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Movie Review: Grindhouse

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Looking for an experience unlike anything you are likely to have encountered before? Are you ready for a double feature that puts its over the top, nonsensical stories front and center? More importantly, are you ready to hand over the logic potion of your brain and allow the pleasure center to rule your movie going experience?

That is pretty much what this project is asking you to do. Grindhouse caters to the whims of its creators who are paying homage to the films of the past that helped put them where they are today. If you are willing, this experience will be unforgettable, and you are likely not to experience it again for a long time, if ever.

This is a very strange project. It is one that will definitely only have a niche market, at least on the big screen. How many people are going to understand what these two are trying to do with this? Many of the people who go to see it will have never been to a grindhouse, much less even know what it is. I am one of those people, I have an idea of what a grindhouse is/was, but I was just a young child during their heyday in the 1970s. This has to be a project that Rodriguez and Tarantino were making primarily for themselves. Considering what it is, I think that the marketing was pretty good.

I can only imagine what it must have been like as these two movie geeks started to get all giddy at the prospect of recreating the grindhouse experience. I can see them in the planning phase, even before talking about what their respective movies were going to be, sitting in a dark corner of some random diner. They sketched out the ideas of using vintage preview and feature promo announcements, throwing in some fake trailers for other grindhouse style features, dropping frames, aging and purposefully marking up the prints, all in an effort to be true to the style. Then, Tarantino would get all bug eyed and want to take it to the next level by dropping reels, like what happened to him when he bought a copy of The Sell Out, only to find a reel missing, using it as a device to ramp up the mystery of just what happened during the missing twenty minutes.

The finished product is nothing short of an uneven masterpiece. The features revel in their B grade acting, incomplete stories, and their general oddness. I had a great time at Grindhouse. It was three plus hours of sheer fun.

Grindhouse began with a vintage marker for previews, followed by a trailer for the Danny Trejo vehicle Machete. It is an over the top actioner with a plot very similar to the recent Mark Wahlberg thriller, Shooter. Now, that is a film I would like to see! Before you could dwell on it for too long, it was time for our first feature.

First up is Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror, a tale of a toxic gas which turns people into flesh eating mutants. It is delivered in genuinely grimy fashion, with much in the way of dirt and marks digitally added in. It tells the story of a depressed go-go dancer, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) who meets up with an ex-boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) who is a mechanic and a gun runner, and together with a motley crew of townsfolk, band together to defend themselves against the encroaching horde of the pustule covered, flesh eating former humans who are intent on devouring flesh.

Planet Terror is a film that lurches forward on its on inventive energy. It may not be a good movie, but it is one that seeks to raise its lowballed ambition to the level of art. It moves along at a furious pace and is drenched in blood and guts, not to mention Rose McGowan at her sexiest, that will keep you distracted from the distinct lack of direction that the film has. The story has the McGowan and Rodriguez leading the ragtag team which features the sheriff, a BBQ restaurateur, a doctor husband, and wife intent on killing each other, and a few other random folk. The group of heroes must fight through the flesh eating creatures to find a cure for the gas that has fell upon the town. The story doesn't really amount to much, but it is fun.

The centerpiece of the story is Rose McGowan's loss of her leg, which, as we ramp up to the explosive climax, is replaced with a high powered machine gun. It is put to great use, cutting down the creatures and anyone else getting in her way.

As soon as Planet Terror ends, we are into the intermission which features three more faux trailers, as well as an ad for a local (also fake) restaurant. The trailers feature the nazi themed shocker Werewolf Women of the SS, the horror film that you don't want to see alone called Don't, and a holiday themed slasher gorefest Thanksgiving. The trailers were helmed by fellow grindhouse era fans Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and Eli Roth (Hostel), respectively. These little slices of joy are followed by the second half of our double feature, and offering a distinctly different flavor than our first feature.

While Rodriguez' Planet Terror served up high doses of gore and horror driven action, Tarantino's Death Proof turns to old car films such as Vanishing Point and Gone in 60 Seconds. It is a mash of the slasher, car chase, and revenge flick tossed together in a mash which is alternatively exhilarating and sleep inducing. It is an odd concoction which seems much more straight up, plot wise, than the prior feature, but isn't as unrelentingly fun as I had hoped for.

It starts with a trio of women heading out for a day of fun and drinking. We follow them as they hit the bar and talk about anything and everything. At some point, focus turns toward a blonde at the bar. She is there being hit on by Kurt Russell, as a guy called Stuntman Mike. This is the kind of guy that exudes badass, and will probably cause you to just steer clear, as you don't quite know exactly how to approach him. Well, it turns out that is an out of his gourd killer who uses his reinforced, death proof car as his preferred weapon of choice.

Russell is all badass as he casually flirts with the girls at the bar, knowing full well that they won't be smiling come closing time, when he takes to his four wheels of death painted black. As soon as he takes to the road, it was not long before death ensued. It was the second half of the film where it truly takes off, delivering one of the most exciting car chases I can remember seeing.

The second film starts off with another set of girls, on break from a movie they are filming, talking about whatever, but settling on the desire to drive a Vanishing Point white Dodge Challenger. They find one, and they head out on a test drive. This is where they meet up with Stuntman Mike, out on the road, where he tries to run them off the road. However, the attack goes too far, and the girls turn the tables on Mike, continuing the chase in reversed roles. I have to say that for all of the dullness of the dialogue, it is more than made up for with this exhilarating car chase that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Grindhouse is an absolute blast of cinema. Are they good films? No, but they all have their moments of brilliance, and even when they are not good, there is always something to get from them. For example, Rodriguez' film is filled with the print marks and jump cuts, and weird characters to watch, while Tarantino's entry has fantastic dialogue in the dullest of scenes. The latter is something very odd, the dialogue rings true even if I don't care about the characters.

Overall, Grindhouse is an experience that we will likely never see on the big screen again. Some of you are probably thankful for that, but I am glad I saw it. I never had the opportunity of visiting a sleazy, rundown, odor filled, grindhouse, and never will, so this will be th closest I get to such an experience.

For all of their flaws, these are films crafted by men who obviously love film, whether it be high or low brow, whether it be for a mass audience or the smallest of niches, Tarantino and Rodriguez make the movies they want to see for better or worse. Fortunately, they knocked it out of the park for this viewer.

Highly Recommended.

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About Draven99

  • T. Michael Testi

    While I will wait till it comes to DVD, I will be looking forward to this. I buy everything Rodriguez and Tarantino whether it is “El Mariachi”, “Spy Kids”, “Dusk till Dawn” or “Kill Bill”.

    These guys are great!

    Thanks for the review!


  • Rodney Welch

    I do not understand the problem people have with Death Proof. I thought it was a minor Tarantino masterpiece, with great dialogue (kind of a female version of Reservoir Dogs) and a really, really exciting chase scene — the best since I don’t know when. I thought it easily beat Planet Terror.