When I think of career-defining moments for an actor, Mickey Rourke immediately comes to mind with his amazing ‘back from the dead’ performance in The Wrestler. Other actors who found a new lease of fame long after their early successes include Clifton Webb (the jobbing actor was 55 when his Waldo Lydecker in 1944’s Laura made him a bona fide star) and Vincent Price (who was 62 when he played his most iconic performance – a vengeful Shakespearean actor – in 1973’s Theatre of Blood). Then there’s Rutger Hauer.
Having sealed his star status playing a renegade replicant in 1982’s Blade Runner, Hauer has carved himself a brilliant career in both Hollywood and Europe over the past three decades. But it has taken the first-time director and self-confessed fan Jason Eisener to give the 67-year-old veteran actor the role of a lifetime in his bloody, brilliant homage to 1980s exploitation films Hobo With A Shotgun.
Rutger plays a nameless, homeless man who wanders into a small rural town to find it ruled over by the violent Drake and his sadistic sons Ivan and Slick, who use the townspeople in their deadly games of humiliation and torture. After saving a prostitute from becoming Drake’s next victim, Rutger’s hobo turns vigilante and lets loose his rage, becoming a local hero in the process. In retaliation, Drake sets forth two bounty hunters (The Plague) to take out the hobo, resulting in a bloody, brutal showdown.
Being a cinephile myself, I found myself drooling over Eisener’s use of colour, music and production design that all seamlessly fit together to evoke action flicks like Death Wish that dominated the VHS market throughout the 1980s. Eisener’s influences are up there on the screen for all of us to see: the opening music evokes the Euro horror Mark of the Devil and the sexploitation classic Black Emmanuelle, while the primary chromo colours dripping off the screen are a deliberate nod to Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Eisener’s editing skills are just as sharp as his eye for detail (Robert Rodriguez’s own exploitation homage Machete has been an influence), while his script is packed with quotable gems like… ‘Put the knife away, kid or I’ll use it to cut welfare cheques from your rotten skin!’
Eisener’s inspiration for his characters, meanwhile, come from the most surprising of sources. Drake’s slickly dressed sons aren’t modelled on Tom Cruise in Risky Business (as I imagined) but on a Nintendo character called Captain N, while the iron clad bounty hunters are based on The Muppet Movie assassin Snake Walker. Now that’s warped.
But Hobo is all about Rutger Hauer’s performance, and doesn’t Eisener’s camera just love his grizzled features? Hauer totally owns the role and I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a moment. The best scene by far is also the funniest, when Hauer gives a monologue to a hospital ward of newborn babies, telling them they will probably all end up becoming prostitutes and paedophiles, rather than doctors and lawyers, when they grow up. Priceless.
So is Hobo With a Shotgun the best midnight movie ever? The answer is: ‘Hell, yes!’ It’s also the perfect companion piece to Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse which inspired Eisener to make the film after winning a fake trailer contest. I do hope, however, that he hasn’t used up all of his tricks on this film, as I would love to see him flex his film nerd muscles on another kick-ass project sometime soon.