Despite being born in that decade, I am not a fan of the 70s. I’ve never really understood the Hollywood fascination with the movies of that period, either. Ever since director Quentin Tarantino came on the scene, there’s been an association between the low-budget exploitation films of that era and a certain cinematic cool. Now he and his director buddy Robert Rodriguez have teamed up to create this double-whammy homage to those films. Each of them is producing a mini-movie to be shown together in a double-feature with all the simulated, scratchy grain and over-the-top cheesiness of the real 70s thing. Rodriguez goes first with the oozing zombie splatterfest, Planet Terror, and Tarantino’s muscle-car revenge flick, Death Proof wraps it up. At first I was unsure if this was going to be 3+ hours of cringingly extreme movie-going or a tongue-in-cheek wild ride. I’m happy to report that while I cringed at least a half-dozen times during Planet Terror alone, by the end, it was an enjoyable wild-ride-and-a-half.
There is no question that Planet Terror was more over-the-top and cheesy than Death Proof. Anything with zombies is going to be a bit much–and these zombies are gross! The gist of the story is that a gaseous bio-weapon is released on the innocent population of a small Texas town, turning the infected into disgusting pustule-filled, liquefying zombies. A band of survivors, including a gun-slinging trucker, his go-go dancing ex, a syringe-toting doctor, and the sheriff and his diner-owner brother, try to escape as they fend off the undead hordes. What starts off as just a seedy tale of mutation-gone-wrong reaches a totally over-the-top climax when the go-go dancer (played by Rose McGowan, returning to her indie-vamp roots after a family-friendly stint on Charmed) with her machine-gun leg (yes, you read that right) soars over the barricades to launch a missile at the decaying marines, and the less said about the melting of Tarantino’s genitals the better (yes, he makes a memorable cameo).
I know that this movie sounds like the weirdest, if not most awful thing on celluloid, but it’s actually both funny and fun (once you get past the gag reflex). In any good horror-action movie, you root for the survivors and hope that they all make it out alive (even though you know most of them won’t). Like those in Rodriguez’s previous walk on the weird side, Sin City, Planet Terror’s set of out-there characters are so imaginatively strange that they’re almost like figures out of a fable (but I’ll stop there before my artsifying of this movie loses me all my credibility). Suffice it to say that though I never saw any of the original schlock that this movie is inspired by, after this I’m actually kind of tempted.
Most of the reviews I’ve read so far tend to hate one of the two mini-movies and love the other. I think I prefer Planet Terror, but Death Proof is pretty good too. Without a doubt, Tarantino’s dialogue is far superior. In fact, there are few like him who can string together so much profanity, normalspeak, and attitude into a script that just sounds so cool. Death Proof is about a psycho named Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) who kills lovely young women by ramming his stunt car into theirs and making their deaths look like a terrible accident. It’s downright fetishistic how Tarantino shows the death scene from the perspective of each of the four women in the car. When Mike messes with another group of young women taking a joy ride, he gets more than he bargained for when they try to take him out instead. The car stunts in Death Proof are incredible. Frankly I don’t know how they filmed some of those scenes with two cars side by side on a highway with a girl gripping the hood for dear life–it was pretty amazing. Tracie Thoms (who I last saw as Joanne in the movie version of Rent) is excellent as the tough-beeyatch girl-driver who teaches Kurt Russell a lesson. Again, I haven’t seen the old movies that inspired this one, but I assume that Tarantino is playing with the sexist themes of those exploitation films.
There’s no question that Grindhouse is not for everyone. Unfortunately for the box office, I think that potential audiences tend to agree. However, anyone who enjoyed Sin City and Kill Bill, not to mention any of the other movies from the two directors, will have a good time at the Grindhouse. I know I did. (4 out of 5)