The Bar Fly
The Greasy Strangler
A film with the title of The Greasy Strangler immediately brings to mind certain imagery, most likely that of a greased-up beast who, of course, strangles people to death. It’s probably not a movie that would worry itself about being for “broad” crowds – these audiences would be split amongst those grossed out/who walked out and those stunned/perplexed/enamored. I can imagine moviegoers turning their heads away from the screen or looking at the floor as body parts flail and dirty sex is had, just as much as I can imagine them wide-eyed and jaws dropped at the presentation being shown. Just from a title, these thoughts come.
Sitting through the Amazon video stream of The Greasy Strangler, I struggled to reference any other film in recent or distant memory as influence. Instead, I could only think about the Adult Swim affiliated production studio PFFR, who made such absurdly conceived and yet philosophically profound and deliriously funny shows as Xavier: Renegade Angel and Delocated. Their works feature dark humor, twisted logic and, most importantly, fearless identity. They are, unmistakably and wholly certain, unique in the highest definition of that word. In this way and this way alone, Greasy Strangler finds companionship with outside content.
In the year 2016, where many a pop culture figure passed on and voters and nonvoters at large became disillusioned and angry to the point of self destruction, The Greasy Strangler stands as an exemplary achievement similar – but not exact – to those of Trash Humpers. Strangler is a stunning running of this torch, once held by films like Pink Flamingos and Stroszek, where bystanders will witness with both stomach-churning disgust and wide-eyed attraction a reflection of themselves and their environment in a puddle of mud. It shouldn’t come easily, being able to both distract and engage an audience so thoroughly. So disgustingly and disturbingly thoroughly.
- The (F)Art of Language
In the world that The Greasy Strangler occurs in, there is a strange, off-putting and very captivating use of inflections, expressions, and phrases when characters communicate with one another. Perhaps the best example is the hotel vending machine sequence, featuring two (or maybe three) foreign speaking people. They discuss the transaction of a bag of chips, which have gotten stuck in the machine. When asked what the snack is made of – with each word enunciated loudly, as if to penetrate the ears and minds of all – one of the men responds, “Porto”, over and over and over again, in perhaps a single repeated take. The confusion closes and laughter erupts with the third (but possibly not foreign) man suggests it means “Potato”. He is the only one shrugging and shaking his head, almost understanding the absurdity and even strange likelihood of this moment.
This movie is surrounded, within itself and in the theater with the audience, by linguistic dissonance. What is said and how it’s said is, more often than not, received comfortably in the world built, as if it’s all normal speak (which I suppose it is). And yet, as familiar as characters may be with this talk, there is a tense unease between sentences that they and we feel. We feel something wrong, they suspect something possibly being wrong. But… IS “something” wrong? Anything? I say no.
The Greasy Strangler exhibits its funny via the alien-like speech patterns of its denizens, who would either be looked at cock-eyed or completely shunned in real life because of this. They speak without pretension or anxiety of falling in line with social norms, probably because no social norms are around. Or maybe they know that these norms are a faulty construct. “I’m coming with you to the horror house, tonight” is made to sound like “I’m coming with you to the whore house.” And when “… THAT’S why you won’t ‘grease my dawg’!” is yelled, we’re uncertain if the wordplay is intentional for us or even for them. In fact, nothing is certain when it comes to the dialogue in this film. Nothing is certain and everything is permitted.
- Fight Club 2
Could it be that The Greasy Strangler takes place a block over from Tyler Durden’s stronghold? Thinking on it some, there are similarities between both neighborhood landscapes. In Fight Club, golf balls are launched into the night air with complete disregard for property damage, mostly due to the reality that the local area is downtrodden and mostly abandoned. This plays heavily and subtly in that film, showing the ugly side of American capitalist corporatism. The forgotten economies and the forgotten people fuel Tyler’s army. Does it also fuel greasy strangling?
At the center of The Greasy Strangler is the relationship between “Big” Ronnie and his son “Big” Braden. Ronnie was once a disco nightclub owner who, in his elder years, runs a disco history tour. While the city is never really named, it’s clear that Ronnie may be a true “bullshit artist”, giving inaccurate information to dummy tourists. He holds onto the memories of his younger days in this way, despite and in spite of his shy and developmentally stunted adult son. “We’re a generation of men raised by women” Tyler famously says in Fight Club. Removed from his Mom by way of one Ricky Prickles, Braden yearns to be a Momma’s Boy. When his new girlfriend Janet removes her top, Braden gasps and cries, making suckling noises to boot. Now, Ronnie mostly talks about grease, sex, and disco, giving Braden – who grew up with this – no chance at a stable relationship with anyone outside of family. To quote Fight Club, he is Jack’s lost childhood. From Ronnie’s perspective, Braden is Jack’s spermful regret. Braden is the Meatloaf character.
We see cars in the far distant background of Greasy Strangler, but hardly in the foreground. Hot dog vendors appear at night, desperate for customers. This is a community forgotten by the masses. These are people forgotten by the masses. The masses may soon have a problem on their hands.