The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

bodyguard_1976_poster_01Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Judy Lee, Bill Louie
Director: Tatsuichi Takamori (1973)
Director: Simon Nuchtern (1976)
Cinematographer: Joel Shapiro
Music: Maurice Sarli
Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa (1973)
Producer: Terry Levene (1976)
AKA: Chiba The Bodyguard, Viva Chiba
Original Title: Karate Kiba

Sometimes in this day and age it is easy to forget how videotapes, DVD and Blu-ray have changed the way we watch movies, especially coupled with the search and buying options available through the internet. As a young boy growing up in rural Australia, I had no inkling of the films of Sonny Chiba. The were certainly not given a drive-in release in my home town, and were never going to turn up on commercial television at that time.

The interesting thing here, is that if Chiba had been available to me, it most likely would not be in the format I am used to today. Now this is not intended as a product endorsement — more to illustrate the way I am used to seeing Chiba film — down under there is a company called Madman, that has an off-shoot called Eastern Eye which specialises in Asian cinema. There films are gorgeously presented in widescreen and they often plum for the original language audio, with English subtitles for their releases. There are exceptions, such as the Godzilla films where they give you the option of subs or dub. But generally they serve up pretty authentic releases, served up the way the films were originally meant to be seen. Some of their Chiba releases have included Bullet Train, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge and two of the Yakuza Deka films. All these films look great; are hip and funky in a ’70s kind of way, and suggested a certain style in a Chiba movie — that being tough crime films with a serve of high impact martial arts.

Bodyguard8Of course there is more to the story of Chiba, and these films only whetted my appetite for more of Chiba’s unique kind of thrills. Next I tracked down a film called Satomi Hakken Den (Legend of the Eight Samurai) directed by the chameleon Kinji Fukasaku. As much as I enjoyed Satomi Hakken Den – especially the giant Muppet centipede – what intrigued me more on the disk were the trailers for other Chiba features. One of these features was G.I. Samurai and the trailer suggests it is the story of a band of modern combat soldiers, led by Chiba, who slip through a crack in time and land in the middle of a turf war between two warring clans in feudal times. My jaw dropped, and I audibly exclaimed “Hell, yeah!” This is a film I need in my life.

Next, independently, Keith at Teleport City reviewed Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Once again, that little voice in my head shouted “Hell, yeah — this is a film that I need in my life.” And at that point, I sadly realised I knew nothing about Chiba, and I had to dig deeper. Those pristine, widescreen prints were going to be a thing of the past. All I knew was my viewing was going to consist of murky second generation dupes, and it was going to get bloody. First stop…The Bodyguard (well almost!)

Bodyguard7Before I started watching The Bodyguard there was a not-so-subtle hint that my world of Chiba was going to change. Firstly I went to ‘special features’ on the disk and there was a teaser for Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. As I alluded to earlier, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge was a film that I had already seen on an Eastern Eye disk. I thought that it was a great little action film with an impossibly funky score. But I chose to watch the teaser, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a dub (rather than subbed, as I know the film). The smooth, modulated dialogue was no longer there. Instead Chiba was angry and shouting “Don’t anybody move or I’ll rip this motherf*cker’s head off!” I knew Terry, The Streetfighter as a tough, man-of-action, but here, he was presented as one crazy, wild-eyed, bad-ass motherf*cker. This was a man who makes Maurizio Merli, Steven Segal and Michael Dudikoff or anyone who specialised in ‘revenge flicks’ look like boy scouts.

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F*cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother F*cker’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother F*cker of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it!

BodyguardTCThe film opens in New York, with a scene that could be ripped off from The Godfather. An underworld Don, Salvatore Rocco and his family are gunned down on the steps outside a large church. The newspaper reports suggest the police are now searching for the Rocco’s Japanese mistress who is said to have disappeared.

Then we cut to a far to obvious, new scene that has been shoehorned into the film. It features two martial artists,Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who are debating the strengths and weaknesses of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba’s fighting styles, including a demonstration of Bruce’s double nung-chuck technique. They round out the conversation by informing the audience that Chiba is on his way back to Tokyo.

The movie skips forward to the flight and a bunch of badasses hijack the flight. They hijack it for one reason, and that’s because Sonny Chiba is on the flight. Sonny, not only is the world’s number one martial artist, but he is also a fierce opponent of drugs and drug trafficking. These goons who have taken control of the flight, want to kill Chiba because of his interference with their drug trade. But even though there are five hijackers with guns, Chiba still kills each one of them with a series of power punches that have the bad guys spitting blood and teeth – that is before they die.

Upon arrival in Japan, Chiba appears on television vowing to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and furthermore offers himself up as a bodyguard to anybody who has information that can put the drug cartels out of action. One girl, Ricoh comes forward and asks for Chiba’s assistance. Before he will help her, he needs to see some proof. She says she has some evidence in the glove box of her car. Chiba sends his sister, Maggie down stairs to collect it, but the bad guys are waiting for her. As Chiba’s sister, Maggie has some fight skills of her own, but up against four men, she is outmatched. They knock her unconscious and strip her naked and lay her out. The shadow from the cross at the top of a church steeple covers her body. It’s actually quite a good visual moment – possibly better than this film deserves. After a while, when Maggie hasn’t returned, Chiba heads down to investigate. He finds her with the words ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved into her arm. Chiba now knows for sure he is up against the mafia.

Bodyguard4Convinced that Ricoh is in danger, Chiba agrees to protect her. They go back to her apartment, and Chiba does a sweep to check that everything is okay. The apartment appears clean and free from danger. Later that night, however, a gang of assassins cut their way out of the furniture (couches and armchairs) where they have been hiding. I guess when you think about it, it is pretty goofy, but this scene represents one of the highlights of the whole movie, so I recommend basking in the ‘goofiness’. Chiba, of course, then fights with the bad guys in his usual rib shattering and arm snapping way.

Of course, as most people would have guessed, Ricoh is the ‘missing’ mistress of Salvatore Rocco (the underworld figure shot down at the start of the film). Therefore she is not really interested in stemming the flow of narcotics into Japan. She simply wants Chiba to protect her form the various gangs — the Mafia and the Yakuza — who are after her and the drug shipment she has arranged to be brought into the country.

Essentially this makes Chiba a stupid dupe and he follows her around Tokyo while she makes arrangements to unload the drugs. When he finally wakes up to what is going on, for some strange reason he still agrees to help her. It is all very silly, sloppy and contrived. Some of this may be due to the American re-editing and dubbing of the film, but I think even the original Japanese version of the film would be low hanging fruit.

Bodyguard3The amazing thing about Chiba, is no matter where he hits an opponent, you can be sure that the guy spits blood. He could punch a Yakuza gang member in the knee cap, and sure enough, the Yakuza would keel over and a bubble of thick, bright red blood would dribble over his lips. It is a unique talent that Chiba has, and a talent that generally makes his films so entertaining. Not so, The Bodyguard. Sure there’s plenty of blood spitting, even a few teeth flying, but on the whole this film is pretty muddled and uninspiring.

Visually, the camera shots are tightly focused and there is an over abundance of hand held cinematography.Some of the fight scenes are so dimly lit and jerkily edited, it is hard to tell if they are well choreographed or not. Which is what you really watch a Chiba picture for – the stylised fight scenes. But when they are stylised and filmed in such a fashioned, it renders the film physically impotent.
Co-starring with Chiba is Etsuko Shihomi, who also starred with Chiba in a whole swag of films including; The Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shogun Ninja, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, Bullet Train, The Streetfighter, The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Sister Streetfighter and many others.

The Bodyguard is not great Chiba, and I think I’ll keep searching for a copy of G.I. Samurai to slake my thirst for Chiba’s unique style of mayhem, and I’d suggest that other Chibafiles look elsewhere too.

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The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

The Killing Machine (1975)

TKM8

Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato, Naoya Makoto, Sanae Kitabayashi, Akiko Mori, Hosei Komatsu, Tetsuro Tanba
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writer: Isao Matsumoto
Cinematographer: Yoshio Nakajima
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Original Title: Shôrinji kenpô

Minor warning. This review contains adult themes.

As a teenager at school, out in the yard, talk would often drift to the ‘forbidden knowledge’ – essentially R-rated violence and pornography. Not that any of us were really exposed to it. One of the most revered topics under discussion was Caligula. Now I don’t know how many of my peers had actually seen Caligula; I am guessing that one or two may have, however it would not surprise me if none of them had. The story always retold was always the same one, so I get the impression that the story was almost a hand-me-down for those who wanted to project an image of being more extreme (and experienced) than their friends. I must admit I never saw Caligula until quite recently. I think I have told the story before — that when I watched it, I was suffering from a rather virulent dose of the flu and running a high fever. I had also promised to take my son to see the Revenge of the Sith on that weekend too. So I was hopped up on every medicine known to man fading in an out of coherency. To this day I am not too sure where Caligula ends and Sith begins. It lives in my mind as some violent porno mashup.

But back to the halcyon days of youth and the legend of Caligula. By legend, I of course mean the story that was told time and time again; and that story related to the sequence where Caligula cuts off the guys cock and then feeds it to the dogs. As you can imagine to a hormonal teenage boy — with optimistic dreams of many, many years of fine swordsmanship in front of him — the thought of having your cock cut off was just too abhorrent to contemplate. And furthermore, how dare the film-makers put such a sequence in a movie!

Of course, as bright-eyed and bushy tailed youngsters, we didn’t know who Sonny Chiba was, and therefore were certainly unaware of the existence of The Killing Machine, which was made in 1975 — or if you prefer 5 B.C. (Before Caligula). In The Killing Machine, Sonny Chiba plays Japanese Kenpo Karate master Doshin Soh, who, when he tangles with a local gangster who thinks with his little head, takes to cutting the man’s cock off and throwing it to the dogs.

TKM2

However, despite my long-winded intro and talk of penile severance; and despite the film’s title The Killing Machine; and despite that this is a Chiba film made at the height of his violent, rib-shattering fame, this film is actually quite a moving and emotionally charged drama — but with, y’know, Chiba hitting and kicking people.

The film is the slightly fictionalized story of real life kenpo master Doshin Soh, and spans the years from 1945, at the end of the second World War, until what I’d guess is 1950, but it is never really specified. The thing with Soh is that he was trained in Shaolin Kung-Fu in China and is presented as having far superior martial arts skills than his fellow Japanese who have only studied karate or judo.

The film starts in 1945. The war is still raging, and Soh is a Japanese spy who has infiltrated a Chinese garrison. A mission briefing reveals to Soh that the Chinese are planning a big attack on a Japanese force arriving from Manchuria. However, before Soh can make off with the information, he is discovered and a fight breaks out. Soh’s solution is a simple one, and that is to kill everybody in the room. Forget the AK47 — ‘when you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherf*cker in the room’ — the perfect weapon is Sonny Chiba. After the carnage, Soh reports back to his superiors only to be told that Japan has unconditionally surrendered. The war is over. At that point Soh declares that ‘Japan may have lost the war, but he’ll never be defeated. Never!’

It’s a tough time for the Japanese after the war. They are victimised by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Russians and American occupational forces. It is almost like they are beggars in their own country. But Soh isn’t one to give in — and he does everything in his power to see that other Japanese citizens are able to survive, with a modicum of dignity. That’s actually one of the core themes of the film — national pride and standing by each other. Of course, there are Yakuza gangs who don’t live by Soh’s code and are more concerned with making a profit out of the hardship that most people face. They do this by peddling black-market food and medicine.

TKM3

In Osaka, Soh becomes a surrogate father for many of the orphaned and homeless children in the area, passing on his wisdom as they struggle to survive. At the same time, he spends a large portion of his time getting into street brawls with the black marketeers who are exploiting the situation. After crippling two American G.I.s who almost killed a young Japanese boy, Soh is sent to prison, and it is looking likely that he will be executed. But the prison warden, a patriotic Japanese (a cameo by Tetsuro Tamba) turns a blind eye and allows Soh to escape, so long as Soh promises to leave the city.

The film skips forward to 1947, and Soh is in Tadotsu, on the island of Shikoku, and he has started a martial arts school, teaching those who are willing to learn the ways of Shaolin. His timing is fortuitous, because a gang of Yakuza are determined to not only control illegal activity, but generally do whatever they please — which happens to mean take and rape any girl that they want.

When the a group of Yakuza members gang-rape a young girl named Noriko and the police refuse to do anything about it, Soh steps in. And out come the scissors — and after my long-winded intro, you should know what comes next. The film rounds out its story with a final message which is that ‘Fighting without justice is just violence.’ Obviously that’s a great little message, but I guess if you were looking at the body of Sonny Chiba’s work at this time, I think it is fair to say that maybe, just maybe, he was miscast in this film.

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.

The Killing Machine (1975)

Avenging Force (1986)

Country: United States
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, John P. Ryan
Writer: James Booth
Music: George S. Clinton

Every film lover has guilty pleasure films. Mine are a bit more embarrassing than most – and Avenging Force is an embarrassment even for a person who has a selection of regular embarrassing films in their closet. Avenging Force is crap. I know it and I admit it, but strangely this film and I are connected. Not in a physical sense, but in that nebulous sort of way that happens when somebody likes some thing or someone for no apparent reason. I can’t work out what draws me to this film, but I have watched it so many times since its release in 1986 (I won’t tell you how many, or you’ll just throw things at me and call me names) that I consider it cinematic comfort food.

You may be thinking that I like this film because it stars Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, the stars of American Ninja, and while I can relate to what you are saying – I do have a soft spot for American Ninja – I have to say that I think Avenging Force is a superior movie. American Ninja, may have a cool, sort of Rebel Without A Cause vibe to it, but it also has a cold aloofness to it, that Dudikoff’s inexperience as an actor at that time could not rise above. But Avenging Force has a heart, and while the cliches are piled on thick and fast, most of the time they work, almost like visual shorthand. And by this time Dudikoff had learnt to relax in front of the camera too.

The plot concerns Larry Richards (Steve James), a black American who is running for a seat in the Louisiana Senate. Richards also happens to an ex intelligence operative who used to work with a young agent named Matt Hunter (Michael Dudikoff) for a department called G-6. Hunter, too, has retired from the service. He retired after his parents were killed in a car bomb explosion. He now lives on a ranch, bringing up his kid sister, Sarah (Allison Gereighty) – with a little bit of help and guidance from his grandfather (Rick Boyle).

In New Orleans, it’s Mardi Gras time, and Hunter, Sarah and Grandpa head south to help Richards with his election campaign. Upon arrival, Richards explains that he has received some death threats from a right wing organisation called Pentangle. Richards also explains that he has not taken the threats seriously, as crank calls and threats are all par for the course, for a black politician in the deep south.

During the Mardi Gras parade, as Richards and his family travel through the crowds on board a float, a team of assassins make an attempt on his life. They succeed in shooting Richards’ son, but Hunter intervenes and fights the assassins off and saving Richards’ life.

Later, Pentangle regroup and set up another attempt on Richards’ life. This time, teaming up, both Richards and Hunter fight off the Pentangle hoods yet again. However, during the battle, Richards is shot in the arm. It is decided, for Richards, and his family’s safety, that they should leave the city for a while. The location they choose as sanctuary is Hunter’s Texas ranch. But Pentangle aren’t done yet. Not by a long shot, and they perform a large scale assault on Hunter’s farm, killing everybody except for Hunter and his sister, Sarah.

Chuck Norris also played a character called 'Matt Hunter' in Invasion USA
There is a reason that they let them live. Pentangle are not only murderous right wing fanatics, they also have a hunting club – their favourite quarry are human beings (a variant on The Most Dangerous Game). They let their enemies loose in the Louisiana swamps and then hunt them down for fun (and the occasional side bet), killing them in a violent and a merciless manner. Impressed with Hunter’s resilience, Pentangle believe that Hunter would be a worthy target for their ‘hunt club’ and they kidnap his sister as bait to ensure that he participates. Hunter doesn’t have much choice. He must compete in their barbaric game or Sarah willed be killed.

Let me say I have never been to New Orleans, so my impression of that city is based solely on films, books and music, which I’ll freely admit is hardly a substitute for the real thing. However, even if all the films I’ve seen, books I’ve read, and CD’s I have listened to are not a true reflection on New Orleans, they still have created a very flavoursome alternate universe. It’s a city and a flavour that is not like anywhere else – at least in the media. And maybe it’s this flavour that draws me (almost hooks me) to Avenging Force. Maybe it is the sequences with colourful Mardi Gras floats drifting down through the streets, accompanied by swinging brass bands. The buildings in the background, with their overhanging verandas seen to close in on the streetscapes, creating a roof, sealing in the vibe, and as the parade moves through the street, everything pops and sizzles.

Or maybe it was the sequence featuring the swampy backwoods Cajun settlement. In the film, the settlement is supposed to be a unfriendly place, but the food (the cooked crays), the Zydeco music – washboards, accordions and violins – pounded out on real instruments, and dancing create an environment with a definite sense of community. A family in fact. So while Dudikoff’s character Matt Hunter, upon his arrival, is made to feel unwelcome – which make the Cajun’s seem hostile – would he be treated any different in your home if he gatecrashed a party? I think not.

Or maybe it is the swamp locations. To me it looks like it was filmed on location in the swamps. The trees are all gnarled and twisted, and the water looks green. And you can almost feel the heat, even though in many of the scenes it is teeming with rain. In a world where everything is becoming more artificial and homogenized, seeing something earthy and real is appealing. The fights look dangerous, not necessarily because of the combat, but because of the terrain. One false step, could have you sprawled on your belly in mud and at the mercy of the enemy.

The plot to John Woo's Hard Target is remarkably similar, right down to the New Orleans locations.
As you can see, there is nothing definite about why I like Avenging Force, and I could spend equal time pointing out its flaws, such as poorly choreographed fight scenes and gaping plot holes, but that would be nit-picking. Plenty of films have bad fight scenes and plot holes, but most of those films don’t create a mood and an atmosphere. Avenging Force does. Is it an existential action film? Maybe that’s pushing the envelope a little too far, but it certainly creates its own world above and beyond the the film’s limited framework and the established tropes of the genre. And if you’re wondering just what genre this film is, at it’s heart it is a simple revenge flick. But it is more than a revenge flick. It’s about right and wrong, the past and the future, and it’s an endurance test. And if you need more, you could say it is a martial arts movie – but I would also suggest that as far as martial arts movies go, Avenging Force is not a great one.

In Avenging Force, some viewers may find the violence and some of the villains repugnant. And I can understand that. The reality is that the film is just another exploitation flick from Cannon pictures. So yeah, violence sells, so there is a healthy serve of violence in the flick. But it is not that much different to the other mid ’80s action dross that was being pumped out at the time, starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger or even Chuck Norris. The violence here is all rather cartoonish, with the villains wearing silly masks in the swamps – and amplified by the acting, which is over the top, especially by John P. Ryan as the chief villain, Glastenbury, who appears to have a high old time, ranting and raving like a megalomaniac should.

Avenging Force, despite the fondness I have for the film, is no masterpiece, and as a spy film it is pretty weak. During the course of events, ex-spy Hunter is called back to his old group G-6 and is asked to rejoin and assist them. At that time he refuses, saying he’ll do things his way, which he does. However, by the end of the film (and the ending is a little bit open – but I won’t spoil it here) Hunter appears to rejoin his old team so he can shut down Pentangle for once and for all. By the end of the film, he is a spy again – albeit one with a very personal agenda, and one who is not going to play by the rules. So even as a spy film, it is very much a revenge flick.

As a bit of trivia, for those who like such things, Hunter’s old boss, Admiral Brown, is played by James Booth (Hooky, I’ll make a soldier out of you yet!) Booth also wrote the screenplay, having previously worked on the screenplay of American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. He would also appear with Dudikoff in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation. Ninja 4 appears to have been written by a gentleman named David Geeves, and as James Booth’s birth name is David Geeves-Booth, it is fair to assume he also wrote it as well. Should we blame Hooky for Dudikoff’s ascension as a B-grade movie star in the mid 1980s? Or should that honour go to director Sam Firstenberg?

As I said at the top, Avenging Force is one of my guilty, very guilty pleasures. I don’t expect you to share my enthusiasm for it – and nor should you, but as a cheap exploitation flick, I think it punches well above its weight.

Avenging Force (1986)

Hobo With a Shotgun

Release Year: 2011
Country: Canada
Director: Jason Eisener
Writers: John Davies, Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman, Jeremy Akerman
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
Music: Adam Burke, Darius Holbert, Russ Howard III, The Obsidian Orchestra
Producers: Chris Bell, Rob Cotterill, Niv Fichman, Paul Gross, Kevin Kritst, Andrea Raffaghello, Frank Siracusa

Hobo With a Shotgun owes its existence to Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse films. While I like the Grindhouse project, perhaps Planet Terror a bit more than Death Proof, are they really what they purport to be? Are they Grindhouse films? However, that’s a question for later, what we’re looking at is how Hobo and the Grindhouse films are connected.

Those you have seen Grindhouse – or singularly Planet Terror would be aware of the faux trailer for Machete. The trailer proved so popular that an actual film was made, based on the incidents shown in the trailer. Now Machete cannot be really called a good film, but it was fast paced and fun and delivered everything that was promised in the trailer. But there were other trailers beside Machete.

Upon Grindhouse’s release, as a publicity gimmick, a competition was held to create a Grindhouse style trailer. The winner of this competition, was for a fictitious film called Hobo With a Shotgun. Allegedly, this trailer was incorporated into the Grindhouse program in North America – although, I have not seen this trailer myself.

Now, several years later a film has been made based on the trailer, the big difference being that Rutger Hauer is playing the titular hobo. And that’s where I come into the story. As an Australian, I was unaware of the trailer competition, and therefore unaware of Hobo With a Shotgun’s backstory. All I knew was that there was a new film called Hobo With a Shotgun and it starred Rutger Hauer. Those two points were all it was required to sell me.

Now I like watching trash and exploitation pictures. I’ll watch practically any type of ‘ploitation’ picture, be it Blaxploitation, Bruceplotation, Nunsploitation, Rednexploitation, MadMaxploitation, anything really…and therefore my standards aren’t very high. Violence, Sex and Sleaze are old friends and it takes a lot for me to be disgusted. But Hobo With a Shotgun came close to crossing that line. It is a violent, repugnant piece of work, that has no redeeming features at all. But I seem to be alone in that opinion, with the internet buzz suggesting that the film is a genre classic. Maybe I am just getting old.

I think I draw the line at violence being perpetrated against children. I know cinema is all make believe and no actual children were harmed, but when the villains of the piece, torched a bus load of children with a flame thrower, I thought the film went too far. This was after a scene, where a paedofile in a Santa suit is seen driving off with a boy in the back seat, banging on the rear window, begging for help, while the townsfolk ignore him. These aren’t gory scenes by this film’s standards, but the themes encompassed are simply abhorrent. And they don’t add to the story at all either. The bus scene could have just as easily been a load of adults, and the same emotional content – that being, making the the viewer hate the villains that bit more – could have been achieved.

The film opens with an un-named Hobo (Rutger Hauer) hitching a lift on a cargo train. The train pulls into Hope Town – although the sign at the limits has been tagged and now says Scum Town. Later, a police officer refers to the city as Fuck Town. Either way, this city is not a friendly place, and in some ways echoes the village, ‘The Unhappy Place’ in Guilio Questi’s Django Kill: If You Live Shoot. Immediately the Hobo is a witness to a strange event on the streets. A man, whose hands have been tied, runs through the street with a thick circular collar around his neck. This collar just so happens to be the same width as a manhole cover. This man asks the town folk on the streets to untie his hands, but everybody ignores him. The citizens live in fear and don’t want to get involved.

Cars race into the street from opposite ends, blocking the man’s progress. From the vehicles step underworld kingpin, The Drake (Brian Downey), and his two delinquent sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). It turns out that the hunted man is The Drake’s younger brother, and somehow he has offended his criminally minded sibling. No explanation is really offered, but as punishment, the younger brother is marched into the middle of the street where he is lowered into a manhole, where his collar locks him into place. His head is now the only part of his body visible. Then a barbed wire noose is placed around his head, while the other end is tied to a car. On The Drake’s signal, the car speeds off, and his brothers is decapitated sending a shower of blood high into the sky. If the scene wasn’t fucked up enough, then a girl in a bikini and a white fur coat starts to dance in the shower of blood.

The town folk return to their business and the hobo moves on. Later, the hobo finds himself outside The Drake’s nightclub, which is more like a torturous amusement park. The viewer is introduced to the sort of fun that is had inside, by a visual of a man being forcibly held down on a dodge-em car track, when two cars plow into his head from opposite sides. His head disintegrates in a balloon of blood.

The hobo enters the club and watches from the shadows, and sees a young hooker, named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) picked up by Slick. She thinks it’s an opportunity to earn some decent money. But Slick is pretty perverted, and things quickly get out of hand. But before things get really ugly, the hobo steps into the fray and knocks Slick out. He claims to be making a citizens arrest.

The hobo drags Slick to the police station. However the hobo is not received politely. The police chief is in cahoots with The Drake, and he frees Slick. Then Slick, with Ivan’s help, kick the shit out of the hobo and carve a message into his chest. But they don’t kill him. They simply throw his battered body into a garbage heap.

Later the battered and bleeding hobo staggers along a line of streetwalking girls, looking for Abby. He finds her, and she takes him back to her apartment, and she patches him up – and allows him a good night’s sleep on her bed. However, in the morning he is gone, and that would be it, but the hobo has a dream to buy a lawn mower and start his own business. He goes to a pawn shop to enquire about a mower, but before he has a chance, three hoodlums barge in, threatening the customers and demanding money.

The hobo decides enough is enough, and picks up a shotgun from the wall (strange it should be loaded). Then he begins to dispense his own unique brand of shotgun justice. But it doesn’t end here. The hobo marches out onto the street and starts killing all the riff-raff. Soon, his actions have caught the public and the media’s attention, and he becomes somewhat of a people’s hero.

Of course, this does not sit well with The Drake and his boys and they put a bounty on the hobo’s head. In fact, they put a bounty on all homeless people. So ordinary folk, with a mob mentality, suddenly start killing the homeless folk, man, woman or child, and with each death, they get closer to finding and catching the hobo.

When a corrupt police officer tries to force Abby into performing sexual acts, the hobo steps in, providing his unique justice, and then the two of them escape back to her apartment. The hobo relates his lawn mowing business dream, and Abby says that she will go with him, and they can both start a new life together in a new town. But before they can leave, Skip and Ivan turn up – violence, trouble and a large amount of bloodletting ensues.

The only thing I can think to compare this too is the current crop of Japanese gorefests, such as Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl and Frankenstein Girl and many others. The Japanese films cross the lines of good taste too, but there a sense of style, and even professionalism in their productions, which can be admired, even if you don’t particularly like the film. Hobo With a Shotgun does not display that professionalism. The acting is amateur at best, particularly from Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman who play Slick and Ivan – two of the central characters. Brian Downey as The Drake only fairs marginally better. I think he can act, but in this instance chose to go widely over the top – embarrassingly so.

The gore effects thankfully aren’t CGI, but they are crude and simplistic, with almost balloon or garden hose delivery systems. If that’s your thing, then this film delivers everything from decapitations, machete slashing, stomachs slit open by baseball bats with razorblades embedded in them, hacksaws to the neck, hands being vaporised in lawnmower blades, and of course, multiple shotgun blasts.

Defining exactly what an exploitation picture is, is very difficult. I guess they have to have some exploitable quality, and I guess Hobo With a Shotgun exploits star Rutger Hauer. I love Rutger, and will watch the bulk of his work knowing full well it isn’t very good. And here I have done so again, and in saying that, may I suggest that in its way Hobo With a Shotgun is a more successful Grindhouse exploitation flick than Death Proof, Planet Terror or Machete. These last three films provide a decent nights entertainment, whether it be at the cinema or in front of the television at home. Many people, myself included, will watch them again and again. However, most likely I will never watch Hobo With a Shotgun again. It is a film that has exploited my fondness for Hauer films. I watched it solely because his name was on the poster, and now I feel cheated – possibly exploited – and definitely unclean.

The thing is, readers don’t come to P2K looking for reviews of family friendly cinema. If you have done so, I apologize for the pictorial content. Most visitors here are cult and exploitation film savvy, and like myself are going to hear about Hobo With a Shotgun and want to watch it for themselves to make up their own minds. I understand and appreciate that, but if I may be so arrogant to suggest that maybe this one to steer clear of… who am I kidding, you’ll watch it anyway.

Hobo With a Shotgun