"… and Nicolas Cage as… Fu Manchu!"
You gotta' admit, those are not words you would normally think you would hear in a movie today. You need to be aware of what Grindhouse is before you go in, or more specifically, what it is not. It is not a chick flick, it is not a morality play about good and evil, it is not a 'good lesson' to be learned by all.
Now, what it is — it is three and a half hours of blood, gore, explosions, car wrecks, automatic weapons, zombies, blood, gore (I mention those twice because well, there really is a lot of blood and gore) and some of the funniest written lines I have heard on the screen in almost 30 years.
Now, both these movies deal with sex, drugs and even some rock and roll. And if you have a problem with that, why are you thinking about going to see it? Is Grindhouse a movie for kids or even younger teenagers? Christ, no. Leave the children at home folks.
If you don't like gore, I suggest you go watch Firehouse Dog instead.
In addition, if you thought Saw or its brain-numbing sequels were gory, I suggest you watch something else.
When I was a kid, "grindhouse" films were almost all I ever went to see. I saw blaxploitation films like Abby, Black Mama, White Mama, and Five on the Black Hand Side, among many others. I would go in on Friday morning and usually sit until late in the evening watching a double or even triple feature of films that I thought deserved a lot more credit then they actually got from critics or "people who knew about movies." Sure, none of them were going to win a whole lot of awards, but they did what they were supposed to do — they entertained, and provided a way for theaters who were struggling back in the late 1960s through early 1980s to stay in business.
Therefore, when I first heard about Grindhouse I was not sure what to expect. I mean, I knew what the word brought up in both uses to my mind, the older movies I used to watch and the idea of a poor, cheesy horror movie of the last few years. Little did I know that it was going to be both.
In Grindhouse the viewer is given two films, both full-length movies. It is, in its most basic form, a double feature. It is probably the only one you will see for a little while too, let me tell you. The first film is a classic, throw-them-to-the-wolves apocalyptic zombie film that is first class.
The second film, Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino is the one I will look at first. I give Death Proof two and a half stars. I can't go any further and it really only gets that much because of Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, the driver of a tricked out 1971 Nova. Mike is first seen in Austin, Texas following a group of girls around town. The girls include Jungle Julia, a local radio host, and two of her friends. One of them, nicknamed Butterfly, spots his car and sees it again that night at a local bar.
At first, Butterfly is not certain just what is going on. Stuntman Mike is an easygoing, laid back type of guy, who tries to make friends with the girls, and even offers a ride to another young woman.
Tarantino scores points for trying to develop the film a bit more then Robert Rodriguez, but he loses a lot of them by dragging all the action out for way, WAY too long in a lot of places. When this comes out on DVD I will be hitting fast forward a few times because I can only take so much of anyone talking gossip about who is getting laid, by whom, what turns so and so on, and where can we get beer and dope. And I don't care if it is women or men, it gets freakin' boring after a few minutes. So if I had to watch the same boring buildup over and over, I would smash the DVD into several thousand small pieces.
Tarantino makes up for lot of the boredom with an incredible scene in the middle of the film showing just why the Nova is "death proof." Then he goes and spoils it again by bringing in a new cast of girls, and having them talk gossip about who is getting laid, by whom, what turns so and so on, what to do to keep or lose a guy.
And as is Tarantino's way, just as you want to get up and leave, the action starts in again. Death Proof is an homage to Detroit muscle cars and a time when gas was only forty-five cents a gallon. Yes, children you heard that right. A lousy forty-five cents for a gallon of gas. You could fill the tank on most cars for around eight dollars. You could afford to drive a car with a 440 cubic inch engine. Who cared back then that you only got 12 miles to a gallon of gas? You got that 12 miles fast! And in Death Proof, Tarantino has Russell and his girls going balls out fast. They give us one of the best car chase films I have seen in a long time.
Like I said, I think this film was a lot slower than Planet Terror but it was better executed. In all likelihood, it was not the people in Death Proof that were the real stars, it was the Nova, the 1970 White Challenger, and the Mustang that were the real class of the film. But, if it had been anyone but Kurt Russell, I don't think it would have been worth watching at all.
Now to Planet Terror, from Robert Rodriguez. I give this one three stars and am happy as heck to do so. This is a tribute and homage to everything from Romero's Night of the Living Dead to Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava as well as all things Italian horror. We have everything in this film: strippers, lesbians, renegade military units, rednecks, good-hearted sheriffs, a mysterious hero, and flesh eating zombies! What the heck else could you want in a film?
Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a young woman who wants to become something else. She has been a stripper, and now wants to be somewhere and someone different. She just picked the wrong night to decide to move, because unbeknownst to her there is a renegade Army unit led by a Lt. Muldoon that is out to find a certain chemical. With them is a somewhat nutso guy who collects testicles. In fact, he carries his collection around with him in a jar. And my wife complains that I collect comic books? Go figure.
Anyway, some test subjects have gotten away and are currently out killing and eating people. Rose has stopped at a small Texas barbecue place where she meets up with Wray, a young man that she apparently knew before. Wray currently drives a wrecker and while giving her a ride has a wreck trying to avoid a figure on the road. While all this is going on, the lesbian doctor is making plans with her lover to leave her abusive husband.
She and the husband, both of whom are doctors in the local hospital, are soon swamped by people with a strange disease that seems to be eating the flesh of the victims while causing violent behavior as well. Wray is now in trouble with the local police for having a gun, the hospital is overrun, the lesbian is trying to get away from her husband — WHEW! What else could happen?
Plenty if you are Robert Rodriguez. I mean, all this is just a start. And yet, as confusing as all of it sounds, Rodriquez makes it all work together seamlessly and with ease. It is like a giant puzzle where all the pieces fit with each other to make a pretty picture. That is what has happened here. Well, okay — so the pretty picture here is of bloody, gory guts and brains lying about the place, but you get the point.
Planet Terror does not have to work hard for either the humor or the gore, it just seems to come naturally. I mean, when you have a woman with a machine gun for a leg and zombie enemies, you can't be expecting some serious social work about the innate goodness of the human race.
The cast is excellent, from McGowan, to Tarantino, Michael Parks, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, and Tom Savini, who have brought their talents together to create one of the most interesting and actual fun movie experiences of the year. Planet Terror was a great gross-out film, with just the right amount of gore, humor, and as far as I am concerned, sex. And a go-go dancer full of useless talents, although I can think of about a half-dozen that 'arching the back' trick would be good for.
Now, dealing with one of the best parts of the entire film — the trailers. Now there are times today when the trailers are the best part of a movie. I mean, come on, sometimes a movie just sucks but you still leave looking forward to what is going to come out later.
This is not the case with Grindhouse as the film itself is fun and entertaining. But sweet baby Jesus, the trailers. Starting off with the Machete trailer, telling the story of an itinerant day laborer (played by Danny Trejo) out to murder a Senator. Double-crossed by his bosses, he and his brother, a priest (Cheech Marin), go to war against the bad guys.
This is my kind of movie. We also get to see trailers for the slasher film Thanksgiving, which actually looks pretty funny, especially the stuffed bird on the table. God, I'm a sick S.O.B. sometimes.
Then there is Don't. As in "don't watch this", "don't go in there," that sort of thing, and finally there is the film I would give just about anything to see. I mean, this is the sort of movie that men dream of. That is Werewolf Women of the S.S. with Nazis, naked women, Eli Roth, Sybil Danning, naked women, deranged scientists, and naked women. What? Well, yes, I do like naked women. Lord, please let them make Werewolf Women of the S.S. I promise to be good. Really, this time I mean it. Honest.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez/Planet Terror
Quentin Tarantino/Death Proof
Partial Cast Credits: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Tom Savini, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Sydney Poitier, Bruce Willis