Trouble starts when a Hobo (Rutger Hauer) gets off the train in a town that is run by a sadistic criminal known as The Drake. He and his sons torture, rape and terrorize the population that seems to consist of: terrified average folks, angry mobs, prostitutes, a large number of homeless, and children who should have long ago been relocated to other towns by family services.
The movie has three acts: the first introduces us to the horror that is this Twilight-Zone worthy town (if Rod Serling had subcontracted to Rob Zombie); the second, is the battle between good and evil (it involves a lot of blood and gore); and the third act is the epic conclusion (with even more blood and gore).
Machine Girl is a Japanese action movie with the same "gore is good" mindset but with slightly better special effects and slicker overall production. Ami (Minase Yashiro), a girl with a tragic past and a brother who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, is kidnapped and tortured, losing her arm in the process. After escaping, a machinist builds her a customized machine-gun arm attachment. (This may remind readers of Planet Terror, the Robert Rodriguez half of Grindhouse (2007) in which Rose McGowan is fitted with a machine gun leg or even of the much earlier Army of Darkness (1992), the Sam Raimi cult classic in which the hero, Ash fits a chainsaw on to his injured arm -- both are apt comparisons).
With her weapon in place, Machine Girl has only one goal: revenge. This motivation may be the only real difference between the mood of the two films. Machine Girl is full of the kind of rage that is spun from true hatred; the Hobo is seeking justice in a system where the police don't just turn a blind eye to the violence and crime, some play an active role in a number of very unsavory acts and activities.
It's possible that there is a deeper political message buried under the blood and guts in Hobo with a Shotgun. Watching it with my husband, he said, "It's the Republican Dream! The Hobo just wants to be an entrepreneur but the welfare state won't let him get ahead." I also appreciated the not-so-subtle take on sleazy reality-tv and film producers (a not-so-veiled dig at the infamous Bumfights) and on the complicit role that media plays in sensationalizing violence.
The sidekicks in both films are strong, if flawed women. Miki (Asami), who also lost family at the hands of those who tortured Ami, choses to get her violent revenge with the help of a chainsaw (there's those echoes of Army of Darkness again). The Hobo is helped by Abby (Molly Dusnworth), the archetypical hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who also seems to have some daddy issues.
Splatter films like these are not for everyone; they are extremely graphic, spending more of their budget on fake blood than actors' salaries. Both films contained scenes that turned my stomach and offended me on some level but they each balanced those moments with some truly surprising, imaginative laugh-out-loud scenes. As such, I recommend them both, if you can manage the gore.
Hobo with a Shotgun ****
Machine Girl ***
NOTE: Even the trailers below are pretty graphic... consider yourself warned!