It will grind your senses
goodfellamike - wrote on 10/26/08
Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror is the first 85-min feature film, and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof is the second in this 190-minute marathon of blood, guts, extreme violence and sheer audaciousness. Binding the two main features are three faux trailers for other upcoming Grindhouse features including Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the S.S." (which is self-explanatory), Edgar Wright's "Don't" (a haunted house pic with amusing voiceover narration), and Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" (the best of the bunch, about a homicidal maniac that goes on a killing spree around the holidays) and opening the film is Robert Rodriguez' hilarious trailer for "Machete" that features Rodriguez favorite Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin going ballistic with violent revenge against drug dealers. One can't help wonder how enjoyable a movie would be if made entirely of three minute fake previews.
In Planet Terror, the much weaker of the two main features, the communities surrounding a nearby military base find themselves being overrun by flesh-eating creatures. A motley band of survivors are led by Freddy Rodriguez, who is an ace sharpshooter, and one-legged stripper Rose McGowan whose amputated extremity makes for a scene-stealing action sequence involving a rocket launcher and a machine gun. The action quotient is fair, but the gross-out factor in Planet Terror makes it quite unpleasant. We're subjected to an inordinate amount of oozing flesh, exploding bodies, cannibalism, a squishy bag full of human testicles, and the performance of Quentin Tarantino as a rather foul and nasty rapist. Much of Planet Terror feels drawn-out and repetitive until the final half an hour action extravaganza at the military base.
In Death Proof, Kurt Russell portrays Mike, a retired stuntman who just happens to be a raging lunatic who likes to stalk pretty girls, and murder them with his souped-up muscle stunt-car. What Stuntman Mike doesn't count on is that his next targets, a female foursome out joyriding in a Dodge Challenger are professional stunt-drivers, and they're not going to be the easy prey they appear to be. The set-up takes a long time in this installment, maybe too long, as Tarantino likes to take his time building every scene and peppering it with gold nugget one-liners and hip banter that flows from every character. Once the dialogue stops, he lets loose with a nail-biting extended chase sequence that is kinetic, believable, and ranks as one of the most entertaining, dangerous and tightly-executed sequences in recent memory. Russell is a hoot as the scar-faced driver, and has a particularly funny moment just before the women get the upper hand as he exits his car to thank them for something.
One could argue that the action in Planet Terror is more consistent than in Death Proof, but the dialogue in Death Proof is far superior to Planet Terror. I wonder if Grindhouse would have made a stronger impact had the two halves switched places, starting with the slow-burn effect of Tarantino's character building and ending with the fiery finale of Rodriguez' spectacle. Many of the characters populate both films, so I'm sure it would not have mattered. And the ending of Death Proof is too anti-climactic to end the entire movie. How much better it would've been had it shown the women returning the nearly destroyed Challenger back to the owner!
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino revel in the atmosphere that made the grindhouse films of the 1970's so popular and enjoyable, despite their lack of intelligence, sophistication and professionalism. They include missing reels, scratchy prints and various visual techniques that make their 2007 film have the look and feel of one from 1972. Indeed, much can be said that the charm lies with the passion these filmmakers went to make their recent flick have the look and feel of those exact 1970's exploitation films they're trying to pay tribute to. For cineastes, Grindhouse is a show-stopping work of art homage, but for regular audience attendees, 190-minutes of this is a bit too much to take. FInal Grade: B-