Directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Planet Terror") and Quentin Tarantino ("Death Proof"). Fake trailers directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Machete"), Rob Zombie ("Werewolf Women of the SS"), Edgar Wright ("Don't"), Eli Roth ("Thanksgiving"). Cast ("Planet Terror"): Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Josh Brolin, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Naveen Andrews, Quentin Tarantino, Stacy Ferguson, Nicky Katt, Hung Nguyen, Tom Savini, Carlos Gallardo, Michael Parks, Bruce Willis. Cast ("Death Proof"): Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Zoë Bell, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Monica Staggs, Michael Bacall, Quentin Tarantino, Marta Mendoza, Kelley Robins, Michael Parks, Eli Roth, Tim Murphy, James Parks. Cast (fake trailers): Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Sheri Moon Zombie, Sybil Danning, Udo Kier, Jeff Rendell, Jordan Ladd, Jay Hernandez, Michael Biehn, Eli Roth, Bill Moseley, Tom Towles, Nicolas Cage, Jason Isaacs, Matthew MacFadyen, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Katie Melua, Emily Booth, Lucy Punch, Georgina Chapman, Stuart Wilson, Liliya Malkina, voice of Will Arnett. 2007 191 minutes Rated: (for strong graphic violence and gore, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 4, 2007.
Grindhouse - noun - A downtown movie theaterin disrepair since its glory days as a movie palace of the '30s and '40sknown for "grinding out" non-stop double-bill programs of B-movies.
"Grindhouse" production notes
"Grindhouse" is a novel experiment, the brain child of writer-directors Robert Rodriguez (2005's "Sin City") and Quentin Tarantino (2003's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" and 2004's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2"). With the classic grindhouses of the '60s and '70s long extinct, and cheap exploitation films relegated to direct-to-DVD and beyond, they set out to replicate as best they could the theatrical experience of the double features they saw growing up. In doing such, their respective 85-minute pictures are surrounded by cheesy theater logos, outrageously authentic fake trailers, and even an advertisement for a fictional Mexican restaurant serving truly unappealing-looking dishes. By and large, the main attractions are scuffed up with scratch marks, cigarette burns, jumpy prints, and missing reels. Topping them off are the occasional abrupt cut, bad edit, and continuity error. These movies do, indeed, feel as if they come from an age gone by.
How is "Grindhouse" as a complete entity? If you are too young to remember real-life grindhouses, then watching the three-hour-plus opus is sure to be unlike anything you've seen in a theater before. For the one-of-a-kind experience all by itself, it is not to be missed. Narrowing in one's focus on the quality of what is offered, it is more of a mixed bag. Trying to impersonate and pay homage to schlocky genre flicks is one thing, but the simple truth is that most of these weren't very good films, and on many occasions, downright terrible. Neither Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" nor Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" fall into that dubious latter category, but they aren't exactly masterpieces either.
Following a hilariously over-the-top fake trailer for "Machete," in which Danny Trejo stars as a bad-ass left for dead and seeking vengeance with the help of a gun-toting priest (Cheech Marin), the first feature gets underway. A zombie horror effort that plays like a cross between "Return of the Living Dead" and "Escape from New York"-era John Carpenter, "Planet Terror" is the superior of the two central efforts and a whole lot more fun. It's balls-to-the-wall (figuratively and literally), adrenaline-fueled, and paced like a freight train, an orgasm of gore, special effects and intentionally ludicrous action sequences.
Free at last from her five-year stint on the WB witch soap "Charmed," Rose McGowan (2006's "The Black Dahlia") bursts back onto the big-screen in what is her juiciest role since 1995's "The Doom Generation" and a career-revitalizing performance. She stars as Cherry Darling, a down-and-out go-go dancer who quits her job to pursue stand-up comedy. Before she has time to consider her next move, the small Texas town she lives in is overtaken by cannibalistic zombies, the result of a deadly virus leak by the military. Newly one-legged after an attack, Cherry has no choice but to hook up with hunky ex-flame El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) and, with newfound strength and a machine gun acting as her missing appendage, fight for their lives. Also figuring into the slapdash hysteria are sparring married doctors Dakota (Marley Shelton) and William Block (Josh Brolin), Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn), angry mercenary Abby (Naveen Andrews), evil Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis), and a slimy rapist (Quentin Tarantino) who gets what's coming to him.
Robert Rodriguez has no pretensions about what kind of movie he's making, and the results are so bad they're good, wallowing in ultra-violent mayhem interspersed with hammy yet surprisingly effective and emotional character moments. "Planet Terror" hardly stops moving long enough for the viewer to catch a breath and think about how empty-headed it all is, and that's how it should be. You want squirting puss? You want ripping limbs? You want a penis that turns into a dripping monster? You want jars of testes strewn across the landscape? You want to see an impossibly sexy Rose McGowan mow down the undead with her machine gun leg while riding on the back of a motorcycle? You want her and a studly Freddy Rodriguez (2006's "Lady in the Water") to take time out to get it on? You want helicopter blades used against the enemy while the pilot and passengers cheer from inside? It's all here, and much more. With a classic electronic score by Robert Rodriguez in tow, its sound an unmistakable tribute to John Carpenter, "Planet Terror" wears its proudly bloody heart on its sleeve and is bound to entertain anyone with a soft spot for George Romero or Lucio Fulci.
Next up on the "Grindhouse" platter are a trio of additional fake trailers. Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the SS" would be kind of forgettable if not for the self-aware cameo by Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu. Standing out more is "Don't," Edgar Wright's hugely funny spoof of old trailers that hyperbolically warned the audience such inanities as, "Don't go in the house!," "Don't open the door!," and "Don't answer the phone!" The highlight of the three is saved for last. Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving," a take-off of the holiday-themed slashers that bombarded the late-'70s/early-'80s, strikes notes of sheer perfection as it tells of a madman in a pilgrim costume painting a quiet town red. "Thanksgiving," more than anything else in "Grindhouse," is a dead ringer for something that could have conceivably come straight out of 1981. It's good enough to be made into a real filman idea that Eli Roth should seriously consider.
After these coming attractions comes the second entree, "Death Proof." When placed against each other as filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino would largely outrank Robert Rodriguez. This isn't the case here. A talky female-empowerment tale that barely has time to deal with its slasher-ready premise of a psychopath using motor vehicles as weapons to slaughter women with, "Death Proof" is low-key, slow-paced and reserved where "Planet Terror" was the precise opposite of all these things. It's a major come-down from the thrills of the first film, and is hurt by a first hour that almost wholly consists of one-dimensional gals gabbing away in cars, at bars, and in diners. Were their dialogue up to snuff with Tarantino's usual swift, clever and mesmerizing wordplay, then this wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, the dialogue is uninteresting and seemingly endless, doing nothing to develop the characters and sounding as if a threadbare wannabe screenwriter has unsuccessfully decided to ape Tarantino's style.
The plot, or what there is of one, is simple. A smooth-talking killer named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) sets his sights on a group of pretty young things (Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd) at an Austin, Texas, watering hole. After making them his latest victims by way of his pimped-out death-proof ride, he turns toward another bunch of friends (Rosario Dawson, Zoë Bell, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead). What Stuntman Mike doesn't know is that these are tough chickstwo of them are professional Hollywood stuntwomen, to bootwho shouldn't be messed with.
"Death Proof" takes too much time to get going, and forgets to build tension and atmosphere as the scarred and deranged Stuntman Mike (played with game, alluring menace by Kurt Russell) closes in on his targets. Thank goodness, then, for a slam-bang whopper of a climax that pays off in spades. If viewers can get through the dreary gabfest that mars the first half, they will be treated to an extended, nearly thirty-minute action extravaganza that instantly earns a place in the hall of fame of cinematic car chases. Brilliantly choreographed and free of special effects and CGI, this set-piece, as Stuntman Mike accosts the girls along a lonely stretch of country road while real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell (playing a version of herself in an impressive debut performance) hangs on for dear life on the hood of their car, is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat spectacle. One of the big problems with "Death Proof" is that, before this attack, the girls have no idea that Stuntman Mike has been stalking them and, therefore, sense no threat on their lives. This strips the film of the momentum it should have had, but by no means lessens the impact of the marvelous finale.
"Grindhouse" is an ingenious and fresh idea for the way motion pictures can be presented in their theatrical distribution, turning just another ho-hum night at the movies into a full event. If the films it withholds are of varying qualityneither are great, but both have their meritsthen that is a relatively minor price to pay for what is, on the whole, satisfying and enjoyable. If a "Grindhouse 2" is to ever see the light of day, a little more focus on tightening the scripts would be beneficial, and "Thanksgiving" is a must for inclusion. In the meantime, "Grindhouse" is a gleefully no-holds-barred start to what deserves to be a prosperous franchise.