his mother leaving for Ricky Prickles, a professional sports coach with chiseled abs. Ricky Prickles embodies the exact opposite lifestyle and physique from the grease-obsessed Ronnie and Brayden. He bullied child-Brayden for not being able to perform sit-ups, but Janet dismisses his inept athleticism.
Grief and anger clearly resonate within both father and son from the mother's departure. Brayden suppresses emotional and psychological scars from his stepfather's abuse. Ronnie continuously blames her leaving on his son's compulsion to crap everywhere, including on the TV and all over his mother's leg. The latter he cites specifically as the exact reason for her leaving: "She even yelled it out the car window!"
Just as the two seem to have fought over the mother, they will now focus on Janet as the object of desire.
Love blossoms between Brayden and Janet, and The Greasy Strangler is disturbed. A group of walking disco tour attendees, presumably all tourists coincidentally staying at the same hotel, debate the pronunciation of potato ("porto") chips in a scene which highlights the use of repetitive dialogue inherent to the film's delirious humor. As they are grouped around the vending machine, low and behold, who happens to appear?
"Is he the Boogie Woogie?!" And yes, we have another disco reference.
It's our first glimpse of the film's "monster," and there's no denying that the The Greasy Strangler is indeed Ronnie. Who else has that penis and that full head of crazy, gray hair? Strangling aside, he also attacks by bashing a guy's head through the vending machine glass and smashing a dude's face in with his fist.
He never speaks but utters the guttural, primal noises of a beast, all to the backdrop of Hung's hauntingly alien score. Later he viciously chokes a defecating hot dog vendor until his eyes pop out of his head. The organs are then rolled in batter, sautéed in oil and devoured by candlelight like a rare delicacy. Is the Greasy Strangler an eyeball connoisseur?
After hunting, the Strangler always rinses off at the local car wash, chit-chatting with Big Paul, the blind car wash attendant and friend from Ronnie's disco-loving past. Ronnie pays him with some of his fake dollar bills (he doesn't know, he's blind!), then dresses in the bathroom.
So what really is The Greasy Strangler? A creature? A physical transformation? A supernatural possession?
By covering his naked body in liberal portions of grease, Ronnie morphs into a killing machine, or the alter ego of The Greasy Strangler. Whether or not he has super powers is up for debate, but the face smashing and strangling with little defense from his victims suggests that he is in some way uniquely powerful. Other than his strange genitilia, which dangles in Greasy-form and non, there don't seem to be any type of physical or structural changes. But violence and death are definitely on the agenda.
As Brayden and Janet's relationship intensifies, so do the Greasy Strangler killings. Janet confides in Brayden that she's scared because her fellow disco tour attendees have been reportedly murdered, and it's not too soon afterward that we are introduced to Oinker.
Oinker appropriately wears a fake pig nose and walks the streets in minishorts and knee socks. Their hangout sessions include attending the Horror Show (a local cinema) and stealing buckets of grease from a vigil-lighted street vendor (the hot dog stand owner who was previously murdered).
Oinker is soon found dead, his fake nose removed to reveal a gaping hole. What is this? A medieval syphilis reference? Is Oinker a previous victim who got away with one less body part? Has the Strangler moved on from noses to eyeballs?
When Brayden is informed of his best friend's death, he declares that he won't stop until he solves the mystery of The Greasy Strangler and kills him. Ronnie takes advantage of his son's preoccupation with the murders to swoop in and woo Janet for himself. His motives are unclear here: is he trying to get laid or just break up the romance between Janet and Brayden? Most likely both. He's an appallingly selfish bastard.
Janet initially rebukes Ronnie, confessing her love for Brayden. But she ultimately succumbs to his persistently lewd advances. After an evening of what can only be described as languid, boozy dancing at the disco, he impresses her with an embellished story about clubbing with MJ. Brayden later reveals that MJ was a Michael Jackson look alike and male prostitute who recently shot himself.
Mating tactics include boasting, exposing his large member in outrageous, crotchless disco attire, and lasciviously fondling fruit to win his female. He's not unlike a peacock pruning his feathers. He also emphasizes Brayden's lack of sexual experience. His son has never had a girlfriend, he says, because he craps everywhere.
Eventually Janet can no longer resist her base desires, and she and Ronnie initiate a whirlwind sexcapade. Brayden, sobbing to the sounds of thumping and the boisterous, ceaseless shouting of "Hootie tootie disco cutie!" from above, is truly heartbroken.
But as he continues investigating the identity of The Greasy Strangler, clues point strongly to Ronnie. In an earlier dinner scene between the three, his father alludes to a "special oil" he's been developing in his room, and Brayden soon finds it.
After many tormenting nights, Brayden can no longer deny his feelings and confesses his love to Janet in the kitchen. She seems successfully swayed back to his affections, perhaps choosing pure ardor over sexual intensity.
By this time, Brayden has discovered some suspicious drawings by his father and is convinced that Ronnie is in fact The Greasy Strangler. Shortly after, Janet discovers a pile of unusual grease on the floor upstairs. What is this "special oil" that Ronnie has been making?
The two decide to call in the help of an investigator named Jodie, who, once again, is Ronnie in disguise. Where did Jodie even come from? We can only surmise that Ronnie intentionally led them to him.
Arriving for investigation, Jodie sensually traces his 6-inch, neon yellow fingernails through the slop and declares that Brayden's assumptions are correct. He also needs to oil his glasses.
Before disappearing, Jodie stares into the hallway mirror. He takes off his glasses, but a moment later his reflection appears as Ronnie glaring back, with Jodie still donning his glasses as though never removed. Reflection-Ronnie then demands that Jodie leave. What is the significance of this? Is Jodie yet another personality or identity which Ronnie's psyche is utilizing to prevent the Greasy Strangler from fully taking over?
Now that Janet and Brayden are back together, Ronnie is quickly unraveling. He writhes beneath their bed, enduring their lovemaking for only moments before he wriggles out in jealous protest. Brayden is knocked unconscious and must find the missing Janet before The Greasy Strangler kills her.
Following a trail down the hallway, Brayden finds a large tub of "special" grease behind a door. In hopes of overpowering his father, he strips down and submerges beneath the goo, yelling defiantly, "I can be the Greasy Strangler, too!" He emerges in the same greasy guise as Ronnie in Strangler form, micropenis still intact. It's Greasy Strangler, Jr.!!
Brayden finds Janet and his father at the Horror Show, mid-strangling. Surely father and son will square off in an epic battle and Brayden will heroically save his true love! Bullshit. Perhaps now even more under the influence of his father's dark side, thanks to his grease-dunking, Brayden instead succumbs to the laws of the Greasy, and together they clench Janet's throat until her eyes pop out.
Holding hands, they walk to the car wash together to engage in the ritualistic cleansing.
With the female threat eliminated, father and son bond on the beach. Ronnie tells another presumably fake celebrity tale, this time of sailing on John Travolta's yacht. In one of the only tender moments exchanged between father and son, Ronnie acknowledges that he does like Brayden. Sometimes. If he wasn't such a cock block! But Brayden's admiration for his father seems unchanged, and these two resign themselves to their fate: being Greasy Stranglers ... in the wild.
The next mission: kill Ricky Prickles.
Ricky is chased down the hills and slaughtered by the wild Stranglers. In celebration, they romp gleefully through the woods holding hands and then stop unexpectedly to witness a group of men standing in a clearing with guns raised. The pair stares transfixed at their human forms, Ronnie and Brayden, tied to trees as the clear targets.
What's happening here? Who are these men? Townspeople who've hunted the local killers down? Friends of Ricky Prickles? Are they imagining this? How are they in both human form and Greasy form at once? The clear, physical separation of four distinct bodies implies an official split in both mens' identities, more pronounced this time than the Jodie-Ronnie reflection standoff. The Greasy and the human cannot exist simultaneously. Shots are fired, and Ronnie and Brayden's heads explode, fantastically spewing forth geysers of champagne and confetti.
Afterward, we see the two Stranglers embarking on the hills of the woods with spears in hand. Greasy Strangler Senior and Junior abandon their human forms in favor of a primitive life.
So what the hell did all that craziness mean? And why should you care?
Ultimately, The Greasy Strangler is a film about primitive needs and carnal desires: crapping, farting, screwing, killing, laughing, eating, music, and dancing, as well as the instincts to protect your family and the pursuit of freedom.
The primary coloring of the artistic vision and Hung's wild synth score, hitting beats with the tenacity of a hunter's drum, accentuate the tribal motifs at play.
In escaping the confinement of their human shells and retreating to the foothills to live freely, naked and adorned only with spears to catch their prey, both Brayden and Ronnie are able to live simply in accordance to their true, primal natures.
The metaphysical rules here are in question. Did Brayden and Ronnie actually die in human form to release their Greasy inner selves onto some sort of primordial, astrological plane? Or was the death scene some sort of metaphorical departure from their physically human selves? Are they actually just trapsing around the woods behind their house coated in a lot of grease? Does The Greasy Strangler actually have super human powers, and did Ronnie's "special oil" help to accelerate or strengthen his existing grease formula to produce an even more powerful Strangler? Maybe one capable of transgressing earthly dimensions?
What do you think? In the most positive and admirable way, I call bullshit.