The Greasy Strangler has garnered a lot of buzz on the festival circuit. A lot of that buzz boils down to, “whoa, Frodo produced a disgusting grindhouse gross-out!” That’s good, of course. But, considering that it seems to be dividing genre festival-goers – people who typically have iron stomachs and an affinity for weirdness – it would seem that disgusting does not necessarily equal good. Why the love / hate? Is it a – you either get it or you don’t – type of film? If only there were a way to find out! Oh wait – it’s showing at Fantastic Fest 2016 in Austin, TX! And I’m in Chicago with a screener! (not quite the same, but serviceable)
Father and son, Big Ronnie and Big Brayden (respectively), live together and work together. Their bachelor pad is a few decades out of style and not well kept, but Big Brayden is a dutiful son and takes care of his demanding father. Mostly, this entails waking him in the morning and cooking his meals extra greasy. Their family-owned business is a tour of the notable disco spots in town (a topic / era that Big Ronnie is fixated upon). Their idyllic (that’s sarcasm) life together is thrown into turmoil when a woman enters the picture. The guys both have eyes for her, so a triangle ensues. Also there’s a serial killer on the loose killing people close to the boys who leaves behind glops of grease (hence the title).
Is The Greasy Strangler horror? (i know, i know. it doesn’t matter) It has murder. It has decapitation. It has a finger dipped into an unnatural, bloody hole in a face. And – of course – it has strangling. But it doesn’t have any real suspense or fear. I guess if violence and gore alone can drag a film into the horror end of the spectrum, then, sure. It’s horror. No matter what genre you want to file this under, it’s a riot. Big Ronnie and Big Brayden are funhouse mirror versions of a dysfunctional parent-child team. (like, if the Bouvier-Beales from Grey Gardens tried to work / be social, but with grease instead of cat shit) I’m not talking about a major theme park funhouse either. More like the type of roadside tourist trap funhouse in which you might catch a glimpse of a flasher in the smudged and cracked mirrors of the mirror maze. The greasy, out-of-shape, out-of-touch guys and their dilapidated house furnished with greasy, out-of-shape, out-of-style furniture and appliances perfectly captures the singular micro-culture that the film portrays. A micro-culture in which Big Ronnie – played expertly by septuagenarian Michael St. Michaels – wears a disco jumpsuit that has a clear plastic window over the crotch that prominently displays his loooong flaccid penis (which he bafflingly describes as looking like a mouse head) and NOBODY bats an eye. It’s almost as if The Greasy Strangler is an alternate history story with no actual history beyond the presumably made-up disco history Big Ronnie covers on his disco tours. People in this new reality are gross and trashy and accept insanely weird things as the norm. Even that doesn’t do it justice because there are characters who don’t seem that abnormal. Maybe the weird central characters live in a bubble of alternate reality? It’s bonkers! Now, I completely understand that most of what you’ve read above would give you the impression that the film is bad. That is incorrect. It is gloriously fucked-up. Each new gross-out, each new weird phrase, each new character interaction, each edit that holds just a beat too long, is a greasy joy.
The Final Cut: The Greasy Strangler is a disgusting, very weird film that should delight viewers with strong stomachs and a hearty sense of humor.