I just got back from Grindhouse, the double feature from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and while I can certainly say it was an experience, it wasn't the experience I was expecting. To be blunt, neither film nor the synergy of the two are cinematic masterpieces. The concept is great, the directors vary between good and excellent, but watching intentionally B-grade "horror" films for over three hours takes its toll on you.
Grindhouse is the title of the double feature, though it is really made up of Rodriguez's Planet Terror, Tarantino's Death Proof and a handful of inspired faux 1970's trailers and commercials. The trailers are terrific and the funniest moments of the three hours, as directors Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and one or two others have contributed to the mix. As a whole, Grindhouse is supposed to be a throwback to the double feature days of old where bad movies were played in succession - however, that was before my time. The concept is clever, and could conceivably be pulled off in modern day, but with exception to the "intermission", Grindhouse loses its originality after the first 20 minutes. That's not to say that either film is bad - but it's a lot of B-grade action to watch all in one sitting.
The first movie shown is Planet Terror, a movie about a military catastrophe that unleashes a deadly toxin that turns innocent people into deadly zombies. Complete with scratchy film and missing reels (the sex scene is conveniently just missing, which leads to some of the best laughs of the night), Planet Terror is B-grade horror at its finest, full of intentionally so-so acting, a fair amount of gore, gross monsters and Rose McGowan with a machine gun as a leg.
It's hard to tell where the camp ends and the seriousness begins, as Planet Terror, is, in all essences, a real gory zombie film. If you were to compare it to other zombie films, it isn't anything special, as aside from some gore, it's a bit cheesy and not exactly consistent. Rodriguez has done several movies better. Of course, you can't really compare Planet Terror to other zombie movies, because this flick is, after all, trying to be a throwback to films of old. As such, it has a fair amount of laughs and some gruesome moments, but it is hard to take a movie like this exactly how Rodriguez intended. After all, the movie has to be good regardless of whether it is a spoof, a satire, a homage piece or a straight-out horror film, and Planet Terror is good but nothing amazing.
Tarantino's Death Proof has received much more glowing reviews than Planet Terror, though this critical praise can be attributed more to a critics' love for the director and the fact that he tends to make even the most basic of movies interesting. Don't get me wrong - I think Tarantino is a great director and he has never faltered once - but just because Tarantino's movie is more original and less action-and-gore, critics are going to like it more.
Death Proof stars Kurt Russell as a stunt car driver (maybe), who roams the countryside looking for beautiful, young women to murder with his "death proof" stunt car. One he manages to actually get in his car before slamming on the brakes while she isn't wearing a seatbelt, but the rest he prefers to inflict damage upon by ramming his car into theirs. Of course, when he takes on one group of daredevil girls, he finds the tables reversed.
Death Proof is a well done film that features fine performances from everyone involved. Russell is flawless, and all four girls (Rosario Dawson being the most well known among them) are quite seamless. As with most of Tarantino's films, the movie is very dialogue driven, with only a few snippets of action and terror thrown in for good measure. The movie takes a while to get going, but is never poorly done; even after the first murders, when the movie starts all over again and continues for another half an hour before more action ensues, things are never slow. Nevertheless, I feel Tarantino went a bit overboard and tried a little too hard to deliver an effective movie, and forgot what Grindhouse is supposed to be about. While the plot is slim, Death Proof doesn't feel like much of a vintage movie.
All in all, both movies are good, but neither blow you away. If you compare Planet Terror and Death Proof as individual films to the directors' previous efforts, you will find them lacking in substance and entertainment value. Intentional, you might say? True, but these movies combined should have been three hours of pure entertainment, of sex, violence and gore, and I didn't quite get that experience. These movies are certainly worth seeing, but together, at the Grindhouse, the combination is a rather long, drawn out affair.
I have to wonder if Grindhouse would have worked better had Death Proof been shown first. While critically considered the better of the two (save the best for last, right?), Death Proof is certainly slower and less 1970's B-grade than Planet Terror. If people are stuck sitting in the theater for three hours, it may have been better to start off slow and lead into more bloody entertainment with Planet Terror. Maybe this wouldn't have made a difference, but, then again, maybe it would have...
Grindhouse is recommended for any fan of exploitation horror films, or either director. If you don't into any of those categories, it's probably best you stay clear.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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