Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling/Pam
Freddy Rodríguez as Wray
Josh Brolin as Dr. William Block
Marley Shelton as Dr. Dakota Block
Jeff Fahey as J.T.
Michael Parks as Earl McGraw
Bruce Willis as Lt. Muldoon
Michael Biehn as Sheriff Hague
Naveen Andrews as Abby
Stacy Ferguson as Tammy
Nicky Katt as Joe
Hung Nguyen as Dr. Crane
Tom Savini as Deputy Tolo
Carlos Gallardo as Deputy Carlos
Electra Isabel Avellan
Quentin Tarantino as The Rapist / Warren
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike
Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julia
Vanessa Ferlito as Arlene / Butterfly
Jordan Ladd as Shanna / Judy
Rosario Dawson as Abernathy
Tracie Thoms as Kim
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lee
Zoe Bell as Zoe
Michael Bacall as Omar
Eli Roth as Dov / Tucker
Monica Staggs as Lanna Frank
Marta Mendoza as Sonia
Kelley Robins as LaQuanda
Danny Trejo as Machete
“Planet Terror” directed by Robert Rodriguez
“Death Proof” directed by Quentin Tarantino
The sum is effectively greater than the parts in Rodriguez and Tarantino’s homage to ’70s exploitation flicks. While Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is so deliberately bad that it’s almost good, Tarantino knocks one out of the park with a brilliant action-thriller that stands up on its own merit.
In “Planet Terror,” a military experiment is unleashed on the populace of a small town putting go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) and her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) into danger as they try to escape town.
In “Death Proof”, a reckless stunt driver (Kurt Russell) terrorizes pretty young women on the road until he inadvertently messes with the wrong women.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have always worn their influences on their sleeves, but with “Grindhouse,” they pay homage to their favorite ’70s exploitation flicks, most of which will never have been seen by the movie’s audience, many of whom weren’t alive during that decade. Essentially, “Grindhouse” is two (mostly) complete movies tied together with fake ads and trailers to fully capture the B-movie theatre experience of their youth. “Planet Terror” is clearly Rodriguez’s tribute to George Romero and Roger Corman, while Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is a more ambitious affair, a mash-up of slasher flicks where hot women are terrorized by a madman and a thrill-a-minute tribute to the risk-taking stunt drivers of the ’70s, as seen in movies like Peter Fonda’s “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.”
After a mock trailer for a movie starring Danny Trejo as the assassin “Machete,” Rodriguez starts his offering with an alluring opening credits dance by Rose McGowan, clearly the sexiest thing on however many legs she has at any given moment. It’s pretty apparent from the get-go that Rodriguez is going for full-on exploitation and shocks, rarely concerned with the quality of the writing or performances, let alone getting the perfect shot or clean editing. Rodriguez even goes so far as to process the entire (presumably) digitally shot movie with scratches and blemishes to give the impression of poorly stored, overplayed reels of film.
“Planet Terror” follows McGowan’s “Cherry Darling” as she reconnects with her bitter ex-boyfriend Wray, played by Freddy Rodriguez, but nearby, Naveen Andrews and Bruce Willis face off during a siege at a military complex, unwittingly unleashing a deadly chemical weapon. Pretty soon, the town is overrun with the infected, the mutated and the walking dead with very little rhyme or reason to the killing and the married town doctors (Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton) need to try to put aside their domestic problems to deal with the bizarre effects on the patients that start flooding the hospital.
With his diminutive frame, Freddy Rodriguez is an unlikely action hero, but he plays the part to the hilt. McGowan’s the real star of “Planet Terror”, keeping up with him even after losing a leg to the flesh-eating mutations, replacing it first with a two-by-four and then with a sexy machine gun/rocket launcher. Josh Brolin is really good at being bad as the abusive husband who stabs his wife with her own anesthetic needle when he thinks she’s cheating on him.
Throughout, Rodriguez goes for the biggest gross-out factor possible with every scene splattered in blood and gore with less worries about realism as much as pushing the envelope of good taste and testing the audience’s stomachs. (It’s more like the low-budget splatter of late ’80s like “Toxic Avenger” and “Street Trash” which were as funny as they were gross.) It’s hard not to laugh when the movie literally turns into a Cramps song with Wray’s posse being made up mostly of semi-clad gun-toting hotties, and true to form, he completes the effect with a lush synth score right out of a John Carpenter or George Romero movie. Despite his efforts to recreate the vibe of those movies, the movie’s all about the gore and the action and the laughs that come from imperfection, and when Tarantino turns up as a repulsive military type character, he’s given a suitably sick demise.
Rather than putting an intermission between the movies, we’re treated to three more fake trailers with Rob Zombie’s genre-merging “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” Edgar (“Shaun of the Dead”) Wright doing a hilarious spoof of bad horror movie trailers with “Don’t!” and Eli (“Hostel”) Roth pulling out every bad fun and some truly disgusting images for the holiday horror genre spoof, “Thanksgiving.” (Roth also continues his run of playing characters that hit on Jordan Ladd in “Death Proof.”)
Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is almost tame by comparison to Rodriguez’s balls-to-the-wall action and gore, broken down into two distinct stories with a brief interlude that crosses over into “Planet Terror” and includes a couple characters from “Kill Bill.” (Like Kevin Smith, Tarantino has apparently set up his very own film universe.) In pure Tarantino fashion, it’s more driven by the characters and dialogue on par with some of his previous work, all building to a couple action set pieces that will surprise and astound you.
The first segment involves a group of partying girls hanging in a bar where they meet the aged and scarred Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who proceeds to stalk and kill them in his menacing all-black vehicle. The second story features four women working in the movie biz who also encounter the lunatic while on a dangerous joy ride. Tarantino quickly gives up trying to recreate the bad esthetic of the grindhouse B-movies after 20 minutes of deliberately bad edits, and it becomes a damn good-looking movie in large part due to the sexiness of Sydney Tamiia Poitier’s radio DJ Jungle Julia and her foxy friend Butterfly, played by Vanessa Ferlito. It’s not quite clear where it’s going once they meet Stuntman Mike, but the kills are tame compared to the gore of “Planet Terror,” that is until a jarring head-on collision shown repeatedly from different angles to create an effect not unlike the highway horror films shown to kids in Drivers Ed.
If you don’t like Tarantino’s dialogue or get annoyed by the fact that real people don’t really talk like that, you’ll probably have to grit your teeth through most of “Death Proof,” which spends a lot of time developing the characters. Tracy Thoms does a particularly good job channeling Samuel L. Jackson and Pam Greer from their respective Tarantino outings, while her “Rent” costar Rosario Dawson continues her run as sexy genre diva. On the other hand, Russell playing Stuntman Mike is the type of genius casting that Tarantino has built a rep on, reminding us what a great tough guy he used to be with his steely killer’s resolve, only getting into a bit of hammy overacting once tables are turned. The second story has a good half hour of straight dialogue before kicking into a pair of nail-biting car-chase sequences unlike anything that’s been seen in decades due to the impressive stuntwork by real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who appears as herself. Done totally old school with real cars and drivers, it’s breathtaking how Tarantino is able to capture every high speed second of it, keeping you on the edge of your seat. The segment culminates in the type of freeze-frame pay-off ending right out of the best ’70s B-movies.
Other than that, you have to admire the amount of prime T ‘n’ A in both movies and the way it’s used for maximum titillation without taking the easy route of gratuitous nudity. It’s like the difference between a go-go dancer and a stripper mentioned in an early scene, which makes “Grindhouse” a lot classier than its source material. Then again, they deliberately frustrate viewers by effectively using a “Missing Reel” gag to cut away from what could have been the movie’s sexiest scenes.
The Bottom Line:
“Grindhouse” is a great experiment that reminds us how low-budget thrillers like these were such fun to see in theatres before they were restricted to Netflix. If this were meant as a competition between the directors, Tarantino would win for making a decent movie that stands up to his previous efforts. Either way, this is a solid chunk of movie-going entertainment, more than three hours of laughs and thrills that defy the subjective terms “good” or “bad” by being more about whether you’re into what the duo consider entertainment or not.