Written and Directed by: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Marley Shelton,
Rated: R for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Parental Notes: This is not a kids movie. It’s packed with graphic, over-the-top violence of all sorts, from zombies’ heads exploding to people being ripped apart in car accidents. Think “Kill Bill” but without the swords.
Back in the seventies, grindhouse movie theaters — sleazy, run-down places that showed bad movies long past their release dates — proliferated in urban centers. Your humble reviewer, alas, missed out on their heyday due to being born too late, but directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino grew up on the blaxploitation, hixploitation, kung fu, zombie, and other exploitation flicks shown at such places. Their first collaboration, “From Dusk Till Dawn” was named after a common catchphrase of grindhouses selling their all-night moviethons, and now the two friends have created a collage of sleaze that is a direct homage to the grindhouses of their childhood. “Grindhouse” is an incredibly over-the-top experience which makes “Kill Bill” and “Sin City” look sophisticated and polished by comparison.
The film opens with one of those old cheesy seventies-style “coming attractions” intros, then launches into a “preview” for a Mexploitation flick starring Danny Trejo. The movie, “Machete” is being made into a straight-to-DVD movie to be released when “Grindhouse” goes to DVD, and I heartily approve. The trailer is a hoot and a half.
Then we get to the first main attraction: “Planet Terror,” Rodriguez’ feature-length segment. It’s a straightforward blood-and-guts gross-out picture set in a town being overrun by zombie-like Sickos infected with a bioweapon. The heroes are Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a just-quit-the-life go-go dancer, and Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a mysterious fellow who owns a lot of guns and “never misses.” There are plenty of other characters, all of whom are two-dimensional and over-the-top, and the one reel that has major exposition in it is “missing” (a conceit Tarantino apparently came up with when he bought an old film with a missing reel and watched it anyway). As a result, the film is pretty much non-stop, wall-to-wall zombie gross-out.
Once we’ve survived “Planet Terror” (whose final act sees Cherry wind up with a machine gun to replace the leg she loses to zombies), we get three more previews: “Thanksgiving” (directed by Eli Roth, “Hostel”), “Don’t” (directed by Edgar Wright, “Shaun of the Dead,”), and “Werewolf Women of the SS (directed by all-round freakfest Rob Zombie). Then comes Tarantino’s feature-length segment, “Death Proof.”
“Death Proof” is pretty laid-back for the first third or so, and it might have been better to have it first, to warm us up for the gore-fest of “Planet Terror.” “Death Proof” centers around the adventures of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, “Miracle”), a serial killer who uses his stunt-ready car as his murder weapon. Mike gets a bit more than he expects when he takes on a quartet of film-making women, two of whom are stunt drivers themselves. One of them, Zoe Bell, was Uma Thurman’s double in “Kill Bill” and plays herself.
The final section of “Death Proof” is a roller-coaster of a joyride which I won’t spoil by describing too much. Suffice to say that it is very intense and well worth waiting for through the earlier scenes of self-aware hip chick bonding.
“Grindhouse” is a glorification of all those terrible films from the seventies complete with aging effects on the film to simulate scratches, nicks, hairs, spots, and missing frames. It’s certainly not for everyone — the gleeful violence alone will keep plenty of people away, and that’s fine. Rodriguez and Tarantino weren’t making these films for those folks, they were making them for the ones who thought “From Dusk Till Dawn” was a little too slow and full of dialog — and those folks will almost certainly be pleased with what they find here.