Robert Rodriguez's and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse is a crazily funny, campy, exciting tribute to the grimy glory days of 1970s exploitation cinema. The concept is simply a stroke of pure genius - merge two intentionally shitty 1970s-style horror B-movies into one double feature, and then add a reel of hysterical fake trailers for added authenticity.
In the 70s, the local "grindhouse" was the place one headed to see flicks you couldn't see anywhere else. Most of the time this was because they were so awful no-one else wanted to play them. It was also because they existed on the border of respectable society as they showcased overzealous violence, sex, explicit nudity, as well as berserk experimental ideas and themes. With Grindhouse, Rodriguez and Tarantino endeavour to capture the essence of that experience and resurrect it in one great event with two movies (one from each director) played back to back. This is an event, not just a movie, so Grindhouse comes complete with suitably over-the-top fake trailers and cheesy old-fashioned bumpers prior to each film.
In order to get the thorough sleaze effect, Grindhouse emulates the look of a 1970's double feature. In post-production the filmmakers opted to manually age the film: there are deliberate scratches, muted colours and imperfections all throughout the two films and the fake trailers. In fact there are also a few occasions when a "MISSING REEL" card flashes on the screen briefly, and the story jumps ahead. Trust me, it's great stuff! The result is a delightfully faithful recreation of 1970s exploitation movies. Those who experienced the real grindhouse era have testified to the film's faithfulness (this became apparent after reading online reviews and IMDb user comments). The fact that this peculiar concept is able to successfully engage a 21st century audience is due to the uncanny ability of Tarantino and Rodriguez in figuring out what moviegoers don't know they're dying to see.
Grindhouse commences with a fake trailer to get the ball rolling. Machete is the film the trailer is advertising, and it's the perfect way to begin the film. It's simply hysterical: a priest wielding a shotgun, extreme violence, and badass lines such as "They fucked with the wrong Mexican!" are among the inclusions.
This terrifically atmospheric trailer is followed by Robert Rodriguez's feature film contribution: Planet Terror. Rodriguez was born to be a grindhouse director. Planet Terror explodes onto the screen with little respite. It slathers on layer after layer of absurdity, action, repulsive gore and manic wit. When the film reaches the point where movies usually pause to allow a breather, Rodriguez fakes a missing reel in order to skip over the boring parts and get right back down to business: zombies getting shot to bits in explosions of exaggerated blood, and shit getting blown up.
There's no need for a solid plot at all, so Rodriguez simply employs the weak premise of a military chemical experiment going wrong, causing an outbreak of some B-movie zombie virus. Oh, and there's a bunch of survivors who shoot as many zombies as possible. And then there's the lovely Rose McGowan. Her leg is eaten by zombies, so the leg stump is fitted with a machine gun.
Planet Terror is loads of fun. It's the feature highlight of the three-hour experience. This is the flick that represents the outrageous spirit of the B-movie. It's an action-packed, extremely gory zombie flick that moves at lightning pace. Nothing fancy to find here...just a whole lot of blood and guts to keep the fans happy.
Following this, we're treated to three additional faux trailers: a trailer by Rob Zombie for the ridiculously action-packed Werewolf Women of the SS (featuring a cameo by a famous actor who never seems ashamed to be wacky), a trailer by Edgar Wright (the guy who did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both Nick Frost and Simon Pegg appear in this trailer) for a standard horror fare entitled Don't, and finally there's an Eli Roth splatterfest slapped with the title of Thanksgiving. There are typical restaurant adverts thrown in for good measure, and some titles to mark what we're up to ("Our Feature Presentation", etc).
Finally the second half of Grindhouse is revealed: Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Personally, I prefer Rodriguez' Planet Terror. Tarantino's half unfortunately spoils the experience. It's talkie, repetitive, and self-indulgent. The essence of campy B-movie horror isn't captured adequately here. There are some payoffs (a number of awesome car crashes are included), but the wait getting there really tested my patience. After merrily bathing in Rodriguez' violent guilty pleasure of Planet Terror and having a great time watching heads explode in all their gruesome glory, Tarantino's dialogue-heavy Death Proof is like being rudely awoken by means of a bucket of icy cold water being thrown onto your face. Dialogue is Tarantino's greatest strength. In this case, it's also his greatest weakness. It's his weakness because he loves to hear lots of banter...every time a character speaks gives him yet another chance to reference a movie or a TV show, or vaguely reference pop culture, or it merely gives him the opportunity to have a character babble on about nothing. Some may call this characterisation. On the other hand, I call it filler. Tarantino's gift of gab isn't as effective with women. These women are developed so thoroughly, but they're boring characters and the dialogue leads no-where. There's so much empty space that one could visit the toilet for 20 minutes and not miss anything essential.
Tarantino's film is decent at best. The long car chase at the end is pretty good, and there's a great car crash in the middle, but it's just boring and drawn-out compared to Rodriguez's frenetically paced Planet Terror. I howled with laughter at the exaggerated gore during Rodriguez's segment, but there are scarce jokes or amusing moments to find in Death Proof. There are also too many sub-plots that go no-where. Like one character texting her boyfriend. And the point of that was...?
For once, I think Tarantino missed the point. Grindhouse as a whole could have been far more effective had Tarantino developed something more exhilarating or something better suited to a grindhouse atmosphere.
It's impossible to write a review of Grindhouse without mentioning the controversy surrounding the film. Upon initial release in the early months of 2007, Grindhouse opened to an unfortunate reception. Critics certainly enjoyed the experience, as did a majority of audience members...however there were a number of people who just didn't "get it". After Planet Terror concluded they left the cinema thinking it was over. The film's distributors therefore became somewhat concerned. Adding to this, foreign audiences never would have experienced the grindhouse era and wouldn't understand the gimmick. Thus the decision was made to split Grindhouse - individually screening Planet Terror and Death Proof as separate movies without the fake trailers. Naturally, audiences were outraged. Personally, I had looked forward to seeing the double feature and was devastated as the film was split before reaching Australian shores. Thus I boycotted the individual films, waiting for an opportunity to witness the entire experience in its three-hour glory. Now that I've finally seen Grindhouse in its entirety, I can recommend you do the same. The magic of Grindhouse is in the experience instead of the individual movies. Planet Terror without Death Proof (or visa versa) is like pizza without cheese - they complete each other. Grindhouse needs to be experienced in its theatrical glory, and I implore you to see it given the opportunity.
As a whole experience, Grindhouse ranks a solid 4.5/5. Taking all the factors into consideration, the score is only let down by Tarantino's predominantly boring movie. Planet Terror earns a solid five stars (in the context of the movie), with the four faux trailers also earning five stars apiece (again, only in the context of the movie), and Death Proof earning a disappointing three stars. Thus this average is roughly 4.5/5. (In a mathematical brain it averages to 4.67...but seriously, fuck that!) Maybe the flaw isn't just with Death Proof, but with the order in which these two films are screened. There's so much happening in Planet Terror (so much in every single moment of the film) and it's so explosive and action-packed that it's an impossible act to follow, let alone with a dialogue-heavy, action-late flick like Death Proof. If shown first, Death Proof could have been the ideal ramp up to the truly out of control experience Rodriguez delivers. Ultimately though, the hiccups in Death Proof are a minor problem as everything else is so perfect, thus Grindhouse works as intended. I wanted B-movie thrills, and I got 'em. With its missing reels, warped look, changes in tone, colour variations, exaggerated violence (the gunshot wounds in Planet Terror are hysterical) and some deliberately horrible acting at times, Grindhouse does its job of making those who can remember spending hot summer nights at drive-ins or real grindhouses (only occasionally paying attention to what was on the screen as they were usually too busy making out with partners, eating food, etc) nostalgic for those long-gone days of horribly bad fun films. The best part is that for the batch of contemporary movie-goers that haven't a clue about double features or the old cheap campy horror movies of the 70s, Grindhouse provides a genuine look at what they missed out on. It's a very long movie at 191 minutes, but there is a lot of fun to be had.
If by some miracle you can get a copy of this theatrical version, then I suggest you take the opportunity without delay. It provides thrills and laughs, it provides an atmospheric experience, and it puts the 'bad' back in 'badass'. Even with Tarantino's slow-paced Death Proof, the whole movie is so much bloody fun. Until such time as the distributors get the good sense to release this theatrical cut on DVD, I suggest you boycott the individual versions.
The sleaze-filled saga of an exploitation double feature.