Written by: Paula Haifley, CC2K Horror Chick
Studios have forgotten how to make good horror movies. Sequel, remake, sequel, remake, prequel – who cares? It’s boring. How do you make radioactive mutants boring? They’re radioactive mutants! They should be awesome! So thank the movie gods that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino had the balls (yes this is a pun, and you’ll see why in a minute) to do something fresh and new, even while making an homage to a favorite subgenre. And thank the movie gods that the Weinsteins gave them money to do it. Grindhouse is many things — fun, gross, loud, silly, humorous, sexy — but never boring. Grind house was a nickname for the theatres that would play a double feature of sleazy, “ground out” exploitation pictures. This trip to the Grindhouse involves two 80-minute features by Rodriguez and Tarantino and four trailers for fake coming attractions. The film clocks in at a bladder-busting 191 minutes, and although Tarantino himself says that if you gotta go during the film, just get up and go, I would recommend staying away from the large coke or bringing a catheter. How do you choose a slow point to leave and pee when everything in the film is awesome?
The double feature starts with a trailer for Machete, which if made as a feature would arguably be the first Mexsplotation film. It stars Danny Trejo as Machete and Cheech Marin as a priest, who seek vengeance for oppressed Mexicans everywhere. When I originally heard about the fake trailer idea, I thought it was a great opening for (yes, I’m saying it) a sequel should the film prove a success. After seeing the Machete trailer, even with my hatred of sequels, I really want to see the whole film. This gets my vote for film number one of Grindhouse 2: Grind Harder.
Next up is Planet Terror, Rodriguez’s feature. This film is sick. Literally. Naveen Andrews (Lost’s Sayid, who actually gets to use his normal British accent here) plays a scientist/entrepreneur who has created a chemical weapon that turns residents of a small Texas town into melty-faced zombies. He also has a knife specifically designed to separate untrustworthy employees from their balls. Yikes. Cherry (in an “I’m having way too much fun” performance by Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer running away from her oh-so-fulfilling career, winds up in the town, and runs into ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a mechanic with a secret past and colorful history with the local law enforcement. After a car accident, goopy zombies pull Cherry from Wray’s car, and pull her leg clean off. She’s taken to the local hospital, where doctor/wife beater William Block (Josh Brolin) starts to see patients coming in with weird, chemically created wounds. His wife, Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) has picked this night of all nights to try to escape with their son, but her plans are thwarted by the crazy zombies, William’s powers of deduction, and some very fast-working anesthesia. William is a nasty guy, so he gets dispatched in a nasty way, and Dakota is able to hook up with Cherry, Wray, and others who have been miraculously unaffected by the chemical gasses, to try to fight their way through the zombie hoards to safety. They run into a rogue army unit lead by surprise guest Bruce Willis, and some really fucked-up shit goes down, including Wray fitting Cherry with a brand-new machine gun leg.
In terms of violence, gore, and action, this film is definitely the stronger of the two. It is, as many musicians would say, “more rock, less talk.” Shit blows up for no reason. A lot of people lose their balls. Cherry kills people with her machine gun leg. I thought a machine gun leg would be really silly, but Rodriguez makes it integral to the story line and not just a showy bit to get butts into the seats. Planet Terror showcases a filmmaker at the top of his game. So what if Rodriguez is using studio money to delve deep into a subgenre that most people don’t know about? He delivers the goods. Planet Terror shows that, without a doubt, Rodriguez is one of the most talented American filmmakers working today. He may never get an Oscar, but man, does he know how to make a movie.
Next up are three more fake trailers. Werewolf Women of the S.S. by Rob Zombie features lovable German weirdo Udo Kier and many topless women, some wolfy, some normal. I know that naked girls are a part of the whole grindhouse experience, but I still can’t stand nudity for no reason, and when a Nazi is shown doing scientific experiments on a half-naked woman, it just smacks of misogyny. Werewolf Women is funny but forgettable. Don’t, directed by Shawn of the Dead’s Edgar Wright, is a perfect skewering of the British haunted-house flick, and the best fake trailer by far. The narrator, just like audience after audience, tells the characters not to go into the haunted house, and not to do any of the things they do after that. Of course, the silly twits don’t listen, and that’s what makes it funny. I am inclined to see this as a whole film, but it is unclear if there is enough to develop into a full film, or if two minutes of this concept is all you really need. Thanksgiving is Eli Roth’s turn, and the look of it is absolutely perfect. You can tell how much time he spent watching shitty 70s horror. The look, the narration, even the way in which the film is shot make it a perfect homage, while the content is updated for modern audiences. While it is tried and true to the spirit of these films to have a cheerleader, unaware that the killer has stuck a knife through the trampoline on which she is bouncing, falls down into the splits on the knife, it was very unnecessary and borderline misogynistic. I know that Roth would contend that its unnecessariness is why its in there, just like in all of the old films, it disgusts me, badly coloring what is otherwise an amazing homage.
The last feature is Tarantino’s Death Proof, about a stuntman, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, who brings back the macho Snake archetype with a vengeance) who “death proofs” his car so that he can walk away from any accident. He uses that car like Freddy Krueger would use a dream, stalking his victims, intimidating them, and then mowing them down. It is in this film that McGowan, as victim Pam, gives her finest performance. Most people wouldn’t exactly call TV show Charmed a chance to stretch your acting chops, but McGowan shows her depth and range as she’s never had a chance to before in her last five minutes of screen time. I was floored by her performance, just as she was floored, literally, by Stuntman Mike’s car.
Death Proof starts out with the standard Tarantino sitting around and talking scenes, only this time it’s a group of young, sexy, intelligent women instead of bank robbers, mafia-types, or what-have-yous. Stuntman Mike is introduced a little later, then disappears, then reappears at a bar as he stalks these young women. Tarantino himself plays the bar’s owner, Warren (he also has a small but exceedingly memorable part in Planet Terror, I don’t want to spoil it but let’s just say the men with be checking their pants to make sure that everything’s still there), and gives himself some of the juiciest lines. “Chartreuse,” he says after drinking shots of the green liquor with the ladies. “A drink so nice they named a color after it.” Stuntman Mike worms his way into, and then out of, and then into the group of women, and just when it seems like they’re off the hook… he goes after them with the killer car. Cut to sometime later, in a different state, and Stuntman Mike is at it again, but this time he chooses a group of young women who are in town working on a film, including two stunt women, who don’t take kindly to psychopaths. But all of this happens after the new women are introduced in yet another sitting around talking scene. Usually, this would be a big downer, but these scenes are Tarantino’s bread and butter. In the hands of someone less witty, less amused by his own dialogue, an audience would be getting up to refill their popcorn at this point. But Tarantino makes the women so interesting, and gives such a good movement to such a static environment, that you don’t really mind so much that the killing has stopped. Especially when Stuntman Mike really goes after these girls, and we get a white knuckle car chase that involves stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double from Kill Bill) hanging on to the hood of a car for what seems like ten full minutes. The women turn the tables on Stuntman Mike and go after him a car very similar to his own weapon, and its muscle car versus muscle car as the characters race to the conclusion. Watching this sequence, you can easily imagine Tarantino giggling with glee at finally getting to do a badass car chase. That’s what Death Proof really is at its essence, a love letter to women and cars. Just sit back and smell the perfume and gasoline.
Grindhouse is the kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall type of genre picture all of the studios should be making. Somewhere in the middle of these troubled political times, we have forgotten why we like horror movies: because they’re fun. Because shit blows up. Because they let us release our tension in a safe environment. Go see Grindhouse, and show the industry that you refuse to accept any more boring, staid fright films. You can be scared while having fun. You can have a good time at the movies. You can hold your bladder at bay for 191 minutes, because everything in Grindhouse is so damn fun that you shouldn’t miss a second of it.