By now, the story of Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun has taken on an almost mythic air. As a youth, the Halifax-based filmmaker chewed through rented tapes like a faulty VCR, fuelled by a voracious appetite for horror and exploitation oddities. As the years piled up, so did his ambition and before long, he had begun making films of his own. Aided by a crew of likeminded maniacs, Eisener cranked out short after short, each one a crimson-caked valentine to the VHS generation.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that things got really interesting.
Fresh from the successes of Kill Bill and Sin City, celluloid soul-brothers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were given cart blanche to create a theatrical experience unlike anything else on the market. The film that resulted was Grindhouse, a high-concept throwback to the exploitation double-bills of yore. Each director would helm one feature-length film – bookending a bevy of fake trailers directed by cult heroes like Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright – and sell it to the masses for the price of one admission. To cap it all off, the filmmakers held a competition encouraging fans to create their best fake grindhouse trailer, the most impressive of which winning a coveted spot before the film proper.
As erudite disciples of the exploitation scene, Eisener and company decided to go for broke. They shot the original Hobo with a Shotgun trailer with a budget of $150, the bulk of which went toward pizza and cigarettes for their star, David Brunt. Buoyed with a wild energy and bloodsoaked sweep, the trailer achieved a lot more than simply winning the competition – as Grindhouse struggled to find its legs in multiplexes, Hobo lit the web on fire. Suddenly, the little-trailer-that-could had become a cult sensation and fans were pounding on Eisener’s door to make a full-length feature.
Four years later and that dream has become a reality. Facilitated by the trailer’s overwhelming response, Eisener was able to secure enough funding to bring the film to life. With the help of producer Rob Cotterill and writer John Davies, the director set to work on what would prove to be a daunting task: shooting a film that lived up to fan expectations.
And well, they nailed it. Hobo with a Shotgun is everything fans could have wished it would be.
The story is simple. A Hobo (played by a respectably poignant Rutger Hauer) rides the rails into a new town with a sack on his shoulder and a dream in his heart. He plans to save enough money to purchase a lawnmower so that he’s able to work and reclaim his dignity. Instead, he finds the place bursting at the seams with repugnant characters. From corrupt cops to pedophile Santas, Hope Town is practically cancerous with crime.
At the top of this shit heap sits the Drake (Brian Downey), a ruthless ruffian with a penchant for the theatrical, and his sadistic sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith.) Instead of sitting back as the injustices pile up, the Hobo teams up with a hospitable hooker named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) and proceeds to cash in his nickels and dimes for a “new way of life.” And yes, that’s code for “a shotgun.”
Hobo with a Shotgun is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years. As a vigilante tale, it’s marked with a distinct, playful tone that separates it from other films of its ilk. Although there are some serious atrocities committed within Hobo’s brisk, 85-minute runtime, Eisener keeps their horror at bay by ratcheting things up to eleven. Its level of violence recalls films like Riki-Oh and Dead Alive, with nary a drop of CG plasma to be found. There’s a reverence in Eisener’s use of practical effects that feels almost joyous.
Drawing from a palette of giallo, splatterpunk, exploitation and DIY influences, Hobo with a Shotgun practically throbs with stylistic flair. It plays like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life – or Dick Tracy on methamphetamines – and burns at a relentless pace. If its threadbare plot leaves a little to be desired, the film’s value as a sensory experience is more than enough to compensate. In a lot of ways, it feels like a half-remembered fever dream – occasionally illogical but never less than vivid.
At the centre of the maelstrom sits Rutger Hauer and, in a lot of ways, Hobo feels like the actor’s quintessential role. As the titular vagrant, Hauer finds a sweet spot between the manic energy that has defined a lot of his DTV fare and the pathos evident in his early work with Paul Verhoeven. He lives and breathes the part, embodying a character that traipses a railroad track between aching melancholy and blood-drunk psychosis.
As a dyed-in-wool fan of Hobo’s original trailer, I was as disheartened as any to see David Brunt lose out on the role, but Hauer is a more-than-sufficient replacement. In fact, his performance is the lynchpin that holds the enterprise together. With so many kaleidoscopic elements, (wait until you see The Plague!) the film could have just as easily fallen apart, but Hauer anchors Eisener’s vision with dignity and grace.
Overall, Hobo With A Shotgun is sure to please fans of exploitation, horror and action flicks of yesterday. With zero reliance on computer-concocted frills, (and that includes fake scratches, hisses and cigarette burns) the film comes from a place that feels earnest and sincere.
It hums with the same electricity found in the early work of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez and there’s a tangible sense of enthusiasm that emanates from the film. Viewers are struck with the sense that Eisener can’t believe someone gave him the money to make his dreams come true… and that Rutger Hauer agreed to ride shotgun.
In terms of the Blu-Ray, this is a tremendous release and it feels like a love letter to the fans who have been rooting for the film since the beginning. Let’s delve in, shall we?
With a 1080p, 1.66:1 Blu-ray transfer, Hobo with A Shotgun looks great. While there is a certain amount of digital grain, it never overwhelms the picture and instead, manages to enrich it. The image is razor-sharp and full of depth and contrast. Eisener and cinematographer Karim Hussain have created a brilliant palette here, and Hobo’s transfer honors it accordingly, wringing out rich, polychromatic hues that practically burst from the screen.
Hobo With A Shotgun hits Blu with a 5.1 DTS-HD mix that will blow you away. Shotgun bursts ring out explosively, viscera sounds wet and nauseating and Hauer’s quiet mumbling comes out sharp and crisp. The synth-heavy score is also well-represented, screaming to life in a master that sounds ambient and rich.
In terms of special features, we get quite a worthy selection of extras to choose from. Here’s what’s included.
More Blood, More Heart: The Making of Hobo With A Shotgun:
As the crown jewel of Hobo’s supplemental material, this documentary charts the film’s perilous journey from trailer to screen. It’s fascinating to see the movie from this perspective and director Kevin Fraser blends fly-on-the-wall footage and cast and crew interviews to masterful effect. Much like the film that it essays, More Blood, More Heart never dips in energy and feels more like a postcard from the edge than a sterile, studio-ordained making of doc. It looks like the crew had a blast making Hobo, and Fraser does a brilliant job of capturing the camaraderie, labor and passion that went into making this film. This one is well worth watching. (45:22)
If More Blood, More Heart wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for behind the scenes footage, Shotgun Mode certainly will. Viewers opting to watch this enhanced version of the film will see a crosshair pop up every few minutes. Clicking the crosshair will lead you to a short piece of behind-the-scenes footage corresponding with the scene you’re watching. Shotgun Mode adds a deeper level of appreciation to the film as a whole by providing context and illuminating the creative challenges that went into bringing Hobo to life. Of particular interest is a short interview with original hobo David Brunt, who is an endlessly fascinating and charismatic subject. I’d love to see an entire documentary devoted to him someday. Note: Viewers can also watch the Shotgun Mode clips separately and they run 1:46:00 in total.
Hobo comes loaded with two commentary tracks. The first features director Jason Eisener and star Rutger Hauer and is loaded with behind the scenes stories and anecdotes. There’s a great rapport between the two and it’s fascinating to hear about the production from Hauer’s point of view. His perspective on the film’s tone is different than one might suspect, and it sounds like he had an awesome time getting completely unhinged for Hobo.
The second commentary track features director Eisener, producer Rob Cotterill, writer John Davies and original hobo David Brunt. This one is a little more technical and Eisener and company spend a lot of time discussing their influences. It’s great to hear these guys talk about the movies and video games that were so important in their youth and the way that they’ve managed to pay homage in their film. (And again, it’s a joy to hear from David Brunt. It’s easy to see the ways that he inspired the character of the Hobo, and he speaks in a kind of oblique poetry that I could listen to all day.)
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending:
We get two short extended scenes and a montage of unused footage scored to Powerglove’s incredible track “Hunters.” (05:58) We also get a short alternate ending that teasing the newest member of The Plague. (00:33)
Also included are nine short video blogs originating from Hobo’s website. These vignettes are shot with verve and wit, providing viewers with an early look at the tone and style of the film. (06:40)
Camera Test Reel:
This featurette pretty much does what it says on the box, contrasting quick snippets of footage from a variety of high definition cameras. It offers viewers a rudimentary look at how Hobo found its visual thumbprint. (03:28)
Also included in the package are a couple of interviews conducted with Fangoria writer Michael Gingold. The first is with Rutger Hauer and the Dutch actor gives some insight on his first thoughts upon reading the script along with his approach to playing the character of the Hobo. The second is with director Jason Eisener and he speaks about the genesis of the film, alternate casting ideas, and his creative process. Both subjects are engaged and energetic and these interviews fly by in a breeze. They run 11:20 and 33:09, respectively.
HDNet: A Look at Hobo with a Shotgun:
This short promotional piece teases Hobo’s HDNet release and has Rutger Hauer and Jason Eisener providing insight about their wild little film from the comfort of a shared bed. It’s a bizarre and entertaining little look at the casting, making and reaction to the film. (05:13)
Also included are Eisener’s original Hobo with a Shotgun trailer (02:01), the winner of the Hobo with a Shotgun Faux Trailer Contest, Van Gore (02:01), Two Hobo Redband U.S. Theatrical Trailers (04:08), and a couple of the film’s Canadian TV Spots (00:46)
Overall, Hobo with a Shotgun’s Blu-ray is absolutely stacked. Watching the film, it’s clear that a tremendous amount of love has been put into its production and this release only helps to support that. This Hobo doesn’t just warrant a purchase, but demands it. Throw a couple of bucks his way.