"The Greasy Strangler" is one weird-ass film. The horror-comedy's loose plot revolves around a co-dependent father-son duo: the shy, awkward Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) and his ill-tempered, live-in father, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels). Together they conduct "disco tours" around Los Angeles -- sporting matching hot pink turtlenecks and short shorts -- bicker endlessly, and eventually become romantic rivals over Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), the "hootie-tootie disco cutie" who ends up on one of their tours. Meanwhile, a killer stalks the streets of L.A., slathered in grease and bumping off the locals in (cartoonishly) gruesome fashion.
Springing from the twisted mind of writer-director Jim Hosking, "The Greasy Strangler" is a quintessential midnight movie. The early work of John Waters is a clear influence as the film aims for the grotesque, using graphic sex, bulging prosthetic penises, a truly stomach-churning amount of meat drippings, and a musical score that sounds like the soundtrack to the world's most demented carnival. With an abrasive sense of humor that also calls to mind the comedy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, it's a cult favorite in the making.
The Little Theatre (240 East Avenue) will host a one-time-only screening of "The Greasy Strangler" this Saturday as part of its Saturday Night Rewind series. Sky Elobar will be in attendance for the event, and will participate in a Q&A following the feature.
CITY chatted by phone with Elobar about "The Greasy Strangler" as well as his work on the upcoming, locally-produced short film "Pet Monkey," whose trailer will also debut that night. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
CITY: How did you get involved with "The Greasy Strangler," and what convinced you that you wanted to play Big Brayden?
Sky Elobar: I first got involved with "Greasy Strangler" when Jim Hosking, who I'd worked with before on a couple of projects, emailed me the script and said, "Hey, check this out, I think you'd be perfect for this role, Big Brayden." So I looked at it and I loved the script -- I thought it was way out there, but I never thought it would be made. It definitely had Jim's unique voice, and his characters have very unique dialogue, and the world they lived in was very unique, and everything about it was so comically unique. I loved it.
The film has such a heightened, off-beat tone. How do you go about calibrating your performance and finding the right wavelength when you're acting in a movie like this?
Well, I had time to really get into the script and internalize a lot of this stuff. To feel out the character and feel how I would play it. The voice -- my voice is the same, but I spoke a little differently, more kind of effeminate. I had time to really prepare for this thing. There was a year until Jim emailed me and said, "We've got a deal; we're gonna shoot this thing." And then in the next three or four months, it happened. But at that point, I had been preparing for a year.
Considering some of the things you're asked to do in this movie, I have to assume the cast got pretty comfortable with one another on set. Were there any specific methods Jim had for helping that process along?
Oh no, it wasn't comfortable. It was very uncomfortable. That was just a given; there wasn't anything we were playing or acting, it's just the scene you're thrown into. It's very uncomfortable, but I guess Jim knew that when he picked his actors and had written this thing. In one interview recently, he said he had written this character for me. But no, it was very uncomfortable.
You had to wear a ... let's say "not so flattering" prosthetic for the film. What was your reaction when you first saw what you were going to have to wear?
Oh my god. Here's Jim again up to his pranks, giving Ronnie this massive penis, and giving me a micropenis. It's just the way Jim thinks. I just thought, "Oh wow..." But you kind of get used to it. I worked with Jim before where my balls were hanging out in one of the scenes in "Renegades." He loves that. He's into odd characters -- most British people are -- weird, offbeat, dark characters.
There's also a pretty gnarly looking grease suit. What was that like to wear? And what exactly was it made out of?
Like a week or two before we started shooting that, I went over to a place in Burbank, California, where they fitted me for that suit. It's made of latex, like a big body condom. It's a zip up in the back costume, and then parts of it are open. The hands are open; I'm not wearing gloves and I'm not wearing a mask, so what they had to do was slather us in grease -- this methylcellulose stuff. And then -- I forget the exact name of the stuff, but some sort of icy, greasy stuff that made you really cold. And they put like buckets of the stuff on us when we wore those costumes. It was really hard to get off your hands and out of your hair and everything. Terrible.
Is it the same material that's used elsewhere in the film, on the food?
No, that was real grease.
Yeah, that's actual grease. Like when I'm cooking bacon, that's real. They just had buckets of grease. And the stuff that's on the floor, that's supposed to be the greasy stuff I'm picking up as evidence? That's tapioca.
Where did they get all that grease?
They bought buckets of the stuff. It was either the special effects and props lady that bought it or the set designer. Big, industrial buckets. Do you remember the scene where I go in and I'm dipping my toes in the grease?
Yes, yes I do.
That was like a big, gigantic bucket of that stuff. They had tons of it. They had to put it on us, and oh man ... Whatever you think it is, times if by 100. It's terrible. Because it dries up on your face. And they can't take it off, so they just keep putting it on and on and on, so you have like inches of the stuff all over your hair and it's really hard to get off.
I think it's fair to say this film isn't for everyone. What was going through your mind in the moments right before the movie screened in front of an audience for the first time at Sundance?
I thought, "Oh my god; all these people." I never got the idea that anyone didn't like it who saw it at the film festival. Everybody freaked out about it, and I was kinda surprised. I was surprised that we've gotten this many great reviews. The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Empire Magazine, just tons and tons of great reviews. I was surprised, I really thought people would hate it. But it's been overwhelmingly positive. People love it. We took pictures with people, signed autographs; it was great.
Before the screening here on Saturday, we're also going to see a trailer for the short film "Pet Monkey," from local filmmaker Eric Mair, which you also star in. How did that film come about?
I think Eric saw "Greasy" a bunch of times, and he sent an email to either me or Tom, my manager, and said, "We're just putting feelers out; we want to see if Sky's interested in doing this project we're working on called 'Pet Monkey.'" They sent us a script and [producer] Bri Merkel sent us Eric's previous work, "Adam Imitating Art" and the script. And I really liked "Adam Imitating Art"; I thought it was quality. So I said, "Yeah, let's do it." I really liked the "Pet Monkey" script; I thought it would be interesting and different. And he was interested in submitting it to Sundance, so I thought that was great. We did it, and it was a lot of fun. Very weird, offbeat, dark. I loved it.
Had you filmed in Western New York before? Were you familiar with the area at all?
Never filmed there. I like it though. I really like it. It's got a 70's kind of look to it. I like that, man.
Have you done many other short films?
I'd worked on two of Jim's short films, "Renegades" and "Crabs," and I just went to San Francisco and did a short film that they're pitching to do a full feature of called "American Paradise." Joe Talbot's the director, and this guy Lorenzo Hagerman is the DP. He did the film "Entertainment," if you saw that one. But those are the only shorts. Mostly I've done a smattering of TV shows and some feature films.
Do you have any other projects you're currently working on?
Hopefully Jim's new movie. They're shooting in Upstate New York starting November 7, and I'm hoping to have a role in that. With Craig Robinson, Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement. And I just did a table read Wednesday night with Joe Dante in front of 400 people. It's for a film called "The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes," and the lead is Bill Hader. It looks like I may have a role in that. So it seems like "Greasy" has really helped me out.
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