Rose McGowan - Cherry Darling
Freddy Rodriguez - El Wray
Josh Brolin - Dr. William Block
Marley Shelton - Dr. Dakota Block
Rebel Rodriguez - Tony Block
Jeff Fahey - J.T. Hague
Michael Biehn - Sheriff Hague
Stacy Ferguson - Tammy Visan
Naveen Andrews - Abby
Bruce Willis - Lt. Muldoon
Kurt Russell - Stuntman Mike
Rosario Dawson - Abernathy
Vanessa Ferlito - Arlene/"Butterfly"
Jordan Ladd - Shanna
Rose McGowan - Pam
Sydney Poitier - Jungle Julia Lucai
Tracie Thoms - Kim
Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Lee Montgomery
Zoë Bell - Zoë
Year - 2007
Planet Terror: 4 Howls Outta 4
Death Proof: 3 Howls Outta 4
For those who don't know, grindhouse movies were B-level movies that were underground, low-budgeted, and full of exploitation of sex and violence with an anything-goes attitude made back in the 1970s. As fans of that genre, Rodriguez and Tarantino decided to pay homage to the good-ol-days by bringing the exploitation to modern-day times. At over 3 hours long and comprised of two films plus faux-trailers, is GRINDHOUSE worth the money and the time? Do the two directors do grindhouse films justice? Yes and yes.
Since there are two films in GRINDHOUSE, I'll be reviewing both films [and the faux trailers] individually [without trying to spoil anything]. Then at the end, I will review the entire film as a whole. So let's start with the first film directed by Robert Rodriguez: PLANET TERROR.
As in all of your typical zombie movies, a biochemical weapon is accidentally released into the air on a Texas town by the military. The gas infects unsuspecting humans -- once contaminated, their skin starts to bubble and decompose. These mutated humans hunger for human flesh. If they bite another human being, then the victim becomes infected and it continues to spread. While this mess goes down, several characters become intertwined into this whole mess, leaving them alone to deal with these mutated freaks for survival. From the local hospital, to a BBQ shack, and also a military base, these things are everywhere. The survivors only hope is the leadership of a guy named El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) and his ex-girlfriend Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), who after an incident with these "zombies", gains a machine gun leg that gives the army of freaks a rude awakening.
I really really like PLANET TERROR. Robert Rodriguez, who always has added a 70s-style type of filmmaking to his films, really goes balls out here. Everything is over-the-top: the acting, the gore, the action...Rodriguez exploits everything in his sight here and enjoys every second of it. The movie feels like a 70s film [due to the scratches on the film, the great throwback musical score, and the badly-lit shots to create a ghoulish atmosphere], though it's obviously set in modern day. Plus you have the missing reel spot during the sex scene "due to the lack of budget to film the scene" [making the film both ironic and funny at the same time]. And the gore...geez, Rodriguez doesn't let up on it. Everything is slimy and rubbery and the blood gushes out like Jell-O goodness. Rodriguez was obviously inspired by the Italian zombie films of the 1970s [the ZOMBI series definitely comes to mind here] and it works extremely well here. The blood splatters on the camera, the editing is all over the place, the synth score and bubbling skin effects come out of nowhere most of the time - nothing is held back to make this movie look cheap and bad. And that's what I love about Rodriguez's work here: it's intentionally supposed to look this way and it never takes itself seriously. It's all about fun in PLANET TERROR and what else can you ask for from a film and a director?
As for the story/plot, it apparently involves Osama Bin Laden and his connection to the toxic gas that caused the infection. I think this is Rodriguez's message about the corruption of people and how it's destroying our current society as a whole [i.e. terrorism, war, greed]. But really, this movie isn't about a plot. It's about action and seeing ugly ass things get mutilated.
The acting, all of it, worked for me. Rose McGowan, as go-go dancer Cherry Darling, is the main protagonist and she does more than fine here. You lust for her when she pole dances in the opening credits, you feel bad for her when awful things happen to her leg, and you root for her when she gets that crazy machine gun and starts poppin' caps into those ugly bitches. Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under, who plays El Wray here, is awesome. I would have never thought of him as an action hero, but he surprised me when he started kicking everyone's asses in front of him. You don't fuck with Puerto Ricans! He gets some nice one-liners in and his relationship with McGowan's character is really well done. The two definitely had some chemistry. The other actors (such as Marley Shelton, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Naveen Andrews, and Jeff Fahey as the hilarious owner of the BBQ shack) were really good as well. There are even some cameos from other actors and a singer in this film and you should check out for those as well. All-in-all, everyone was on the same groove and seemed to be really enjoying themselves in their roles [something you don't really see from many actors in film]. I think the fact that the actors were enjoying their roles made me enjoy watching them work.
PLANET TERROR is a welcome addition to the horror genre. It's a fun splatterfest that will leave you wanting more. If you love blood, hot chicks with machine-gun legs, witty dialogue, or just plain ol' action without having to think too much...PLANET TERROR is right up your alley. Definitely my favorite of the two films in GRINDHOUSE. Now to DEATH PROOF:
The Quentin Tarantino part of GRINDHOUSE revolves around the insane Stuntman Mike Mikki (Kurt Russell in his best role in years). Apparently, the charmingly psychopathic Stuntman Mike has a thing for the ladies...actually let me correct that...has a thing for scaring the ladies with his "death proof" stunt car. In a bar in Austin, Texas, Mike targets a group of girls led by Jungle Julia (Sydney Poiter), a local DJ. The girls are unsure about Stuntman Mike and pretty much go on their own away after a few drinks and heavy drug use. Stuntman Mike, seeking a thrill as always, uses his car to target the girls with some gory results. After some time from that incident, Mike heads to Tennessee where he targets a whole new set of girls (Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, and Tracie Thoms) who are in the entertainment business. The girls try out their own stunt car for thrills, leading Stuntman Mike to strike with his own. The results surprise Mike, however, when he's proven that he's not the only one who may be "death proof".
Let me just start out by saying that I LOVE Quentin Tarantino's work. He's very original and he never disappoints me as a film viewer. DEATH PROOF, while a good film, almost disappointed me until the end. Tarantino finely directs this film and lets us in on all of the characters, giving us reasons on who to focus on and why. The camera moves naturally from one character to another, especially during the conversation scenes with are very fluid and keep us interested in what the characters have to say to each other. The directing brings the viewer into the film, as if we're there watching these friends discuss normal life with each other. We're never visually bored, and that's a great thing.
However...I wish there was less dialogue and more action honestly. I understand the purpose for the movie to be dialogue-heavy - Tarantino wants us to get to know the characters so we can find sympathy for them. Hell, I even found sympathy for Stuntman Mike, even if he was a fuckin' lunatic. But there was TOO MUCH talking among the characters, to the point where I almost got bored and felt like yelling, "OKAY, WE GET IT! GET ON WITH THE DAMN STORY!" Especially with the second group of girls. After the first action sequence, the 20 minutes of talking and nothing but talking seemed to make the film almost disjointed to me. Didn't flow or feel right. If the dialogue sucked, I would really have a problem with it. But Tarantino always writes a great script, so I didn't really complain too much about it. Some people in the theatre left during the dialogue scenes though probably out of boredom and waiting for something exciting to happen. I don't really blame them, but I did enjoy the conversation scenes somewhat and I'm glad Tarantino took the time out to create strong female characters for us to root for. But he could have done it in a shorter amount of time, that's all I'm saying.
Now the action scenes...bra-fuckin'-vo. Tarantino really did his homework when it came to chase scenes. No CGI, all real stunt work by the actors involved in the scene [especially Zoe Bell, who as Uma Thurman's stunt double in both KILL BILL movies, showed she can act as well as survive insane stunts like riding a car hood while Kurt Russell slams his car into hers]. No FAST AND THE FURIOUS shit here. This was some old-fashioned cars beating the shit out of each other and I enjoyed every single minute of it. Especially the final car scene I mentioned earlier. It lasted like 15 minutes and it never got boring. As the collisions between the two cars intensified, so did your attention on the scene. It was crazy, while never being over-the-top, and I probably could have watched that scene all day if it were extended. Tarantino really worked his ass off here and I appreciated it [so did my wallet]. Even the audience clapped at the end of this one [me included].
As for the acting, it was better here than in PLANET TERROR. What can I say about Kurt Russell? His best role since Snake Plissken from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK [though he's done some great work in between], Russell really becomes Stuntman Mike. He charms the ladies and then scares them to death - my kind of dude. While he's been in some good roles recently, I don't think I've seen Russell enjoy himself on screen as he does here. And he did his own stunts too with the car. He needs to be in more movies. I love Kurt Russell. The women in the cast all hold up their own as well. Especially Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson. I'd let those women slam their car into mine anytime. I like me some strong women, and strong these women are. Plus there are some cameos in the film as well, so check those out too.
DEATH PROOF is a very good film, but it's too uneven for it to be perfect [going from a quiet conversation sequence to a high-adrenaline car chase, back to a conversation sequence out of nowhere that doesn't want to end seems a bit too much on the eye, ears, and brain]. It was like watching Golden Girls to it suddenly being interrupted into an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It didn't really click. But this was a Tarantino trademarked film with strong female characters, great dialogue, intentionally bad editing, great direction, and some wild car chases. But it didn't really feel like an old grindhouse film like PLANET TERROR did. It was just another Tarantino film for me. I wished this would have started the film instead of PLANET TERROR, but I did it enjoy and appreciate DEATH PROOF.
There were 4 fake trailers in GRINDHOUSE that really excited me to the point where I hope they're made into real movies someday. The first trailer shows up right at the beginning. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, we have MACHETE starring Danny Trejo as a machete-wielding assassin out to send some payback to those who set him up. This trailer is turning into a real full-length film and I can't wait to see it. The audience I sat with loved it too. Then we have the trailers in between the two films. The first one was WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, directed by Rob Zombie. It had to do with Nazis and a werewolf shooting a gun. Yeah...and Nicolas Cage was Fu Manchu. I'm not making this up. Then we have Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the Dead) DON'T, about murders in a mansion like THE HAUNTING and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. The trailer was all over the place with random things happening, but the narrator saying "Don't do this! Don't do that!" every 2 seconds cracked me up. I couldn't stop laughing at how ridiculous the trailer was. And then comes my absolute favorite, Eli Roth's (Hostel, Cabin Fever) THANKSGIVING. Based on the holiday-riffic slasher films of the 80s, it involves a murderous pilgrim who murders on Thanksgiving. Want to see a dude in a turkey outfit get decapitated? What about a cheerleader who gets plowed by a knife as she does a split on a trampoline? Or how about watching the Pilgrim rape one of his victims that he shaped into a Butterball turkey? You can see it in THANKSGIVING. Man, I would die if this became a film. I'd be the first in line for that one. Sigh...they don't make horror like they used to.
THE FINAL HOWL
GRINDHOUSE was quite the 3-hour experience. I loved PLANET TERROR, but only very liked DEATH PROOF. However, the trailers and the cute "Coming Attractions" and "Feature Presentations" with the cartoons, kittens, and puppies, really bring you into a grindhouse mood and make up for what I didn't like. Plus the films were badly edited and spliced together, sound was muffled at times, film was scratched, and reels were missing at the most inappropriate times - purposely creating a great grindhouse feel in a time where they don't even exist anymore. It's not the greatest movie ever made, but it's definitely one of the most original. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are not your ordinary directors and thank God for it. They create an experience that is unrivaled by anyone else in Hollywood and that's why GRINDHOUSE is a must-see. Don't wait for this on DVD. Watch it in a movie theater and really enjoy the true movie experience. I really hope they continue with another GRINDHOUSE because I'm anxious to see what they have up their sleeves next. I loved GRINDHOUSE as much as the directors loved making it. There's hope for the movie industry yet.