So what can one even begin to say about a movie with the title HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN? At least there is honesty and truth within that title, as for all intents and purposes, it is simply, a movie about a bum with a gun. Of course their title sounds much more interesting and by far more in tune with the grindhouse feel I assume they were going for. Truthfully, this movie had a serious Tarentino vibe to it, which makes perfect sense considering it was the winner of a contest to develop a fake trailer for the Tarentino/Rodriguez double feature, Grindhouse. However, it is a Canadian production from director Jason Eisener and is a fairly good example of an exploitation film.
When we first meet the hobo (a stellar Rutger Hauer), he is hopping off the train at a place called Hope Town - which is obviously not quite the case, as someone has spray-painted SCUM over the word Hope. And Scum Town is a pretty fair assessment - the place is overrun with violence and mayhem.
A tyrant named The Drake (Brian Downey) has taken over the town, killing people willy-nilly in ridiculous and over the top ways. He is aided by his two sons, Ivan and Slick (Nick Bateman and Gregory Smith, respectively)- both of which are as evil and perverse as their daddy. Immediately I absolutely hated these three characters. I presume we are supposed to hate them as they have no redeeming qualities. They just bounce through town ravaging the place. The town is rife with crime - hookers walk the streets, a former arcade has been turned into a den of iniquity, the cops are in The Drake's pockets, and people are just living in fear of what comes next. It is so preposterous to imagine a town gone so wrong. It's as if the place is completely off the radar. In reality it's safe to assume the National Guard would just come in and shut the whole place down. But we must set reality aside if we are to even remotely enjoy what's to come.
Our hobo, upon arrival, witnesses The Drake (who is one of the most annoying characters I've ever seen) killing his brother via decapitation (which is flat-out comical if I'm being truthful).
The Drake is wildly proud of himself for his deed and his sons implore the gawking townsfolk to applaud his treachery lest they lose their own heads. Hobo is aghast at the blatant violence and the lack of authority but stands in the shadows nonetheless, hopeless to help.
Hobo heads for the local pawn shop (because all small towns have pawn shops, you see) and daydreams about buying a lawnmower that costs $49.99. Seriously. We see a few flashbacks of him as a kid, watching his pops cut the grass as the family stands around admiring him. O...kay.
While this sounds pretty silly so far, I assure you it would be if you didn't feel some sort of sorrow and sympathy for the hobo. Let's face it, Rutger Hauer has always been a great actor. I recall my first impression of him while watching the thriller, Nighthawks. He ran rings around Stallone in the acting department and seriously makes for a frightening antagonist. Likewise his turn as John Ryder in The Hitcher nearly had me hiding under my bed. Terrifying! That character is burned on my brain for all eternity. So to see him as a man without a real purpose, a lost soul just looking for his next meal, well it only proved to me again his range as an actor. I felt so darn bad for him in this film. And quite honestly, another actor just might not have cut the mustard.
Following the rotten duo of Slick and Ivan to the sleazy arcade, he eventually saves the day for a young hooker named Abby (Molly Dunsworth). Slick, wanting to add her to his list of conquests (in both sex and death), is prevented from completing his act by Hobo, who knocks him out and drags him to the police station. Unfortunately he doesn't realize the cops are corrupt until it's too late and they give him a permanent (and bloody) reminder.
Found bleeding on the streets by Abby, Hobo is taken to her apartment and cared for. She gives him a place to rest for the night and the two hit it off (more in a father-daughter way) discussing their mutually depressing existences.
When the Hobo raises enough money to purchase his lawnmower (which we have now ascertained he is planning to start a lawn-cutting business with), he heads to the pawn shop. Regrettably, a trio of robbers also enters the shop and takes a woman hostage and holds a gun to her baby's head. Hobo gazes to the wall where he sees a shotgun (remarkably also only $49.99). He suddenly flips out, grabbing the gun off the wall and taking care of business by shooting all three thugs to death. He slaps his hard-earned money on the counter and buys the shotgun instead of the lawnmower.
And so begins his rampage of justice, a vigilante is born! Hobo starts offing all the criminals in town, gaining a reputation as a savior for the town. Naturally The Drake and Co. aren't too keen on the hobo taking things into his own hands. To make a point, the boys enter a school bus full of children and use a flamethrower, setting the whole thing on fire and killing all the kids. (Yep, they spared no feelings on this film.)
Basically the rest of the film is the bad guys trying to halt the hobo's homemade neighborhood watch. Blood literally sprays from every corner of the screen. There are parts that had me exclaiming things like "Come on!" and "Get serious!" But these things are expected in an exploitation flick, I realize that. And while the whole film reeks of laughable and outrageous camp, Hauer's performance is genuine and - if I may use this word - heartfelt. You really want everything to work out for him. You long for him and Abby to get out of the shitty life they currently have and settle down in a nice neighborhood with a little cottage on a tree-lined street, food on their table, and HBO on the flat-screen. But life doesn't always turn out like we want, does it?
I think it's best said by the hobo himself, when he is admiring a nursery full of newborns: "I used to be like you... a long time ago. All brand new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special... like a doctor or a lawyer. I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here, you're more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you're successful, you'll make money selling junk to crackheads. And don't think twice about killing someone's wife, because you won't even know it's wrong in the first place. Maybe... you'll end up like me. A hobo with a shotgun."