BAD MOVIE MONDAY: THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)

Can a movie make a conscious effort to be bad and still have the same mystical magical qualities of an unintentionally bad movie? From my own personal experience, the answer to that question tends to be a loud resounding NO. The Sharknado series is a prime example of this. While the films may have their hearts in the right place, and everyone involved is doing their best, you just can’t fake the true spark of mad stupid inspiration. For example, imagine the difference between someone who’s pretending to trip down the stairs and someone actually tripping down the stairs. It doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It certainly doesn’t elicit the same response from an observer. If that’s too intellectual for you, let me put it another way: Trying to make a bad movie on purpose is like trying to take a crap when you don’t have to go. I mean, you’re gonna get a tiny little bit of shit, but it’s not going to be very impressive.

Which brings us to today’s review. A little movie called THE GREASY STRANGLER.

I had avoided Greasy Strangler when it originally came out because I thought that it was just another pale imitator of trash cinema like so many others that had come before. The ads didn’t do it justice and the premise didn’t grab. So, fairly or unfairly, I didn’t want to waste my time. It’s harsh, I know, but life is short and there’s always something else to see. So you need to sometimes walk away from movies if they don’t click with you. Yes, you may miss some cool stuff, but ehhh… You’ll always find something else. It all comes down to how quickly something can snatch your attention, and Greasy Strangler simply didn’t titillate me. It took me years to stumble onto it again and I’m not ashamed to say that I was wrong. I didn’t know what I was missing. For that, I genuinely apologize to the filmmakers.

The story is about a seventy-something father called Big Ronnie and his forty-something son called Big Brayden who live together in an old dilapidated house that looks like it was decorated by someone’s doily obsessed grandma back in 1983. During the day, they give bizarre “Disco” tours of the city that are essentially just a bunch of made up nonsense about The Bee Gees, Kool & The Gang, and Earth, Wind & Fire. At night, the father prowls the city covered in grease and strangles people for… reasons. The son then meets a girl, but the father gets jealous and tries to steal her away resulting one of the most demented love triangles I’ve ever seen put to film.

However, none of that really matters. Because any dry clinical synopsis is bound to be a poor summary of what this movie unleashes on your psyche. The Greasy Strangler is an almost textbook example of how storytelling is vastly more important than story. You can have the wildest craziest idea imaginable, but it won’t matter worth a damn if you tell it in this dry, boring, bland way. Imagine someone telling a funny joke in a monotone voice. Now, imagine someone telling an incredibly weird and stupid joke in a clever quirky way. See the difference? See why one is more important than the other?

I could make a list of the things that I think The Greasy Strangler excels at doing, but it would only be a list. It’s a hard movie to explain because the story and plot sounds kind of insane and not that interesting, so defining why it works so damn well is a bit of a task. However, I will try my best.

The film seems to be built on a philosophy, which is to always go with your worst idea but then TRY TO MAKE IT WORK ANYWAY. I like this. I like this a lot. Artistic people often struggle with ideas, and could do with a little bit of letting go and simply going mad. Ever sat there in front of the blank page, with only the vast void of your imagination echoing back? Nothing is happening as you struggle to think of a better idea but no idea comes. The philosophy behind Greasy Strangler seems to be “Screw that!” and instructs you to simply go with whatever idea you have and make it work. Learn to let go and create art out of the garbage of your mind. Why not? Because it’ll suck? What kind of stupid reason is that to silence yourself? Have a little faith in your muse. She’ll always steer you in even the most troubled waters. It doesn’t mean that you’ll make something great, it doesn’t mean that you’re a genius, but it does mean that you’ll make something honest and sincere. THAT is worth something to someone… probably.

If there’s one thing I’ve grown to truly hate in modern culture it’s this decadent and perverse obsession with making money. Art isn’t about that. If you have loftier goals than just profit, then your art will have worth and YOU will have worth. The fear of failure has paralyzed more artists than I could ever count. It’s a sickness that worms it’s way into your soul, and it steals your eyes and your tongue and your heart. It crushes you into silence. It makes you believe that you have nothing worth saying because what you say won’t make you millions of dollars. That is wrong. If you come at something with love and passion and sincerity it will shine through and you will have created something. I’m not trying to sell you some motivational poster crap here either. I’m not saying that everything you do is going to be awesome and that you should have this unearned confidence in your skills. You can’t grow if you think everything you do is perfect. Don’t be daft. Don’t be unrealistic. Chances are a lot of the things you’re going to do are probably gonna suck. However, what I am saying is that it doesn’t matter if you suck, because it’ll be beautiful because it comes from you. Art does not come from your greed. Art does not come from your need. Art does not come from your desperate desire to be accepted and praised. It comes from you, and that is plenty good enough.

You just have to look at a movie like The Greasy Strangler to understand how important it is to let go of the fear of failure. It was written by Toby Harvard and Jim Hosking, and directed by Hosking, and these guys certainly look as if they just went into it guns blazing. I mean, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they were terrified and cowered under the table like two chihuahuas during a thunderstorm. However, it certainly looks as if they didn’t obsess about getting it perfect as long as they did the best they could with what they had. I feel that is a lesson well worth learning.

TOP TEN THOUGHTS I HAD WATCHING THIS MOVIE:

#1 – I want to make a joke and say that the music sounds like it’s been written by someone who’s been deaf since birth and was just randomly pressing notes on the keyboard, but there is a purpose and drive behind the madness. This philosophy also extends to more than just the soundtrack. It permeates every inch of this film. Literally.

#2 – I really didn’t expect this much man ass and full frontal nudity. I really didn’t.

#3 – The film is populated by grotesque characters that feel like they were born from an apocalyptic car crash between a John Waters and Wes Anderson movie.

#4 – If this film had been made at any other time before 2016 it would have been Rated X or NC-17.

#5 – The acting is weirdly perfect. It’s like an acting class. Takes balls to have the self-confidence to do that. Special kudos to Elizabeth De Razzo for jumping in the deep end of the pool and being as wild and crazy as any of the guys. She ain’t shy. I’ll put it that way. Good for her!

#6 – The editing is bizarre, with extra long takes on cringe inducing moments, and it’s perfect.

#7 – Lines like “YOU’RE A BULLSHIT ARTIST!” “NO FREE DRINKS” “PORTO…” and “HOOTIE TOOTIE DISCO CUTIE!” all sound like the worst, most cryptic memes ever, but once you’ve seen the movie you find yourself repeating them all the time.

#8 – You know, I still don’t get the character of Oinker. I mean, he’s brilliant, but I don’t get him.

#9 – This is one of those rare films that is well paced throughout. It never lags. It never drags. It power fists it’s way through.

#10 – The ending goes from Might-Be-Arthouse to Full-Blown-Arthouse. No escape. The destination’s already been inputted in this strange cinematic ship and you’re tied to the helm whether you like it or not.

WAS IT REALLY BAD?

This is going to sound crazy, but I think this is one of the more accessible of the weird/bad movies that I’ve reviewed. Also, it’s very much NOT a bad movie. I want to be clear on this. While it may have the superficial trappings of a bad movie, this was made by artists. I showed it to my 74 year old Hollywood Blockbuster/Superhero Movie loving father and he watched it in rapt fascination. I dare say he liked it. This is the kind of movie that makes a person perk because it’s engaging. It’s a living breathing thing, and it has a heartbeat. It’s just really hard to advertise because its premise almost fights any possibility of advertising it. It’s one of those things that you can’t explain. You have to experience it, like Vietnam. You sort of had to be there to really grasp the whole thing. So, consider this a recommendation, but also consider this a warning. This movie’s not for the timid or easily offended.

THE GREASY STRANGLER stars Michael St. Michaels as Big Ronnie, Sky Elobar as Big Brayden, Elizabeth De Razzo as Janet, Gil Gex as Big Paul, and Joe David Walters as Oinker