UK cinemas and home viewing platforms are set to get inexplicably slippery over the next couple of weeks, for The Greasy Strangler is finally about to land, or drop, or whatever the kids are doing these days.
This mega weird, mulched up splatter flick with bells on (and pink sequin hot pants two sizes too small), is the feature debut of director Jim Hosking and screenwriter Toby Harvard, the creative pair behind the G is for Grandad segment in ABCs of Death 2.
SCREAM caught up with the creative duo to quiz them on their bewildering feature, extort the dirt from behind the production of what is probably the weirdest film of the year (if not decade) and gather their views on the state of disco, modern horror and film censorship.
SCREAM: Thank you for taking the time out for us. How did the two of you meet?
TOBY HARVARD (Writer): I was Jim’s storyboard artist for a long time, working on his commercials. I realised early on he was going to make great movies one day, so I latched on.
JIM HOSKING (Director): Toby was doing some storyboards for me. He asked me if I wanted to make films. I said yeah and we decided to write a script together. That script was called Diabolical Exploitation and features the heroic character Picos De Europa. Which is also a Spanish cheese.
SCREAM: Dare I ask where the idea for The Greasy Strangler came from?
JIM HOSKING: I don’t know, dare you? It came randomly. Like a pigeon through an open suburban sitting room window. We spotted the pigeon on the sofa then plucked it and cooked it. And we’re vegetarians! How effed up is that?
TOBY HARVARD: We wanted to see our favourite actor, Carl Solomon, playing a greasy strangler. We’ve wanted to make a star vehicle for him for a long time. Ironically he doesn’t play the greasy strangler but he’s in the movie and he’s magical.
SCREAM: There’s a quite a strong relationship drama at the centre of the story about a father and a son. Did The Greasy Strangler start out with that or did the surreal horror elements come first?
JIM HOSKING: It was originally about a naked man covered in grease who liked strangling. It wasn’t horror, it was meant to be funny. The father/ son relationship came in when we started writing and thinking, okay so who else could be in this film. Fathers and sons stuck together make us laugh I think. Just people being stuck with each other, it’s funny.
TOBY HARVARD: I always saw it as Carnal Knowledge meets The New York Ripper. I love the idea of taking a nuanced character-driven drama and a gonzo horror movie and forcing them to mate. We’d written a short called CRABS, about an odious father and his down trodden son. We’d written a feature version set in a prison. So we’ve been exploring that toxic father/son dynamic for a little while. Our segment of ABC’s Of Death – G For Granddad – is also along those lines.
SCREAM: How did you go about creating and crafting such crazy characters?
TOBY HARVARD: A lot of the characters are based on real people, real conversations and experiences Jim and I have had. Almost all of the dialogue is some twisted version of real things we’ve heard. I love the idea of building an entire movie about people who just don’t deserve to have their story told. They’re petty and childish and self-absorbed and they don’t learn a single life lesson throughout the story.
JIM HOSKING: I just go by instinct. I write what interests me and then I dream how they look, and then try to find people and clothes that somehow fulfil that vision, but I also allow that to change. I’m not precious or anal. I go with ideas that excite me and let them evolve. The process should be fun. If it isn’t fun then I might as well become a jam maker.
SCREAM: The story delved into the back streets of urban America and showed a grimy but quirky side of life. Did you do much research into that prior to writing/ the production?
JIM HOSKING: How does anybody avoid the grimy quirky side of life? If you catch the bus or go to work or go to the supermarket or go to the pub then you see this side of life. I lived in LA for a bit. I saw it there. I watch films, documentaries, look at photos, I see stuff. I’m interested in characters, misfits, underdogs. Those are real people. Most of us are a bit like that I think.
TOBY HARVARD: I’ve always been fascinated by Los Angeles’ more obscure locales. I love that this is an LA movie that never shows any of the clichéd areas you always see. The charm of the city is the dreary back alleys where crazy old men in pink tracksuits shuffle around. It’s a world I know Jim can bring to life in a very vivid, tactile way.
SCREAM: The film’s humour is very strange. Were you worried audiences wouldn’t get it?
JIM HOSKING: That never occurred to me. I like seeing stuff that takes me by surprise. I always imagine that others feel the same way. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t think I’m wrong. Or am I? I don’t know if I’m doing it wrong!
TOBY HARVARD: This movie makes no attempt to include you on the joke. From pretty much the first scene, you’re either in or you’re out. It’s a confrontational movie in that sense. We’re almost daring you to walk out.
SCREAM: Ronnie and Brayden have really strange shaped penises which are frequently on screen. Can you tell me a little bit about the thoughts/ design process behind creating them? Any discarded cock concepts?
JIM HOSKING: There was a lifetime of research. But ultimately, when push comes to shove, and sometimes it does, I simply wanted them to look like mouse heads. Please don’t use the word cock, it’s unpleasant.
SCREAM: How greasy did it get on set?
JIM HOSKING: There were a lot of greasy things flapping around. You had to watch your back.
SCREAM: Can we talk about disco for a moment. What was it about the disco movement/ culture you found so interesting and applicable to this story?
JIM HOSKING: That was a joke. I don’t like disco. Maybe Toby does. I found it funny to go on about disco and to get it all wrong and to not have any disco music in the film.
TOBY HARVARD: I was listening to a lot of disco around the time we wrote this. I found a whole load of disco radio stations on iTunes and would just have them playing all day. The music is incredibly joyous, and I’m generally pretty miserable. So for me, disco represents a long-gone unattainable joy that will never be available to me. But I loved the idea of Big Ronnie being a disco dinosaur whose mind never left that era, and can’t move on.
SCREAM: Even though the scent of disco is evident throughout, the score to The Greasy Strangler is abstract/ experimental. Why did you choose to use such unusual music?
JIM HOSKING: The film needed a new sound. I heard music by Andrew Hung from Fuck Buttons. As soon as I heard it I thought that’s the guy to do the music. I heard a track called Fables and it just added another level. I am so thrilled with the music.
SCREAM: The Greasy Strangler seems to be a mash up of genres and styles but mostly horror and comedy. Who were your cinematic influences?
TOBY HARVARD: People sometimes compare Greasy to John Waters and Tim and Eric, neither of which I’m really familiar with. I’d say I always saw it being cut from the same cloth as Herschel Gordon Lewis, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, William Lustig, Pinter and lots of Barry White. Oh, and – yeah you guessed it – Creature Comforts.
JIM HOSKING: As a director I will say I am influenced by Aki Kaurismaki and Dennis Potter.
SCREAM: There’s a fair bit of violence in the film. What are your views in film censorship?
JIM HOSKING: I am surprised how violent some 15 certificate films are. I have kids. I worry a little about that. But generally I think I am more concerned with the predictable nature of a lot of sex and violence in films. It’s very formulaic. I would censor films that are pointlessly derivative. I would force their writers and directors to become trainee baristas in Pret A Manger.
TOBY HARVARD: Movies aimed squarely at adults should be free to go as far as they need to. I have an issue with kids’ movies with excessive violence. When an action hero kills a bad guy and says a pithy one-liner and doesn’t break a sweat and is never held accountable for murder? That’s poisonous, I think. Since becoming a father I’ve been hyper-aware of how casual and throwaway screen violence can be.
SCREAM: Were there any thoughts you had for violent, kill scenarios or sex scenes that you thought went too far and shouldn’t be realised on screen?
JIM HOSKING: I probably restrained Toby a bit, maybe he’d argue with that, I don’t know. I’m not that interested in standard horror violence. I think we didn’t restrain ourselves with the sex, we maybe ran out of shooting time. I could have shot that stuff for longer. I liked the idea of really long, unsexy sex scenes where the characters are talking a lot while they do it. Giving a guided commentary of what they’re doing as they do it. There’s not enough funny sex in films. Sex is funny, it’s slightly humiliating. I don’t know, I think it’s treated in a really predictable embarrassing fashion in film generally.
TOBY HARVARD: There’s one moment I loved in the script that wasn’t possible to do with the time and budget. The Greasy Strangler punches a Senegalese tourist’s face in, making it concave. That’s in the movie now. But in the script there was another bit where he pours fizzy drink into the concave face and laps it up like a thirsty hound. I’d love to have seen Jim bring that to life. There’s always Part Two I suppose…
SCREAM: Do you consider yourselves horror fans?
JIM HOSKING: I’m not really that knowledgeable about horror. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to horrible violence but I like the menacing and the macabre. Rosemary’s Baby. Is that a horror film? I like that film!
TOBY HARVARD: Sure, but you have to admit that as a genre it contains a lot of absolute shit but when it’s done right, it’s pure cinema. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is high art. Some of the best horror movies have been made by directors who aren’t necessarily married to the genre. Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs, Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and of course Kubrick’s The Shining.
SCREAM: Do you think the horror genre is presently in a good place?
TOBY HARVARD: There aren’t many horror movies that make you cry at the moment. For me, the great horror movies are the ones that pack an emotional punch. The ones with real sadness are the ones that ultimately become classics. The subplot with the priest’s mother in The Exorcist is gruelling. Jacob’s Ladder is heart breaking. There’s not much of that at the moment.
SCREAM: Do you plan to continue working with each other next or go on to different projects?
JIM HOSKING: Yes, we will. Not always, but often. We sometimes fall out with each other because Toby is difficult and I am really nice! No, in truth we will do because we just make each other laugh a lot I think, and also we feel comfortable with each other. I definitely want to make some other stuff too, the kind of stuff that Toby doesn’t want to. And vice versa. But we create something special together. And we really get a kick out of it.
TOBY HARVARD: If Jim can continue to tolerate my OCD, long depressions and Frank Bruno impressions, I’d love to keep working on things with him.
SCREAM: Will you both work on similar weird/ off-kilter projects or do you hope to go on to make something more normal/ accessible?
JIM HOSKING: It’s always got to thrill us somehow. It will never be normal. It is always accessible to some.
TOBY HARVARD: I think as long as we don’t repeat ourselves, anything goes.
The Greasy Strangler is released in UK cinemas on 7th October and available to buy on Blu ray/ DVD from 10th October.