The Grindhouse (2007) dir. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, Freddy Rodriguez
Two exploitation films back-to-back with fake trailers before and in between each film. The film was created to be part of ‘an experience’ of watching bad horror/action films of the 70’s in crappy theatres with bad sound systems, smelly seats and scratchy prints. For the most part the film lives up to its hype, minus one flaw – but more on that later.
The first film is Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror”. The plot of course is secondary but here goes, a group of scientists headed by “Lost” star Naveen Andrews has produced a lethal gas which turns people into man-eating zombies. Bruce Willis has formed a rebel faction of the military and kills the scientists and steals the gas for himself. Meanwhile we meet members of the townsfolk from outside the base: A former stripper, Cherry Darling played by Rose McGowan, the comely doctor Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) and her lesbian lover, Stacey Ferguson, Josh Bolin as Dakota’s husband, a local diner owner played by Jeff Fahey, an ornery sheriff played by Michael Biehn and a drifter, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). The film is well cast with semi-popular character actors from various action movies of the 1980’s. Though I have to ask, where was Michael Paré? The set up leads into a blood splatter extravaganza that brings all the characters together to fight off the evil zombies. Rodriguez throws in everything but the kitchen sink to keep our attention locked to the screen and every bit of it works.
“Planet Terror” is so f-ing good. Rodriguez amazingly juggles half a dozen characters and actually makes us care for each of them. The forced emotional moments add to the cheesy hilarity including Freddy Rodriguez’s attempts to win back his former flame, Dr. Dakota’s rescue from certain death by her resurrected father, and the Aliens-inspired suicidal death scene of Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey. Freddy Rodriguez, though the shortest actor in front the camera, has the chutzpah of a young Kurt Russell and actually holds the film together as an action hero/leading man.
Speaking of Kurt Russell, Tarantino’s segment changes gears (pun not intended) and slows the pace down to add some dialogue into the mix. Quentin’s film is “Death Proof”, a send up of redneck road movies like “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”. A highway vigilante, Stuntman Mike, played by Kurt Russell combs the roads of Texas looking for groups of attractive girls to murder. His weapon is his ‘death proof’ car which allows him to inflict as much damage as humanly possible with his car yet miraculous protecting him from harm.
The major flaw of Grindhouse is in fact Tarantino’s film, which unfortunately doesn’t come anywhere near the humour or excitement of “Planet Terror”. Tarantino’s masturbatory dialogue runs on and on to the point of tedium. Ironically, despite his posturing about his love for Grindhouse cinema and throwing back to his days of watching B-action, kung fu and road movies, Tarantino didn’t make one of those films. He has made a Tarantino film – and a lesser one at that. I can’t imagine Tarantino ever heard such long stretches of banal unfunny dialogue in “Vanishing Point”. The actresses reading his branded dialogue unfortunately can’t sing it, and there’s definitely some poor casting here. And as far as hotness factor goes, he’s lost out as well. The girls in the first half of his film who are unfortunately killed off are far more attractive than the heroes that live at the end (sorry, Rosario Dawson, you’ve looked better). But enough quibbles. Tarantino’s film isn’t all that bad. Vanessa Ferlito sears every frame she’s in, Kurt Russell’s car kicks major ass and the death scenes are bloody lovely.
The trailers which come before and during the film are absolutely gutbusting, especially Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” and Edgar Wright’s “Don’t”. You will cry with laughter. Canadians will get an extra treat. Sandwiched between the ‘real’ trailers “Fracture” and “Live Free or Die Hard” is the contest winner for the best fan-produced Grindhouse trailer, the hilariously idiotic “Hobo with a Shotgun” (the title alone makes me grin). You can catch all these on youtube, but you’ll laugh harder in the theatre.
The added imperfections of the film - the intentional scratches, missing reels, faded colour and awesome porn music introductions work like magic and put you in the smelly Grindhouse environment just as the filmmakers wanted. It ALL works. Grindhouse will likely satisfy more of the ironic film loser type (like me) who can appreciate the joy of bad films. As for the others, I guarantee you will at least enjoy the trailers. Enjoy.
PS. I also suggest getting Combo #1 at the concession stand – large popcorn, large coke and the bonus pack of nibs – so fucking good!
Here’s the trailer:
And here’s some real Grindhouse trailers from the 70’s (watch for the cougar attack at the 3 min mark!).