Planet Terror (2007) dir. Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Bruce Willis
After a second viewing “Planet Terror” on DVD and alone, without “Death Proof”, it’s clearly one of my favourite films of the year. It’s a remarkably enjoyable film that succeeds on all levels – action, character, comedy, and genre. Every scene is infused cinematic wit and energy and from beginning still had me grinning from ear to ear.
The film opens with a wicked-awesome go-go dance routine from Rose “Cherry Darling” McGowan over the opening credits. Then the film establishes the creation of Rodriguez’s zombies with a ridiculously over-the-top action sequence on a military base in Texas. His blood squibs are extra juicy, like exploding water balloons of blood. Then Rodriguez establishes one-by-one the dozen or so characters in the town that will soon become victims or heroes in the 105min circus of carnage to follow. Each character is given a clear – albeit melodramatic – subplot which is followed through to the end, no matter what happens. Some are sincere and romantic, others are absurdist. There’s Cherry Darling’s list of “useless talents” that help her get out of a number of life-threatening situations, J.T.’s search for the missing ingredient to make his prize-winning BBQ sauce, Dakota Black’s relationship her father, El Wray’s attachment to his leather jacket as well as his attempts to win back his Cherry, his long lost love.
Rodriguez clearly loves his characters and the actors who play them, and so we love them too. My favourites are Marley Shelton, playing a gorgeous blonde doctor, Dr. Dakota Black, who performs all her action scenes in high heels and sexy smeared eye liner, Rodriguez’s own nieces playing a pair of ‘Crazy Babysitter Twins’ who are billed as such in credits, Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey, two classic 80’s/90’s b-list action actors who seem practically separated from birth. Nicky Katt, Stacy Ferguson, Naveen Andrews – too many to name really – all add to the fun.
John Carpenter’s influence is all over the film. Freddy Rodriguez, who plays the soft spoken nave turned ass-kicking hero, channels the best Carpenter hero roles – Snake Pliskin, Jack Burton, and Roddy Piper from “They Live”. Rodriguez’s score has the same particular synthesized rumblings of a Carpenter score as well, not to mention his recurring theme of the townsfolk forced to defend together against a siege on the town (which originally is a Romero and Hawks creation). “Planet Terror” moves away from the Carpenter formula with its own brand of Grindhouse wit. In addition to many more subplots, Rodriguez manages to set up and execute more successful comic gags than all of his other films combined.
Rodriguez makes the film his own with his trademark hyperkinetic editing and shooting style he perfected with the Mariachi trilogy and particularly “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Rodriguez’s DVD special features are always top notch and his usual 10 Minute Film School Featurette shows how he and his special effects team used a variety of high tech and low tech methods of fooling us.
The digital scratches and imperfections hold well on DVD. When it was first rumoured that the Grindhouse filmmakers would purposely scratch the film to make it look old, I admit I cried foul. But seeing it on both big and small screens, the two films benefit greatly and add to the fun.
“Planet Terror” stands well on its own. The clever and busy narrative could have been overshadowed by the pyrotechnics but amazingly his motley group of Grindhouse characters are the most interesting and lovable from any of his films. I’ve seen lots of great and serious films this year, but “Planet Terror” will definitely find a place in my ten best. Enjoy.