One actor recalls reading the script, putting it down and then uttering aloud, “Hell no.” Another said that he called the director and asked him, point blank: “What the fuck is this? Are you making a porno, man?” At its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, both the filmmaker and his leading man hastily ran out of their in-progress screening to stress-vomit, while a fellow cast member declared that “the first time I saw, I was appalled.”
So what kind of movie is capable of repulsing its cast, creating near-violent audience reactions and causing such furor even in today’s nothing’s-shocking age? Meet The Greasy Strangler, Jim Hosking’s sentimental story about family, first love and growing up – which also happens to be chock-full of swaying prosthetic phalluses, synthetic meat drippings that look like cockroach guts, and graphic descriptions of jets of semen arcing majestically through the air. It may have some stiff competition for being the weirdest film of 2016 (remember that this was the same year in which Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse with a boner-compass). It will almost assuredly, however, take the title for the year’s most disgusting movie to feature full-frontal geriatric nudity.
“I was writing a couple of other scripts with my friend Toby [Harvard],” Hosking says. “They were quite methodical and rigorous, so we wanted to write something that was completely self-indulgent, stupid and fun, just to make each other laugh. Like, ‘how far can we push the comedy, the timing and the feel of this?'”
The British filmmaker had been releasing oddball little shorts for years, including one about a granddad-grandson relationship turned grim – a sort of Greasy dry run – that ended up in the 2014 horror anthology The ABCs of Death 2. For his first feature, he decided to live up to that challenge with the simple story of gawky manchild Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), his ill-tempered papa Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels), and Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), the “hootie tootie disco cutie” that comes between them. As both men develop crushes on her – and consummate their infatuations in lengthy, horrifyingly detail-oriented sex scenes – they enter into a bizarre Oedipal competition streaked with every variety of bodily fluids. Meanwhile, a congealed-fat-covered night stalker chokes the bejesus out of unsuspecting locals. Oftentimes, while they are in the middle of using the toilet.
“When I saw the material, I actually liked it,” De Razzo says. “I had done sex scenes before, but this was a lot of… me. I told my agent I didn’t think I could do this, and he said, ‘Believe me, this is your movie.’ I’ve always loved John Waters, Pink Flamingos. This is something new, with its own niche. People like to discover things like this.” Not coincidentally, Baltimore’s reigning king of exquisitely bad taste comes up a lot in conversations about The Greasy Strangler, though oddly enough, Hosking says he wasn’t aiming for shocks along the lines of Waters’ infamous Divine-eats-dogshit moment.
“I was surprised by reactions to the film,” Hosking said. “I thought people would find it funny or absurd, but people look really shaken when they come out. When we screened it at South by Southwest, there was a filmmaker I know who makes very strange films. And affterward, he looked like he had been through the wringer: ‘I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ What can seem fun to one person can seem totally deranged to someone else.”
Hearing the cast recall the film shoot, it sounds like the making of the movie was a little bit of both. Elobar fondly recalls the elaborate rig that kept his prosthetic penis affixed to his pelvis: “It was glued onto my balls, very painful to get off. And then there was also a thong thing that went up my butt, and they glued that to my back. Dude, it was so uncomfortable.” As for De Razzo, the leading lady donned a flouncy-looking merkin for her numerous anything-goes sex scenes, and both Elobar and St. Michaels had to wrestle themselves into a zip-up bodysuit drenched in faux grease every day, then spend two hours picking the crud out of their hair every night. “I gave everything I could give to this fuckin’ thing,” Elobar said.
But for all the hair-curling obscenity on display, Hoskings insists he was just as intent on telling a story about a father and his son that was as heartstring-tugging as it was gag-inducing or stomach-churning. “I looked at it as a family-values film,” he says. “Here’s a father who’s trying to get his son to grow a pair – and it worked. But I was very keen for this film to not be dark or disturbing … more like a strange combination of peculiar sexual activity and innocence and sweetness. It’s kind of a mixture of purity and filth.”
Both the cast and the filmmaker realize, of course, that the movie’s abundant use of the second part of that equation won’t be to everybody’s liking; Hosking refers to the numerous walkouts during the Strangler‘s screenings at Sundance as “a good thing” and Elobar admits that, “there are I people who I know that I’d easily tell them: ‘This is not your cup of tea.’ And that’s fine.”
“If I saw my mom going into the theater,” he adds, “I’d prevent it. She’d never go see this. But if she did, I’d run in front of her and say ‘No!‘ She’d freak out.”