Where does one begin to describe the experience that is ‘Grindhouse’? Some of you may be a little too young to remember the grind house genre films of the early to mid seventies. Hell, I’m too you to remember them but, being a fan all things films, I have seen more than my fair share of them. These films put the ‘X’ in exploitation with their cheesy action sequences, liberal use of gallons upon gallons of red dyed Karo syrup and gratuitous nudity (leading me to question can nudity ever truly be gratuitous?) These films just weren’t simple fluff though, confronting serious subjects like women in prison, and horny teenagers who end up in prison, and horny aliens who attack women in prison, they pushed the envelope of social discussion. With titles like ‘Women in Cages’, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, ‘Motel Hell’, and ‘Bloodsucking Freaks’ just to name few, I’m certain you can feel the level of artistry that has to be behind these grind house gems. (By the way, DO NOT attempt to acquire any of these films, as I think possessing some of them could very well be against the law – we’re talking to YOU Cannibal Holocaust!)
Maverick auteurs Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have combined their considerable talents and power to bring to the screen, in the year 2007, their own interpretations of cinema exploitation with ‘Grindhouse’. A classic, true to form, Double-Feature set of flicks that, if you were alive for just a minute during the seventies, you will have a definite appreciation for.
Rodriguez starts things off with ‘Planet Terror’ which is an old school throwback to the cheesy horror movies of the 1970’s. The film starts with a couple of really, really, suspect trailers for films, which may, or may not exist in the future, complete with psychedelic motion backgrounds, mono acid rock, and a severely scratched film print. The film starts with the credits playing over an extended go-go dancing set performed by the sizzling Rose McGowan as Cherry. McGowan’s earth shattering hotness is knocked down just a little bit as the next man she dates has to come to grips with that he’s eating behind Marilyn Manson. Good luck dealing with that, next dude. Regardless, Cherry is fed up with Go-Go dancing and heads on her merry way only to have her leg torn off by zombies later on in the film. Next we meet Lt. Muldoon who is buying some weird gas from this scientist for reasons unknown. The thing is this gas turns everybody who comes into contact with it into the cannibalistic zombies we’ve just mentioned, and once the tanks rupture, it is on. Of course we all know that zombies begat more zombies and soon the landscape is completely overrun with zombies. Never fear though as the tow truck driver with the secret past, Wrey (Freddie Rodriguez), deadly with a gun and lethal with a blade is on to the rescue. Along with his one legged ex-girlfriend Cherry, Police Chief Hauge (Michael Biehn) and barbeque specialist J.T. (Jeff Fahey) they lead their band of survivors against the endless hordes of zombies and on to find out the deep secret behind Project Terror!
If you don’t care for bloody gore, then you may want to let this one slide on by because the blood and pulp flows in torrential floods in ‘Planet Terror’. Zombies just don’t die when they get shot, they virtually explode. Bodies get sliced, diced, flambéed, devoured, caved in or whatever. If there’s a way to kill something, Rodriguez has already thought of it. Tarantino even makes an appearance as a raping soldier with the most disturbing set of genitalia that I would have liked NOT to have seen. In true exploitation homage, the women fight in tied off shirts and daisy dukes, and there is even a ‘missing reel’ in the middle of the movie. Of course were ‘Planet Terror’ played straight, it would probably suck, but in the context of which it was presented, it kicked total ass.
After Rodriguez’s rollercoaster ride with ‘Planet Terror’ things get a little a bit more subdued with Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’ which is take off of the Women Fighting Back theme that was so popular in those exploitative 1970’s. Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), Shanna (Jordan Ladd) and Julia (Sydney Tamiia Portier) are three hotties out for a good time. Arlene notices a wicked Chevy Nova following them around but decides to pay it no never mind. While the girls are drinking it up at the bar, the driver of the Nova, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) drops in for a bite to eat. Arlene knows something is wrong with the dude but goes on about the business of getting high and drunk. After another ‘missing reel’, soon everybody is leaving the bar with Stuntman Mike giving another hottie at the bar (Rose McGowan – different role, same damn ex-boyfriend) a ride home. Mike informs us that his car is ‘Death Proof’, but as Mike tells us, you have be sitting in the fortified drivers seat for that to work as the hottie soon finds out. You see, Mike is a serial killer and he kills with his ride. So as the previous three hotties, along with their other friend in the drivers seat, drive to their next destination, Mike turns out lights, revs up all 450 horsepower, and goes head on at 200 miles per hour. What proceeds next is certainly the most brutal, graphic, disturbing car crash in the HISTORY of cinema. I’m not going to spoil it for you but Mike lives through it.
Mike has moved on to Tennessee now and is stalking four more pretties for his collection of dead girls. Abby (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracy Thoms), Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are all working on a film in different functions. Zoe is an acrobat stunt woman from New Zealand and is just visiting her buds, with Kim being a stunt driver, Abby being in makeup and Lee being the actress. Mike takes a different approach with these honeys and just road terrorizes them with Zoe on the hood of the car (please don’t ask why). Mike should have asked somebody though because these ladies don’t take too kindly to road rage and when they turn the heat up, we’ll see if Stuntman Mike has what it takes to keep cool.
Tarantino injected a lot of his trademark dialog into this one, as this movie is mostly ladies talking lady talk with some AWESOME car chase scenes sandwiched in between. Zoe Bell is a real life stunt person, which always makes it look cooler to see the actual actress riding the hood of white, 1970 Dodge Charger with no visible means or restraint to help her. Kurt Russell is hilarious as the psychopathic Mike, particularly when the tables are turned against him. And Tracy Thoms plays the role of Kim the Stunt Driver in Pam Grieresque over the top, profane glee. The ending is classic exploitation in its suddenness and abruptness, thus also being quite the homage to the old school films of the day.
Anyone who sees ‘Grindhouse’ is going to ask ‘which one was better?’ Of course this question is subjective but I’ll go with ‘Planet Terror’ as it moved faster, was sexier even with fewer hotties, and was a more accurate representation of its genre, than ‘Death Proof was of its genre. ‘Death Proof’ was good too mind you, but was too dialog heavy, especially following the blood fest that was ‘Planet Terror’. “Death Proof” was essentially a Quentin Tarantino film first, with some grindhouse elements integrated within, where ‘Planet Terror’ was a true grindhouse film first, and a Robert Rodriguez film second.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wacky trailers done by the directors, as well as Eli Roth of ‘Hostel’ fame and Rob Zombie. They in themselves are worth the price of admission. I can’t believe that Weinstein and company are actually releasing these two films as a double bill for the price of one, and with that in mind, you can’t go wrong with ‘Grindhouse’. I know staying seated for three hours is going to be tough for this instant gratification generation that’s running things now but it’s worth it. Consider that my older brother used to drag me to TRIPLE feature Kung Fu movies back in the day in his form of ‘babysitting’, then these two fine examples of schlock cinema shouldn’t be any problem.