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Overall Rating
4.4

Awesome61.16%
Worth A Look: 25.62%
Average: 7.44%
Pretty Bad: 3.31%
Total Crap: 2.48%

9 reviews, 67 user ratings


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Grindhouse
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Grade-A Celebration Of A Grade-Z Art Form"
5 stars

As you have no doubt been hearing for months now, “Grindhouse” is a meticulous recreation/celebration of the good old days of grindhouse cinema. Alas, since grindhouse cinema pretty much went the way of full-service gas stations and laserdisc players nearly two decades ago, perhaps a brief refresher course of the genre is in order. While the origins of the name are somewhat cloudy (some claim that it comes from the theaters themselves–often run-down burlesque halls where strippers would do their bumping and grinding–while others believe it was inspired by the beat-up prints that would literally be ground to pieces as they endlessly ran through ancient projectors), it basically covered any type of low-budget exploitation film from an independent studio that offered audiences up heaping helping of blood, breasts, beasts, car crashes, mad slashers, drugs or any other bit of luridness that the major studios would shy away from in their comparatively tame wares. How could you tell if you were watching a grindhouse film? Well, if the cast consisted of vaguely recognizable actors on a downward career path, sexy-but-unknown starlets on an upward path (or more often horizontal) and Sid Haig or John Saxon, you were watching a grindhouse film. If the posters (often the best things about the films and usually produced even before the movies they were designed to hype) utilized such phrases as “hot-blooded,” “hell-bent” or “nubile,” you were watching a grindhouse movie. If the title of the film included “cheerleader,” “massacre” or any implement ordinarily found in a toolshed, you were most definitely watching a grindhouse film.

While the reality of grindhouse cinema died long ago–around the time that the old theaters were torn down in the name of progress and the major studios began making expensive versions of the same trash that people like Sam Arkoff and T.V. Mikels made their fortune on–the ideals that it represented have lived on in the minds of countless fans who have kept the flame alive via specialty DVDs, fanzines and increasingly rare theatrical screenings of beat-up prints that have somehow managed to survive to shock and startle new viewers. Two of the most dedicated fans of the genre have been filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino–rare is the interview where you don’t hear one of them (especially the latter) spouting off about the joys of some obscurity like “Jailbait Babysitter” or “I Dismember Mama”–and they have used their collective clout to offer contemporary viewers, as well as people far too timid to venture into an actual grindhouse back in the day, a taste of the bizarre and forbidden delights to be had with “Grindhouse,” a cheerfully demented homage that offers up two full-length films that actually try to live up to the promises made in the trailers. The conceit may sound obscure at best and ridiculous at worst to most normal viewers but I assure the end result is an endlessly giddy and gory blast that packs more disreputable fun into its three hours than any dozen ordinary films that you could name.

Rodriguez kicks things off with “Planet Terror,” a standard-issue zombie splatter epic in the tradition of George Romero and Lucio Fulci. An accident has occurred in a remote Army base outside of a small Texas town that has been conducting mysterious experiments of some sort and three test subjects have escaped carrying a disease that turns them into pus-ridden zombies ready to rip, tear and chomp down upon anyone who comes upon them. Even as the infected begin streaming into the increasingly blood-streaked walls of the local hospital, a pair of unhappily married doctors (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton) are so consumed with their mutual desire to do each other in that they can hardly bother to notice the carnage around them. One early victim of the zombies is sad-but-sexy go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), whose encounter with the creatures has left her without her right leg. Luckily, ex-boyfriend-with-a-secret Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) offers her a new limb almost as striking as the one she lost–a machine gun that she is able to hobble around on while mowing down the increasing number of zombie hordes standing between the few uninfected survivors and survival. Along the way, we are also introduced to an unbilled Bruce Willis as a mysterious Army man with a shocking secret, Naveen Andrews as the scientist who knows more about the disease than he is telling, Michael Biehn as the taciturn sheriff, Tom Savini as the panicky deputy and Stacy Ferguson (a.k.a. Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas) as a drifter who loses her lovely lady lumps, and much more, in her encounter with the monsters.

Tarantino’s offering, “Death Proof,” is a hybrid of three of the more enduring branches of grindhouse cinema–mad slasher films, violent female-based revenge thrillers such as “They Call Her One-Eye” and “I Spit On Your Grave” and the kind of all-out car-crash epics of the kind that used to be cranked out by Hal Needham and H.B. Halicki. The story opens with a trio of babes–local deejay Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier), out-of-towner Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and party girl Shanna (Jordan Ladd)–out for a night on the town before a girls-only weekend in the woods. While downing beers at the Texas Chili Parlor, they, along with hippie chick Pam (Rose McGowan) make the acquaintance of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a scarred veteran of many a forgotten TV stunt show (“Gavilan,” anyone?) who tools about town in a skull-adorned Dodge Charger muscle car that he claims is “100% death proof.” Unfortunately, as the ladies discover too late, Stuntman Mike is a serial killer and unless you are sitting in the reinforced drivers seat, the Charger is 100% death for anyone who encounters it. Later on, Stuntman Mike sets his sights on another trio of women–Kim (Tracie Thoms), Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and Zoe (Zoe Ball)–without realizing that Zoe and Kim are stunt people themselves and perfectly willing and able to dish out some high-octane brutality of their own from behind the wheel of a 1970 Dodge Challenger just like the one from the 1971 car-chase classic “Vanishing Point.”

The attempts to recreate the old viewing experience extend far beyond simply telling stories that recall certain genre favorites. Since most of the films that played grindhouses were cheapo productions that couldn’t afford to produce more than a handful of increasingly battered prints that would travel the circuit, “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” have both had such imperfections deliberately added in to enhance the conceit. Rough splices, spotty sound, new titles (clearly added on to make an old film sound new to gullible viewers) are all on display and there are even missing scenes that will no doubt annoy as many viewers not in on the joke as they will amuse those who are. The program even features a quarter of tantalizing faux trailers from some other like-minded filmmakers. Rodriguez contributes “Machete,” an over-the-top actioner that mixes sex, violence and the current immigration battle. Eli Roth, the gorehound behind “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel” presents “Thanksgiving,” a grisly slasher film based around the one holiday not previously utilized in the genre. “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright offers up “Don’t,” a clever little number that doesn’t feature a single word of spoken dialogue in any of the clips we see–the better to disguise the fact that it is of British origin. Finally, Rob Zombie offers us the sight of Udo Kier and Sybil Danning in “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” a title that would seem to require no further comment except for the fact that it also features “Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu!”

Anyone looking for something deep and profound in either “Planet Terror” or “Death Proof” are going to find themselves searching in vein. After all, these are films paying homage to a brand of filmmaking in which narrative complexity was generally lost on an audience that tended to find themselves in their seats in the first place in order to either get warm or reload and stayed there in the hopes that the action on the screen would outdo the action usually found in the aisles. In this regard, both films succeed mightily–it feels as if Rodriguez and Tarantino both racked their brains to come up with every possible thing that they would have liked to have seen in a film of their respective genres and then proceeded to jam together as many of them as their individual 85-minute running times could hold. Of course, there are some inevitable differences between the grindhouse epics of old and their ersatz examples. For starters, Rodriguez and Tarantino each have a command of the technical aspects of filmmaking (not to mention armies of technicians, stunt people and make-up and effects wizards) that even the best low-budget filmmakers never really possessed (or didn’t display as fully until they graduated to bigger budgets). In addition, the films are populated, for the most part, with real and talented actors and no matter how hard they try, they are never as bad as the people that used to populate this kind of film. (The only person who completely approximates the flattened-out and soporific performance style that you used to regularly see back then is Tarantino himself, in his brief cameo as a mad military man in “Planet Terror,” and I’m not even sure that he was consciously trying to do that in the first place.)

However, taken simply as straightforward B-movie trash, both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” are incredibly entertaining examples of lurid lunacy. While the zombie thrills of “Planet Terror” may lack much of the political subtext that George Romero took care to insert in his “Dead” films, Rodriguez more than makes up for it with one inventive bit of splashy splatter after another–between the burst pustules, the limb rippings and the sight of zombies bursting like gore-filled water balloons after being hit by trucks (and we won’t even mention the sinister souvenirs that one character likes to take from those who cross him), there is a good chance that it may be the bloodiest thing to ever slop upon the silver screen–that manage to keep things humming along at an astonishing pace. That said, the most memorable special effect on display in his film is the astonishing presence of Rose McGowan, probably best-known to most of you from the original “Scream” and her role as Shannen Doherty’s replacement on “Charmed,” as Cherry. From her opening tear-stained go-go dance–a sexy wonder that should hopefully secure her the role of Tura Satana in any potential biopic on the life of Russ Meyer–to her final scenes of sinuous battle with her rapid-fire gam, she has the kind of palpable physical presence that, once encountered, is impossible to shake. Combine that with her sardonic wit and even a somewhat touching moment or two and you have the kind of star-making part that she has deserved for years.

“Death Proof” also works well because of the combination of the exhilarating energy and invention that Tarantino has infused the material with as well as an unexpectedly engaging performance from one of his actresses. Eschewing digital trickery for the old fashioned sight of real cars tearing across real roadways and really smashing into each other, he transforms the extended chase sequence that makes up most for the second half of his film into a hard-charging masterpiece of visceral filmmaking on a par with “Vanishing Point,” “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry,” the original “Gone in Sixty Seconds” or any of the other hemi-powered epics that have inspired “Death Proof.” The performance in question comes from Zoe Ball, who is a real-life stuntwoman from New Zealand (she was Uma Thurman’s double in “Kill Bill”) who is supposedly playing herself here and who brings a wonderfully quirky personality to the proceedings. Listen to her as she goes on about the joys of “Vanishing Point” or when she pops up with “I’m OK!” at a key moments–I defy anyone to watch her at those times and not find her anything less than utterly endearing.

Of the two films on display, the question of which one is better will depend on the criteria that you are using. If you are looking at the films solely from the perspective of which one offers a more exact replication of an old B movie, “Planet Terror” wins in a walk–aside from the obvious CGI trickery, Rodriguez has given us a film that looks and sounds virtually indistinguishable from its inspirations, right down to the worn-out look of the big sex scene that suggests that more than a few horny projectionists may have played that segment over and over while clipping out a few choice frames for their own personal collections. (By comparison, if an old-school exploitation producer like Sam Arkoff or Joe Solomon had been given "Death Proof"as is, you can be certain that they would have insisted on cutting out much of the seemingly aimless gab in the first half in order to get to the more visceral thrills quicker.) If you are judging them based only on their own individual merits, the prize goes to Tarantino for the way that he offers up his own unique spin on the various genres he is tackling by effortlessly blending them with his distinctive flair for dialogue (“There are few things more fetching than a bruised ego on a beautiful angel”), his sixth sense picking killer musical tracks (including the judicious use of a nifty Pino Donaggio cue from the score of Brian De Palma’s masterpiece “Blow Out”) and his knack for eliciting strong performances from a large and varied cast–all the girls are in fine, funny form (I especially liked Ferlito, who has been blessed with the kind of role that I hoped would take advantage of her strong presence ever since I saw her in that hideous Tommy Lee Jones cheerleader movie) and Kurt Russell is both malevolent and hilarious as Stuntman Mike, especially when we see the wholly unanticipated reaction he has once he realizes that he has picked on the wrong carful of women.

The grindhouses of old may be long gone but as “Grindhouse” proves, the spirit of energy and excitement that they invoked in certain types of film fans–the eternal promise of seeing something that ordinary films couldn’t or wouldn’t show–continues on even in these increasingly timid cinematic times.“Grindhouse” may not be for everyone–three straight hours of blood-soaked frivolity can be somewhat taxing and less forgiving individuals may question the wisdom of a couple of filmmakers spending upwards of $60 million dollars to make a couple of films that look and sound like those that used to be made for about $60 thousand dollars back in the day–but those who can handle both the extended running time and its gory extremes are probably going to go nuts for it. Hell, I just came back from seeing it a couple of hours ago and I could already go for a second viewing right now. Maybe I’ll even get lucky and come across a print featuring Vanessa Ferlito’s lap dance instead of that pesky “SCENE MISSING” card.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15537&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/06/07 14:56:13
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell long but fun 4 stars
4/16/14 Charles Tatum Rodriquez gets in the spirit, but QT's is so boring. 4 stars
12/26/12 J. Van Buren death proof does seem a little dry the first time but gets better with repeated viewings. 4 stars
8/30/12 roscoe planet terror is fairly good. death proof sucked ass 3 stars
4/04/12 Jason Coffman 5 stars for the full theatrical experience! 5 stars
9/26/10 art only good thing in 'GRINDHOUSE" was ROSE MCGOWAN"S exotic dancer! 2 stars
3/15/10 matt planet terror is flawless action comedy. death proof was long but enjoyable, underrated imo 5 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper 70's style double feature for a generation that doesn't know what that is. 5 stars
12/01/09 Cutter blah blah boring tripe 2 stars
6/27/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess It's almost like a double feature DVD from Something Weird Video, but as one movie! 4 stars
5/05/09 Kike Sosa Now every single car chase I see WILL suck! 4 stars
9/26/08 Shaun Wallner I really enjoyed this film. 5 stars
5/18/08 jm Why did the second half of each film suck? 4 stars
4/14/08 Mike Has funny moments, has disgusting moments. Both can do a lot better. 2 stars
3/25/08 Isaac M. Baranoff Loved it. They should make one of these every year. 5 stars
3/10/08 Jayme Isaacs I Really Liked This Movie 5 stars
3/06/08 art IT REALLY MAKES FUN OF THOSE DUMB MIDNIGHT MOVIES OUTSTANDING 4 stars
11/12/07 Alec Original, clever, and often hilarous - I liked this movie 5 stars
10/28/07 Jonathan The shot in the arm movies have needed for far too long. 5 stars
10/13/07 Carlos BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR BETTE THEN TRANSFORMERS!!!!! 5 stars
9/20/07 Johnnyfaye hahaha what fun, if you didn't like the movie, you knew what you were getting into.WhydidUg 4 stars
9/10/07 Doug Best movie of the year!I vote for "Machete" and "Thanksgiving" for the next double feature! 5 stars
8/31/07 scotty The Best Movie of the Year!! 5 stars
7/30/07 Louise Saw Death Proof - good stuff, just dragged in the middle when dialogue went on too long 4 stars
7/22/07 Don Paco Only saw Death Proof - and it fucking rocked. 5 stars
7/04/07 Booksworm Veritas is right.Rodriguez should make"Machete".(Of course,I'd likely watch"Thanksgiving".) 5 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Sloppy homage-tacular proves to be great fun in distinctly different manners. 5 stars
6/21/07 Alice only saw DP (europe).GO TARANTINO GO!!! HE DID IT AGAIN ! 5 stars
6/20/07 caiphn I really liked Death Proof. Planet Terror was good too. 5 stars
6/15/07 Anthony G Best movie of the year so far. Just shows that box office doesn't mean shit. 5 stars
6/10/07 Danielle Ophelia Entered the theater a skeptic, left a total believer. 5 stars
5/16/07 matt Sick, demented fun. Planet Terror kicked so much ass... 5 stars
5/11/07 chris. you call this cheap porn? the sections with the porn were lost! noooooo 5 stars
5/08/07 Itsgonnarock Amazing start to finish can't wait till the missing reels are added in the dvd 5 stars
5/04/07 Boaby Digital Won't work for everyone but if you like a tongue in cheek romp, it's a blast! 5 stars
5/03/07 Wesley Death Proof is good, with one of the best car chases ever, but Planet Terror stomps it. 5 stars
5/02/07 Veritas One almost wishes that this "Grindhouse" trend would continue.(Like with Machete?) 5 stars
4/23/07 Zaw Somepeople just don't get it please wikipedia GrindHouse. 5 stars
4/20/07 VInce Planet Terror was awesome, Death Proof was OK. 5 stars
4/20/07 Lauren you have to go see it! 5 stars
4/16/07 Wayne machine gun leg, Death Proof dialog, 3+ hours, etc.... oh the humanity, it was REALLY bad! 1 stars
4/16/07 Dragula Just plain BAD 1 stars
4/16/07 Bob G. The most fun I have had at the movies in years!!!! 5 stars
4/16/07 Steve Loved it, didn't seem as long as it was. 5 stars
4/16/07 msxanax greatest.movie.ever. 5 stars
4/16/07 Reesefire Black How much do you wanna bet that Indrid Cold's gonna pan this? 5 stars
4/15/07 lakemiss took way too much time ..not worth it 1 stars
4/15/07 mr. mike just didn't work for me 2 stars
4/14/07 Shaman 3 words for Tarantino- "Just SHUT UP"!! Other than that, it was great! 4 stars
4/13/07 Alex I actually liked Planet Terror more than DeathProof, but I thought both were great. 4 stars
4/12/07 Miss Lady I let my 15 yr old son talk me into seeing what I thought was carp! It was awesome, 5 stars
4/12/07 3Y03 The best movie I've seen this year. The trailors are ingenious. 5 stars
4/12/07 Anthony G AWESOME. See this movie, period. 5 stars
4/10/07 Jeff. Three words. Go, See and It! 5 stars
4/10/07 John Totally laugh out loud hilarious 5 stars
4/10/07 RazorFang Planet Terror had more action and violence;Death proof had better acting and plot. 5 stars
4/10/07 gulembo cabrón! 4 stars
4/10/07 Darren Shea Extremely self-indulgent, but almost as much fun to watch as it probably was to make. 5 stars
4/09/07 BrianWilly Oh SO VERY AWESOME 5 stars
4/09/07 dbx PT - great film, totally fun. DP - AWESOME. outstanding. inspiring 5 stars
4/09/07 Stacy Planet Terror -- great. Death Proof -- boring for an hour, then awesome. 4 stars
4/09/07 m-dude Unbelievably geuniusly rediculous and one of the best movies ive ever seen 5 stars
4/08/07 Sully I'm gonna call a couple a hard, pipe-hittin' grrrls to go to work on the homes here 5 stars
4/08/07 Eric P. Thrilling and amazing. 5 stars
4/07/07 malcolm ridiculous but fun 3 stars
4/07/07 Ole Man Bourbon Death P'-awesome, but no 2nd act. Planet T'-meh. Kurt is great for QT. No int'msn fwiw. 5 stars
4/07/07 the wizz i came in to this expecting nothing but some cheap porn, i wasn' diappointed! 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Apr-2007 (R)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2007

UK
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