- Reviewed by: Mel Valentin
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Current Rating 8.67/10 | 9 Votes
Grindhouse opens with Robert Rodriguez’s faux trailer for Machete), an action flick about a double-crossed assassin out for payback against his former employers. Rodriguez's Planet Terror, a splatterific homage to George A, Romero-style zombie/survival horror flicks, comes on next. Post-Planet Terror, Grindhouse segues into Eli Roth’s (Hostel, Cabin Fever) faux trailer for a holiday-themed slasher flick, Thanksgiving, Rob Zombie’s (The Devil's Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses) fake trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S., and Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) trailer for an early 70s Britsploitation flick, Don’t . Grindhouse then segues into Tarantino's Death Proof, a slasher flick where the serial killer uses a souped up muscle car to prey on women.
In Planet Terror, a plague spreads across a small Texas town, turning the infected into rage-filled, pus- and boil-covered cannibals. Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a tow-truck driver, becomes embroiled in the efforts to stop the plague from spreading outside the town. Wray has a more immediate concern, saving his ex-girlfriend, Cherry (Rose McGowan), from an attack by infected townspeople. At the hospital, Wray runs into his sometime nemesis, Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn), and Hague’s two deputies, Tolo (Tom Savini) and Carlos (Carlos Gallardo). The outbreak quickly overwhelms the hospital staff, including husband-and-wife doctors, William (Josh Brolin) and Dakota Block (Marley Shelton). Before long, the survivors are forced to flee and make a spirited stand against the rapidly mutating cannibals. Their only hope? Holding on just long enough until the military shows up and save them.
Planet Terror isn’t particularly deep or original, but then again, Rodriguez didn’t want it to be. To remind moviegoers that we're watching a faux exploitation flick, Rodriguez shows off the scratches, dirt, and dust on the film and hisses and pops on the soundtrack. Rodriguez borrows heavily from George A. Romero’s undead franchise (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead). With its emphasis on everything that can go wrong with the human body, from disease to dismemberment, Planet Terror also borrows to David Cronenberg’s body-horror flicks (Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, Rabid, Shivers). Planet Terror’s closest antecedent in terms of story and tone, though, is Dan O’Bannon’s horror/comedy, Return of the Living Dead. Rodriguez also pays homage James Cameron's The Terminator by casting Michael Biehn in a substantial role and in the last two or three scenes (complete with voice over narration).
In Death Proof, a serial killer who uses muscle cars instead of knives, axes, or other sharp instruments to prey on women, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), tracks four young women, Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young actress on her first big movie shoot, Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), her makeup artist, Kim (Tracie Thoms), a stunt driver, and Zoe (Zoe Bell), a stuntwoman, to Tennessee. The women have been given a three-day reprieve from filming and decide to take full advantage of it. They sit or drive around, relax, trade stories, and exchange advice. Zoe, though, wants more than talk, she wants action. Spotting an add in the local paper for a white 1970 Dodge Challenger in mint condition, the same make and model featured in Vanishing Point, one of Zoe’s favorite flicks, the four women take to the road. Stuntman Mike isn’t far behind.
Death Proof is everything Planet Terror isn’t. It’s not lightweight homage. It’s not fun (at least not by most definitions of that word). It has few of the over-the-top plot elements or dialogue that makes Planet Terror so easy to sit through and enjoy. Death Proof is also a hell of a lot scarier than Planet Terror. Outside of the occasional frame, shot, hiccup and a missing film reel, Death Proof plays out as an irony-free, pre-Scream horror flick. Death Proof starts off as a genre-embracing slasher flick before taking a Hitchcockian detour that will leave moviegoers temporarily numb. Death Proof then slips back into a slowly building setup that, once the third act arrives, delivers a terrific payoff that more than makes up for Tarantino’s lengthy dialogue scenes early on (yes, Tarantino cribs from Reservoir Dogs’ diner scene, but even Alfred Hitchcock borrowed stylistic tricks from his earlier films).
Whatever the differences in their directing styles and approaches to exploitation cinema, it’s difficult to deny that Rodriguez and Tarantino are talented filmmakers who love what they do and love working in once disreputable genres. Now if we can only convince Rodriguez and Tarantino to keep Tarantino-the-wannabe-actor as far away from a set as humanly possible, then a longstanding grievance about Tarantino indulging himself would become all but moot. And while we're at it, please keep Eli Roth behind the camera and not in front of it.
© Mel Valentin, 6th April, 2007
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