Saturday, April 7, 2007


grind house –noun Slang.
1.a burlesque house, esp. one providing continuous entertainment at reduced prices.
2.a movie theater that shows films throughout the day and all or most of the night.

Both of those definitions sum up Quentin Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's double feature very well. Grind Houses were theaters that were big back in the seventies playing low budget B movies, blaxsploitation, and horror movies. They were named after the studios that would grind out these films, releasing dozens a year (many from the same directors over and over again). Rodriguez and Tarantino capture this spirit wonderfully, and each one uniquely visits his inspiration. Both films feature jarring cuts and scratchy film (all features of those low budget movie house days). Each of them even features a missing reel. I honestly hope those were actually filmed, and may be featured as a bonus feature upon release on DVD. Though experiencing this on DVD would almost ruin the atmosphere of watching it in a movie house. They go about it in entirely different ways, but each does a fine job of reminiscing about those days.

Before I get into each of the movies, I need to discuss my favorite (and judging from the reaction in the sold out show- the audience favorite as well). Between the two movies they had fake movie trailers for upcoming horror movies directed by prominent directors. Rodriguez provided one of the trailers for a movie he actually wrote and planned on shooting. Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, ad Edgar Wright (Director of Shaun of the Dead) provide three other hilarious trailers.

Planet Terror
Robert Rodriguez's zombie flick started off the night. This movie is nonstop action, with sprinklings of scares, and heavy dose of hilarity. He pays homage to the movies of George Romero's Dead series, and the Italian zombie movies of the day. Planet Terror is overblown, ridiculous, and rivals Peter Jackson's Dead Alive for the bloodiest movie I have ever seen. I get the impression that he wants the audience to have as much fun watching the movie as it probably was to write it.

The cast is actually delightful. Rose McGowan plays the lead heroin- Cherry Darling. She loses her leg early on in a zombie attack, and eventually gets a machine gun to replace it. This is just an example of the absurd and downright silly nature of the movie. Freddy Rodriguez plays Wray, the hero, and in a hilarious twist, the missing reel happens to contain the segment where we find out who he is. The cast for Planet Terror is rounded out with Mary Shelton, Michael Beihn, and Bruce Willis. They all do a fantastic job, and look like they're just having fun.

There were a few spots that were just a little too bizarre for me. Most of these included testicles, and one featured an appearance by Tarantino- who I think has to be in every movie he's involved with even though he'd not that great of an actor. There were spots like these where Rodriguez seemed to let the gross-out nature of the movie get away from him, and it almost seemed like the zombies were writing it themselves. These spots were only a few, and went by fairly quickly.

The plot (if that's what you can call it) revolves around a gas that was produced for the military. It gets released on a small town, and creates zombies. There's nothing original about this movie. But it's how he accomplishes it that makes this movie so good. While poking fun at the genre, he shows an undying love for it. It's comparable to Wes Craven's turn in Scream. Rodriguez is one of the best filmmakers of current. He directs, DPs, edits, writes, and even does the music for most of his movies. He has to be one of the most versatile directors out there, not only doing this, but Sin City, El Mariachi and sequels, even the Spy Kids series. He does it all, and he does it all very well.

Death Proof
This was Quentin Tarantino's contribution to Grindhouse. This one slowed down the continuous action of Planet Terror considerably. It's a fine film, but takes such a different approach. This one features Kurt Russel who stalks and kills women with his car. If Planet Terror paid tribute to the obnoxiously overblown action movies of the day, Death Proof plays homage to the gritty, and dirty movies of the seventies. He blatantly shows his inspirations, even featuring a conversation about the genius of Vanishing Point. This movie may not have been as fun as Rodriguez's, but it was still quite good in its own right.

I feel that Zoe Bell (playing herself) was without a doubt the star of this movie. This is despite standout performances by Rosario Dawson and and Tracie Thoms (who could be described as the female Samuel L. Jackson. Bell, a veteran stunt person, plays a fantastic role on the hood of a car in one of the most exciting chase scenes I have seen in a long time. Uma Therman (Tarantino's muse) was absent from Death Proof, but Bell had played her stunt double in Kill Bill, so in a way, she was still there. I was happy to see the stunt person getting the spotlight this time.

Death Proof is clearly Tarantino. Unlike Rodriguez, who does not have any specific style to his movies, every Tarantino film is obviously one of his. This is no exception. It is very dialog heavy, most of it random and meandering- but always very witty. The dialog is saturated with carefully placed profanity that seems to be a trademark of his scripts. Despite the seemingly shallowness of the characters, you really start to feel for them. Rarely have I been to a movie where the audience is cheering at the end.

The problem with Death Proof is that Tarantino could not quite get himself out of his own style and immerse the film in that 70's action gear head flick. He tried to add too many layers to the dialog, and didn't let the cars do the speaking quite enough. I really liked the movie, but I didn't think it quite got what they were looking for with the Grindhouse idea. Rodriguez, on the other hand, completely let the genre do the thinking, and let that shape the movie. Tarantino was still a little too deliberate in the script. I can't really fault him for this, though, because he did craft a really good script.

On a whole, the movies were fantastic. Each one had a few flaws, but they were supposed to be bad movies in the first place. I don't think either director was able to completely get out of their own skin and produce a truly deliciously B movie (I think Rodriguez came the closest out of the two to accomplishing the Grind house spirit). I wonder how different of an experience it would have been to have Death Proof first, and Planet Terror second. Planet Terror was a thrill ride, and Death Proof just seemed to lose momentum. However, Planet Terror did not have the crowd pleasing ending, so I guess it could have gone either way. One thing is certain, these two movies have to be seen together, and they have to be seen in the theater. They were made for fans of movies, and specifically fans of horror movies. If you go in with the excited mentality of just having a good time, trust me, you will.


No comments: