Alex Casey talks to Elijah Wood about producing The Greasy Strangler, the film bound to get the most dry-retches in the New Zealand International Film Festival this year, and wrangles a rare beanie competition for one lucky greaseball to win.
“I love it, a beanie set the country on fire, that’s genius. I love New Zealand.” I love you too Elijah Wood, I resisted whispering. We were discussing the great KFC beanie giveaway – the finest competition of our time, inspired by the excellent beanie-based marketing for The Greasy Strangler on the Sundance circuit. Elijah models one below, please for the love of God head to our Facebook page if you want a chance to win one of the only Greasy beanies in Middle Earth.
The Greasy Strangler is doing a naked kneeslide into the New Zealand International Film Festival this week, leaving a trail of slime, farts and eyeballs in its wake. Produced by a notable few including Elijah Wood (Deep Impact) and Incredibly Strange director Ant Timpson, the film loosely follows a father, his adult son, and the totally normal hobby of greasing yourself up at night and strangling people in the neighbourhood. The sick, drawn-out jokes flow through the film as steadily as the bodily fluids, resulting in something akin to Tim and Eric with a severe bout of food poisoning.
After sitting through a screener at my work desk absolutely horrified, with the brightness dialed down to -11 in case of a wild penis occurring on screen (very likely), I was able to chat to Elijah Wood about his company Spectrevision getting behind the film that has put me off sausages for life. Keeping it cool, I bit my tongue and swore not to mention anything to do with Mordor, Samwise, or the weight of mithril. The publicist buzzed me through and I immediately blurted out that he was on my pencil case growing up, that it was an immense honour to interview Frodo, and that New Zealand “misses him”.
After awaking from a humiliation-induced black-out, it was time for us to get greasy.
Thank god you’re here. I want to talk about the Greasy Strangler because no one else has seen it here yet. I’ve just been sitting here stewing on it by myself. What I want to ask you is, what did I just watch?
Well let me ask you: what did you think of the film?
I still don’t even know. It was extremely gross, but by the end I found it quite the father and son situation actually kind of touching. But mostly gross. As a producer, how would you explain The Greasy Strangler to somebody who might just be reading this because you’re our dude from Lord of the Rings?
Setting the film up is not an easy task, especially just setting up people’s expectations. It’s sort of what you just said, essentially the heart of the story is a father son relationship film. They live together way past the point of which they should, but in the background there’s also a man who covers his naked body in grease and kills people called The Greasy Strangler. There’s also a love triangle at the centre of the film between the father, the son and this girl Janet.
It’s essentially a comedy with genre elements, and a big gross-out element. It’s not an easy thing to describe, tonally it really rides this kind of bizarre balance between being really funny, uncomfortable, disgusting, and touching all at once.
You’ve said before that The Greasy Strangler is what you and Spectrevision look for in a film, which got me wondering… what exact part grabbed you? Was it the car wash scene?
I think it’s just that it is so different from anything else. For us, it represents the opportunity to work with a filmmaker we love and put our energy and time behind allowing him to see his vision through. The film is so unlike anything else that we’ve seen or anything else that exists. The movie really has a rhythm that’s all it’s own. We just fell in love with the script and just wanted to be a part of supporting this filmmaker, so it represents us and our kind of directives in that way.
It’s interesting you say that it kind of hits different rhythms, I definitely noticed when I was watching it – it has a completely different sense of timing unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You don’t even really know when to breathe properly, it completely throws everything pace-wise out the window.
Totally, that’s all Jim [Hosking, director]. It very much operates on the contrary to how a film should be rhythmically and the way it should be cut together. A moment will stretch out past the point of being comfortable, all those things are very much unique to Jim and specifically what he wanted to do with this movie and I love those things.
I think why it makes the film divisive, and it’s certainly not for everybody. We’ve heard both sides, some people absolutely love the film and really get it, and then people who just really, really hate it. Movies that elicit strong reactions are some of my favourite kinds of films, where you see something and you can have a debate with someone who feels the opposite. There’s just something wonderful about that.
One element that I’m assuming people are responding to with repulsion is all the gloopy, greasy elements. It got me thinking about the best cinema snacks to accompany the film. Are there any?
Well, you could certainly pair hot dogs and bacon with the film which would be very appropriate, but if you’ve got a weak constitution perhaps it’s best not to have any snacks. If you’re easily grossed out, I wouldn’t be bringing anything in with you.
Great advice. I noticed that you guys wore some really great Greasy beanies at Sundance, are these available for purchase? New Zealand bloody loves beanies, we went crazy for some free KFC beanies recently, and basically broke Twitter trying to win them.
Yeah, KFC released three and got thousands of retweets. The country set itself on fire for them. Then they gave away some socks too.
What a funny distinction. I love it, a beanie set the country on fire, that’s genius. I love New Zealand and I miss it so much. The beanies at Sundance were a stroke of genius. You would just look through the sea of people and you’d occasionally just see these little pink heads running around.
I have a feeling that there might be some at the New Zealand Film Festival. I would imagine that Ant Timpson probably has some in his possession, in which case they will certainly make an appearance [head to our Facebook to get your greasy paws on one]
I’ve seen people refer to The Greasy Strangler as the ‘walkout film’ of the festival circuit. Have you ever walked out of a film in your life?
I have, yeah. I don’t particularly like it though, I don’t like walking out of movies, there’s something about sticking with them almost out of respect, I think that’s kind of important, but I’ll admit that in the past I have.
I ended up walking out of one film in the third act – so I waited a real long time – in New Zealand somewhere. I think it was The Messenger? The Joan of Arc film? I struggled with that one. There was a movie called The Apostle with Robert Duvall. I think I was young and it was a pace I wasn’t familiar with, so I walked out. I’m a little ashamed because it’s actually a very revered movie, I just wasn’t ready for it.
Maybe people will say that about The Greasy Strangler in years to come. Looking at the festival booklet and a few other films, it seems like farts are making a big comeback. Can you speak to that trend as an industry professional?
Well the only two movies that I’m aware of that share farts are our film and Swiss Army Man. Both of them were divisive movies at Sundance, and both of them actually had walkouts. I haven’t actually seen Swiss Army Man yet, but it’s meant to be brilliant. Yeah, I don’t know, why is that that farts have come back? I think it’s great, flatulence is funny and it’s always going to elicit a response. Guaranteed.
I read that you had aspirations to create Oscar-winning horror films, is that still part of Spectrevision’s ethos?
That whole idea is speaking to the stigmatisation of genre and horror, they typically get relegated to a lower class of thought or as a lower class of filmmaking. At their best, horror and genre films are as artistically viable as any other film that would be an award contender.
Something like The Exorcist, for instance, is an absolute classic of cinema. It’s not necessarily thought of in terms of it being a horror film, although it very much is. In fact, the filmmakers themselves deny that it’s a horror movie because of that stigmatisation, that notion that a horror film exists only in B-grade quality.
Do you reckon there are other horror films around, aside from The Exorcist and I guess Silence of the Lambs, that you think are worthy of an Oscar?
More recently, I would say something like The Witch. The cinematography is stunning, the performances are absolutely stunning and harrowing and absolutely Oscar-worthy. The storytelling is incredible, the set design is amazing, the score is phenomenal… yeah, I would say The Witch absolutely.
I have a pitch for a horror film right now, would you like to hear it?
It’s about Snapchat and it’s called The Snapchat Killer. The film is about a killer who creeps up behind you and sends a Snapchat saying “I’m here” or whatever, but the kicker is that the film itself is distributed through Snapchat. You get it in ten second increments and it’s like a meta kind of thing. Are you interested?
That’s kind of brilliant. Using the medium itself as a distribution model for your film and experiencing something via social media that exists only for social media is interesting, that’s a really cool idea.
It won’t make any money though.
Yes but Snapchat has a lot of money. It won’t in the traditional way no, but I think one could get paid a lot for making it because maybe it’ll get more people to sign on to Snapchat, I don’t know how that works.
You’re the producer, not me. I’ll leave it with you. Is there anything else you want to say to the people of New Zealand before they all go and watch this incredibly strange film?
Prepare yourself, but in this case I think mainly prepare for laughs. I have a feeling that New Zealand audiences are going to love it, that’s my instinct.
The Greasy Strangler is in the New Zealand International Film Festival, 10.15pm this Saturday at Skycity Theatre.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.