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I've never been more turned off than when I was watching The Greasy Strangler. This mysterious little movie, which is directed by Jim Hosking as his feature-length debut and produced by Elijah Wood, started buzzing at Sundance as really gross cinematic fare, and I had to check it out for myself. It was as if someone had dared me to do it or told me I couldn't handle it, and by attending a screening at SXSW it was as if I was talking back, "Well fuck you, I'm gonna see it for myself." [All internal monologue.]
The Greasy Strangler has some horror elements to it—after all, the title takes after the killer in the film, nicknamed "The Greasy Strangler," a horrifying, oil-covered figure running around strangling people—but its grossness isn't necessarily rooted in its gore. Sure, eyeballs pop out all over the place, soon to be deep-fried and eaten, but I've seen way gorier shit. The kills are actually so over the top and cartoonish that they're somewhat more bearable than your average killing. What makes The Greasy Strangler a nausea trip is that gag-reflex wave that washes over you when you watch someone stuff their face with a vat of oil—like the kind of fry oil that turns into solid goop. And then there are plenty of saggy man asses that fill the screen. You'll have to be one twisted fuck to enjoy this shit.
I laughed, though. Quite a bit, actually, and very uncomfortably. In a way, this is a gross teen boy's dream: dick jokes and fart jokes abound. Father and son, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Brayden (Sky Elobar), live together and while wearing matching pink turtlenecks, the two give half-assed walking "disco tours" around town. These are supposedly spots where famous disco musicians frequented, but what's less believable than their claims is the fact that they actually have tourists. Brayden is totally whipped by his dad, and, as the clear Beta Male of the two, does all of Big Ronnie's deeds, the top priority of which includes cooking all his meals doused in grease. Big Ronnie, when not giving tours and abusing his son with farts, is busy running around being The Greasy Strangler, which is not so much a spoiler as it a joke that this is a mystery despite the fact that it's obvious he is the killer.
Their Alpha/Beta-ness is also made obvious by their difference in dick size. Big Ronnie is hung—and I mean, like, footlong when flaccid hung—while Brayden's penis is maybe the size of my thumb when erect. Both frequently appear onscreen, and over time, you're numbed to them after the first offense (think, like, Stockholm Syndrome with dicks—ew). Tensions rise between the two when a sexy woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo) goes on one of their disco tours and becomes the object of love (or lust) for Brayden and Big Ronnie, both competing for her attention. Brayden, the virginal middle-aged man, is shy, unsure, and sweet, while Big Ronnie, who's had more than a few conquests in his day, is confident and brash. Unsurprisingly, the sex in this movie is far from sexy.
Despite its repulsiveness, The Greasy Strangler has a dreamlike quality about it: It's so un-life-like, that you're transported to a fantasy world that's unmistakably a cinematic creation. "It doesn’t have a typical film rhythm that we are used to," Elijah Wood told me during our brief chat, after I told him the film made me feel "nauseated, but in a good way." "It’s not often that we see a film that seems to operate just slightly outside the realm of what we are used to seeing. It feels fresh in that regard. It’s also deeply funny, I think. It’s certainly not for everybody, but that’s what I love about it as well. I love movies that divide people, that elicit a strong reaction, both positive and negative. I think that means that something has been done, something significant. I recommend it if you want to laugh and have a bizarre experience that is not what you are used to."
And for what it's worth The Greasy Strangler is more than just body humor. Those swinging dicks and off-putting kills go hand-in-hand with ridiculous dialogue (one of the funniest parts is an unnecessarily long, overwrought scene in which two characters can't understand each other and go back to back asking for clarification). But what you'll remember most about the film is definitely going to be how disgusting it is. If you missed it at Sundance or SXSW, you'll just have to wait until it's released this fall—perhaps perfecting timing for Halloween.
To read more SXSW 2016 coverage, click here.