'Hobo with a Shotgun' is essentially everything 'Planet Terror' and 'Machete' wanted to be, or at least, everything they were aiming for. That's not to say those movies from Robert Rodriguez are terrible or unwatchable, because they're not. They simply fall short at capturing the true spirit of exploitation films (something which Tarantino's 'Death Proof' does better but underappreciated), becoming instead exaggerated caricatures of that unique era. They work in their own right as garish embellishments of the genre, had the makers a larger budget to play with. Canadian filmmakers Jason Eisener (who also takes director credits), John Davies and Rob Cotterill, on the other hand, find that perfect balance of cheap, trashy thrills and good entertainment, delivering a fun celebration of B-movie yarn.
The significant difference between those movies — the reason why one works well while the others don't as much — is that it takes itself serious. 'Hobo,' which was originally a faux trailer entry in a 'Grindhouse' promo contest and won, clearly knows what it's doing and exploits every avenue possible at being every bit like its inspiration. But it never feels like an imitation or goes so outlandishly over-the-top that it's difficult to imagine what school of moviemaking it tries to emulate. It has fun with the material as a genuine movie production rather than a production that parodies and makes a burlesqued fiasco of the material. The film works, for the most part, because it simply is a violently gruesome vigilante feature with an outrageous plot, bad acting and shocking special effects.
From the moment it commences and the weird Morricone-esque music plays in the background, the low-budget flick looks like something straight out of the 1970s. We don't see any fake scratches or tears running across the screen, but the print gives the appearance of not having aged well. Contrast runs hotter than normal, and colors are over-saturated, providing the movie with that "sitting in a cheap, defunct theater" atmosphere without being heavy-handed. In order to stay relevant, however, filmmakers include a reference to the deplorable bumfight craze from a few years ago, which was utterly hilarious. The movie as a whole is terrifically funny with guns blasting away at the start and ending in a blaze of glory — an elated and animated love letter to a bygone period from start to finish.
Without a doubt, the real highlight of the show is Rutger Hauer in the titular role of a homeless man fed up with the endless acts of violence on the streets of Hope Town, otherwise known as "Scum Town." Something about him saving his begging money to buy a lawnmower and start a business makes him immediately likeable, and Hauer chews through his scenes with admirable appeal. The nameless hobo strolls into town aboard a freight train like another gun-toting nameless hero made legendary by Clint Eastwood. And much like him, the weary traveler keeps to himself, speaking only when necessary. Opposite Hauer is Molly Dunsworth as the typical prostitute with a heart of gold named Abby, and she sees the hobo's lawn mowing business as her meal ticket out of Scum Town.
Standing in their way is a family of instantly-detestable villains, The Drake (Brian Downey), Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), which audiences want to see met with swift, gory justice — the cornerstone to any good vigilante flick. But they're also somewhat of a downside in a movie aiming for authenticity because they come off as cartoon characters of bad guys. Granted, villains in these sorts of movies are over-the-top and this trio is truly awful, but their style and mannerisms are excessive and a tad distracting in many scenes. But once The Plague, a pair of armor-clad maniacs (Nick Bateman and Peter Simas), enters the picture, the narrative not only rights itself but also goes nightmarishly dark and über absurd. But in a good way — a very good way.
In the end, with a title like 'Hobo with a Shotgun,' it's easy to figure out if the movie will be your cup of tea or if it will offend your delicate sensibilities. But just in case, let's make it perfectly clear. The low-budget movie stars a hobo wielding a shotgun, and he means to clean up the streets with the blood from the scum of the Earth! Take it exactly for what it is — part of that being homage to the exploitation, drive-in features of the 1970s — and the movie delivers a hysterical joyride of B-mania nonsense.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment and Magnet Releasing bring 'Hobo with a Shotgun' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition, though it's not clear what exactly makes a collector's item. Nonetheless, the movie comes on a Region A locked, BD50 disc, which also includes a digital copy for portable devices, and housed in a standard blue keepcase. The glossy cardboard slipcover is the same as the amazing poster art which looks somewhat aged with folded crease running down the center as well as to the sides. At startup, a series of skippable trailers kick things off, and afterwards, viewers are greeted with the normal menu option while music and full-motion clips play in the background.
'Hobo with a Shotgun' splatters the screen with a highly-stylized and dated 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). Shot entirely on HD cameras (or more specifically, on the RED Mysterium-X), the colors are overly saturated on purpose, giving the picture a strange, almost-neon glow that imitates the look of low-budget 70s filmmaking. Much of the palette pushes toward a vividly harsh red-orange and yellow mien. Contrast, too, is deliberately hot with blown highlights, adding to the movie's intensity and energy, but black levels are surprisingly not affected by this, rendered with rich accuracy and inkiness. A few low-lit sequences unfortunately reveal some noise, which is a minor drawback of shooting in the HD format, but it's a small complaint when considering the rest of the presentation. Details are excellent and sharply defined, exposing every wrinkle of Rutger Hauer's face and every tiny feature of this gore-gasmic splatterfest.
'Hobo' also explodes with a very active and energetic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which terrifically amplifies the movie's absurdity and over-the-top silliness. The front soundstage is spacious and warm with a clear, precise mid-range and room-penetrating discrete effects throughout. Balance between the channels is excellent with convincing movement and well-prioritized dialogue. The low-end is highly-responsive and powerful, extending nicely into the back and with ample force. Atmospherics are not very consistent, but when used, they are amusing and enhance the soundfield satisfyingly. Overall, it's an enthusiastic lossless mix for an exceedingly animated low-budget feature.
Magnolia puts together a rather nice collection of bonus features for this release of 'Hobo with a Shotgun.'
The title, 'Hobo with a Shotgun,' says it all. Viewers are forewarned while others are enthusiastically invited to soak in the ghastly, low-budget spectacle. Featuring a terrific performance from Rutger Hauer, the Canadian-produced movie is an awesomely wild and hilarious celebration of drive-in B-features. It's meant for the most discerning and passionate collectors of exploitation cinema, filled with various, very subtle references throughout; for example, the Carpenter-inspired musical score and the song "The Naked and the Dead" by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex-Gang. And the Blu-ray does a terrific job of bringing the movie home with an excellent audio/video presentation and a wealth of supplemental material. Exploitation enthusiasts will want this in their collection, and others will want to check this out for a good laugh. Just remember, the title is a warning, so don't expect any less.