A nameless, homeless man (Rutger Hauer) drifts into a city dominated by a family of gangsters who have bought off all law enforcement and allow crime to run rampant. Finally sickened by the bad situation, the hobo takes a shotgun from a pawn shop and becomes a vigilante avenger.
The US release of Grindhouse featured a clutch of trailers dropped when the film was separated in the UK as Death Proof and Planet Terror. By now, you’ll all have checked out Edgar Wright’s Don’t, Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women Of The SS and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving on the internet. Robert Rodriguez made sure his fake trailer (Machete) was stuck on the front of Planet Terror, but somehow dropped the ball when he spun it out into a disappointing feature. Hobo With A Shotgun, from the less well-known Jason Eisener, is another Grindhouse trailer expansion, giving Rutger Hauer the showcase Danny Trejo was cheated of by Rodriguez’s need to cram in everyone from De Niro to Lohan.
It tries for the vigilante grit of Rolling Thunder or The Exterminator, but its demented, utterly evil villains and super-sick splat gags are closer to Troma’s Toxic Avenger. A reel establishes how rotten the town is; a cackling paedophile Santa drives off with a screaming child in the back of his car, a hooker is abused by her pimp for wasting time doing school homework, and unfortunates are gruesomely battered, mutilated or slaughtered. The hobo dreams of raising cash to get a lawnmower — which he does by eating glass on video for a ‘bumfight’-type vid-cam auteur, only to show up at the pawn shop as a robbery is going down and choosing a shotgun (and infinite shells) over the mower to become an anti-crime crusader. To up the ante, an armoured pair called The Plague (who dress as fetishist Flash Gordon robots) are hired to take out the hobo. Carnage ensues.
It’s broadly played, full of extreme gore and offensive material (with frequent not-taking-it-seriously winks), but Hauer plays subtly, simmering with rage but also regret. Like so many retro-auteurs, Eisener misses a great deal about films he loves — though it’s fair to say his eye is on the ’80s, when the war on crime got more simplistic, rather than the more challenging ’70s. It benefits from not following the Grindhouse stunt casting lead: aside from Hauer, who has a solid schlock record (remember Wanted: Dead Or Alive?), it features unfamiliar players with a lot of crude attack rather than stars who are in on the joke.
Hauers best since The Hitcher. If Eisener calms down, he may have a career outside live-action toons. Or he might replace Hauer with Lance Henriksen and make seven direct-to-the-dungeon sequels in Bulgaria.