By night, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) covers himself in grease and strangles folks who irritate him. When his son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), with whom he lives, begins seeing Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), Ronnie schemes to take her away from Brayden.
Some cult movies seem to fall through wormholes from an alternative universe. When folks who’ve caught them early describe what they’ve seen to friends, they get accused of making them up. Surely The Greasy Strangler can only be one of those film-within-a-film skits. But, yes, it does exist, and you do have to see it to believe it.
It's full of copious nudity from the sort of people seldom seen naked in films.
Though shot on far-from-glamorous Los Angeles locations, this is set in an enclosed universe where people are as set on courses as trams on rails. When characters try to change, the story and the world break up — the last reel offers several alternative endings. Director Jim Hosking — who previously made short films, including ‘G For Grandad’ from ABCs Of Death 2 — carefully establishes the unique mood of the film. He deploys astonishingly committed (if deliberately one-note) performances, a great deal of low-budget visual invention, distinctive music which will stick in your memory like gum to a shoe, and an admirable desire to turn stomachs by showing things few people want to look at for as long as he holds his shots. There are echoes of early John Waters or even the worst of Troma, but it’s likely to wind up classified with even further-from-mainstream oddities like Johnny Suede, Meet The Hollowheads or Big Meat Eater as either your secret favourite film or the movie you never forgive a date for taking you to.
Gargoyle-like geriatric bastard Big Ronnie (St Michaels) and his weedy, whiny grown son Big Brayden (Elobar) are locked in a hideous relationship. Obsessed with greasy food, Ronnie keeps insisting repulsive fare be slathered with extra oil — while unconvincingly insisting he isn’t The Greasy Strangler. Naked but slathered in goop, he murders a) people who tick him off and b) people who might offer his son alternatives to hanging around being abused verbally by him. After each killing, he goes through a car wash run by his blind friend Big Paul (Gil Gex); the repetition of the act (and footage) stresses the ritual, but also the rut in which everyone is trapped.
There’s a touch of Steptoe & Son in the back-and-forth bickering of the ancient tyrant and the too-feebleminded-to-leave manboy, including a merciless routine that gets funnier and funnier as each shouts “bullshit artist” at the other. The crisis in the thin plot has Janet (De Razzo), who talks like a refugee from a hardboiled 1930s comedy, become Brayden’s girlfriend until Big Ronnie sets out to take her away… leading to an unforgettable “hootie tootie disco cutie” singing routine. The last act comes up with a perfect, inevitable-yet-unexpected tragic twist that even has a sequel hook.
It is full of uncomfortable sights — not least copious nudity or near-nudity from the sort of people seldom seen naked in films (father and son sport humongous and tiny penis prostheses respectively). The gnome-like, smugly snarling St Michaels — whose few screen credits include the direct-to-video zombie film The Video Dead (1987) and the recent Satanic cult picture Another (aka Mark Of The Witch) — is as determinedly, relentlessly monstrous as Dieter Laser in the Human Centipede series, and ought to have a late-career renaissance as grotesque bad guys.
If you can take the assault on your senses it’s worth sticking with for a core of genuine, affecting drama and dollops of sly, quotable humour.