SpectreWatch | ‘The Greasy Strangler’ and Our Fear of Conformity
Previous ⬅ SpectreWatch | ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ and Our Lust for Power
SpectreWatch is where writer Justin Drabek discusses SpectreVision’s horror filmography, the impact it has had on him, and the cultural relevance of the company’s commitment to making outsider art for the screen. Each film carries a unique tone, and yet, as SpectreVision continues to produce more films, there seems to be a common thread that carries throughout the work they choose to release.
There is often this sad trope online, but I’ve also overheard it in conversation: there are no original films, especially in the horror world, and it’s all remakes or sequels. Despite the margins of truth as big studios like to make safe bets, services like Shudder, Arrow, and Screambox are releasing new original independent horror films almost daily, so much so it’s hard to keep up with them all, and like everything else, all these films aren’t going to land with everyone. Still, they are out there. They aren’t going anywhere. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and you might be surprised at what you find. We live in a golden age of inexpensive and readily available independent films, despite streaming’s drawbacks.
This hasn’t always been the case. When The Greasy Strangler first found its John Waters-infused misfit charm released to the world, it didn’t have a streaming service to plug it on and click play. Festivals and word-of-mouth were all it had to go on, and it also had SpectreVision’s track record of giving voices to the often voiceless.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for the pitch of this film. It’s about Los Angeles; it’s a father and son drama; it’s pornographic; it’s about disco; it’s a love story; it’s a mystery that is easily solvable; it’s a horror film about a serial killer. It’s also about grease, lots and lots of grease. It is without a doubt one of the strangest films ever made, existing in a prism where things just feel off. No overtly beautiful people exist in this film — that is intentional. It’s a film about people on the fringe of society, those who we chuckle to ourselves about as we walk by them on Hollywood Blvd and try to imagine what their life might be like. It’s also not about that at all. Despite its many destinations, a film that never leaves its world is endearing and beautiful, and it’s one of the most difficult things to describe. You have to allow it to take you on a journey.
My partner and I came up with a fake show called Easily Solvable Mysteries, where it’s obvious who did the crime almost from the start. This would be a good category for The Greasy Strangler. As soon as the film begins, the viewer knows who the killer is, and while the other characters try to “solve” this “mystery,” the film’s purpose isn’t at all to solve a mystery. You get to live with these characters, and you get to know them probably better than you want at times, and that is sort of the beauty of the film. It forces us to look at the world around us and take in a view that probably isn’t one we normally have. I often joke that this is a first date movie, and I have this vision that someone took their date to see this in a grimy theater in some part of some town, and they went in, sat down, and now these mythical creatures are happily married and will always have their love started in the most insane way possible. This film is anything but a date movie. Despite the fact that a father and son are in a love triangle calling each other “bullshit artists,” a boy can still dream of falling in love while watching this film.
The horror of this film doesn’t come from the greasy and gross eye-popping serial killer. The horror comes from looking at the world around us and being afraid to let freak flags fly because we need to be neatly categorized. As a society, we are so often pressured to conform to ideals that aren’t true to our inner selves, whether this is done by family, friends, or society at large. The characters in this film can’t help but be who they are, they made a choice not to follow in the footsteps of the world. They are the weirdos and the loose cannons. If you don’t get emotional at the ending beach scene, I don’t know what to say. It’s the thesis statement of the film and it makes everything work. There is something powerful at the end with the father and son just talking, even though the characters aren’t really redeemable. In spite of how avant-garde and outsider it is (it is in spades especially visually and sonically), Andrew Hung’s score may remove the viewer from the fact that it is still very much a horror film at its core. It uses over-the-top visual effects to depict a man who lubricates himself up and strangles people. As with all SpectreVision films, this one has a more nuanced message than your typical slasher flick.
The Greasy Strangler is a film that rejects conformity and pushes the audience to think beyond the normal way of life. It does all this while also grossing out and scaring the audience. The film is a magic trick, one that should be sought out and talked about more. 🩸
Justin Drabek is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He also writes for Horror Obsessive and formerly for Killer Horror Critic. He loves cats, and dogs seem to like him…he’s not so sure about them. Follow him on Instagram @ justindrabek.
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