- Rated R
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All photos © Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s if you needed a reason to check out “Grindhouse” – the double feature homage to B-movie cinema from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez – here’s one anyway: believe the hype. Not only is the three-hour schlockfest the best time you’ll have at the movies all year, but it also delivers more bang for your buck, and at only half the price. Granted, neither director’s feature is truly grind house. Both offer better writing and performances, as well as bigger budgets, but through the addition of scratches to the film print and the use of missing reels during key plot points, the experience has been replicated as best as possible without alienating the mainstream crowd.
Seemingly because he’s the lesser-known director of the two, Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is presented first, but it’s definitely the stronger feature. The film stars Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who’s reunited with her ex-boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), when a viral outbreak threatens the town of Austin, Texas. In order to survive, Cherry and Wray team up with a pair of local cops (Michael Biehn and Tom Savini), a barbeque cook (Jeff Fahey), an anesthesiologist (Marley Shelton) on the run from her crazy husband (Josh Brolin), and a shady biochemist (Naveen Andrews) who holds the secret to the antidote.
It all plays out like a twisted mix between John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” and George A. Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” with so much action taking place throughout that there’s never a dull moment. In fact, by the time McGowan’s much-publicized machine-gun leg is finally introduced, it’s nothing but the cherry on top of a very delicious zombie-killing sundae. And for as much as McGowan sizzles on screen as the one-legged stripper, it’s up-and-comer Freddy Rodriguez who steals the show as El Wray. Think Snake Plissken meets El Mariachi, a mysterious killing machine with a larger body count than both men combined.
Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is up next, and while the first half of the film is so boring it might cause some people to walk out early, it’s well worth it to stick around for the adrenaline-pumping finale. The film is even split into two separate stories. The first revolves around a group of girls (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and Sydney Tamiia Poitier) out on the town in Austin, Texas. As they drink and smoke their way into oblivion, a borderline-creepy stalker named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) plans a head-on collision between the women’s car and his own death proof stunt car. Days later, the killer reemerges in Tennessee hunting a new quartet of women (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell), but this time around, two are movie stuntwoman, and they’re not about to back down.
For as much as fans of Tarantino love his scene-chewing dialogue (even if people don’t really talk like that in real life), there’s almost too much in “Death Proof.” It’s not that I don’t find it interesting to sit back and watch his elaborate conversations unfold, but it works best when it’s not the main attraction. There’s almost no action to speak of (with the exception of the killer car crash in act one), and while the women talk just as much in part two, there’s plenty more going on to hold your interest. If Tarantino has proven one thing over the past five years, it’s that he knows how to shoot action scenes. The climatic car chase at the end of the film (featuring a Dodge Charger and a Dodge Challenger going head-to-head) may not be the best I’ve ever seen, but it definitely ranks among the top five.
Real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (who doubled for Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill” and Lucy Lawless in “Xena: Warrior Princess”) and Tracie Thoms (whose role would have been played by Pam Grier or Samuel L. Jackson in any other movie) deliver great performances throughout their half of the film, but it’s Kurt Russell who walks away with “Death Proof” as Stuntman Mike, yet another excellent addition to his rogue’s gallery of classic characters. It’s a shame that Russell doesn’t have more to do, because he’s easily the most enjoyable part.
The whole experience is only made better with the inclusion of four fake trailers by industry friends like Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth. Rodriguez’s own “Machete” (which appears before “Planet Terror,” and can only be described as Mexploitation) works so well that a direct-to-video full-length feature has been greenlit, while the other three (appearing between the two features) are a mixed bag. Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the SS” tries too hard to be funny (of course, a last-minute cameo by Nic Cage as Fu Manchu certainly helps) and Roth’s “Thanksgiving” (a play on seasonal horror films) has its moments, but it’s Wright’s trailer for the British horror flick “Don’t” that proves the most effective.
To discuss any more would simply ruin the many surprises that are in store, but I will say this: thank God for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. “Grindhouse” is a much-needed shot of adrenaline to a decaying industry suffering from an overuse of recycled ideas and an utter lack of imagination. It’s not every year we’re given a film as wildly entertaining as “Planet Terror” or as defiantly original as “Death Proof,” let alone two movies with these qualities shown back-to-back, but you’ll love every minute.
Planet Terror: Extended and Unrated DVD Review:
The second half to the much-publicized split of “Grindhouse," Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” may have arrived on DVD a whole month after Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” but it more than makes up for it with a bevy of cool special features. Along with including an extended and unrated cut of the film, the two-disc set also features an audio commentary with Rodriguez (where he lets slip that a two-disc “Grindhouse” release is forthcoming) and an audience reaction track that brings the theatrical experience into your home.
Unfortunately, while the extended cut is supposedly 25 minutes longer than the original version, I can’t seem to figure out where all of the extra footage has gone. Unlike “Death Proof,” which reinserted the “missing reel” back into the film, “Planet Terror” keeps things the same. Sure, Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey definitely get more screen time than before, and the end credit sequence slaps on an extra six minutes, but other than that, it’s mere seconds we’re talking about here. Rodriguez’s commentary does a good job of acknowledging the biggest chunks of new footage included, but even he seems to think the movie played better when it was part of a double feature.
Still, while fans continue to bitch and moan about having to buy both films separately, Rodriguez hasn’t held back on delivering a decent collection of bonus material. The second disc includes a “10-Minute Film School” that plays like an SFX featurette, two character features on the “Badass Babes” and “Guys of Planet Terror,” and a 13-minute stunt featurette on blowing shit up. Rounding out the set is an international poster gallery, the film’s international trailer, and a pair of short interviews (“Casting Rebel” and “The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent”) on some of Rodriguez’s more unique casting choices.
Death Proof: Extended and Unrated DVD Review:
There’s been much discussion over the Weinstein’s decision to split up “Grindhouse” and release each film individually, but as long as we eventually get the double feature packaged together in some ultimate edition DVD sometime down the road, it hardly seems worthy complaining about. Though you’ll have to wait until October to pick up Robert Rodriguez’s contribution (and probably much longer for the three fake trailers that appeared during intermission), the double-disc release of Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” still offers plenty for fans of the film to get excited about.
For starters, the movie that appears here isn’t the 90-minute version that ran as the second act to “Grindhouse,” but rather the extended cut that premiered at Cannes earlier this year. An additional 23 minutes of footage has been re-edited into the film – including Vanessa Ferlito’s Missing Reel lap dance – and while many might think that would only make the movie worse, it actually plays a lot better without the weight of "Planet Terror" in front. Other noticeable additions include a longer intro for the second group of girls (giving Mary Elizabeth Winstead more to do than just look pretty) and lots of QT-centric references including a Pussywagon bumper sticker and a “Twisted Nerve” cell phone ring.
The special features themselves aren’t that great (where’s the audio commentary, QT?), but they do offer some great insight into the world of stunt drivers (“Stunts on Wheels”), casting (“Finding Quentin’s Gals” and “The Guys of Death Proof”), and stuntwoman-turned-actress Zoe Bell. Also included is an uncut version of Winstead singing “Baby, It’s You” (part of which appears in the extended cut) and a short montage celebrating Tarantino’s long-time collaborator, editor Sally Menke.