By Al Kratina
May 12, 2007 - 08:44
Starring: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez ( Planet Terror and trailer Machete), Rob Zombie (trailer Werewolf Women of the SS), Edgar Wright (trailer Don’t), Eli Roth (trailer Thanksgiving), Quentin Tarantino ( Death Proof)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez ( Planet Terror, trailer Machete), Rob Zombie (trailer Werewolf Women of the SS), Edgar Wright (trailer Don’t) Jeff Rendell (trailer Thanksgiving), Eli Roth (trailer Thanksgiving), Quentin Tarantino ( Death Proof)
Produced by: Elizabeth Avellan, Daniel S. Frisch (trailer Thanksgiving), Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth (trailer Thanksgiving), Gabriel Roth (trailer Thanksgiving), Erica Steinberg, Quentin Tarantino
Genres: Horror, Action
Release Date: April 6th, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Distributor: Dimension Films
Running Time: 191 minutes
I get annoyed fairly easily. Usually, it’s by inanimate objects, like when my computer boots up pornographic websites too slowly to take full advantage of my lunch break. But occasionally, it’s people that get my goat, like when I flip past The 700 Club on a particularly judgemental day, or when the cloying, mawkish voice of Ashley Simpson crawls out of my stereo like maggots bursting out of a Twinkie. But nothing, nothing, annoys me more than Quentin Tarantino. His whole purpose in life seems to be to prove he’s cooler than the girls who stood him up in high school, the geek chic version of Marilyn Manson. And the fact that he gives every interview like he’s just snorted a rail of Folger’s coffee crystals makes him as aggressively annoying as an allergic rash. Grudgingly, I have to admit that Tarantino’s early films are excellent, but his latest offerings have been nothing more than indulgent clip shows masquerading as homages. So, I was prepared to hate Grindhouse as thoroughly as I did Kill Bill. After all, what could be more annoying than an exploitation film made by someone who loves exploitation films? Like camp, exploitation films are enjoyable only when they’re accidentally exploitative. When planned, they feel forced and lame, like a stand-up comic bombing in front of an embarrassed audience, sweaty palms standing in front of uncomfortable silence.
However, as much as I would like to list off a litany of complaints against Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s latest feature with all the vitriol of a jealous film school drop out, I can’t. Grindhouse, a double feature complete with fake trailers and drive-in style concession stand ads, is great. I feared it would be nothing more than a tired rehash of a stagnant and forgotten genre, like Rob Zombie’s childish movies, but instead it’s a reworked update of everything that was great about exploitation films, like Rob Zombie’s childish music. The first feature, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, has a zombie plague overrunning a small Texas town. Gory and tongue in cheek, the film throws in elements of comedy, horror, suspense, sex… pretty much everything but the costume design of a Merchant-Ivory production. This approach, a practice originally born of the desperation of exploitation filmmakers to appeal to a variety of audience, is here updated by great special effects and a modern sensibility, making the film a re-imagining instead of an imitation. And what’s best, the unpredictability of the genre, with characters killed off seemingly at random (originally due to the fact that exploitation auteurs were universally soulless, Mammon-worshipping monsters), is here maintained, twisting the film’s plot into unexpected directions. Starring Rose McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under, the film also features a few familiar B movie faces, including Terminator’s Michael Biehn, and Lawnmower Man’s Jeff Fahey. And it’s all dressed up in fake film scratches and missing reels, one used condom on the floor away from perfectly emulating a 1970s grindhouse theatre.
Following Planet Terror’s grandly apocalyptic ending comes a few fake trailers, directed by some of horror’s rising stars. Rob Zombie’s offering is as unimaginative as a film called Werewolf Women of the SS can be, coming off more like a White Zombie music video than a trailer. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving seems like something that would have attracted football players back in the 70s, and Edgar Wright’s Don’t trailer is equally as grating as the Torso ad it emulates.
The second half of Grindhouse, Tarantino’s Death Proof, starts off much the same way as Planet Terror, with the film stock as crudely aged as the Shroud of Turin. Kurt Russell plays a stunt driver, inexplicably and murderously insane, who uses his death-proof car to kill young women. But gradually, Tarantino’s film turns into less of a carbon copy of old car crash exploitation films as it does an update of their essence. By the time the vintage muscle cars driven by the main characters hit a highway full of SUVs, the film frame is clean, and it becomes evident that the two films have taken us on a journey through B-movies from then to now. Not that there’s stuff that doesn’t annoy me in Tarantino’s film. On the contrary, he’s still so in love with his dialogue you can almost hear him grinding against his script off-screen, and his references to car chase films of years past, from the Smokey and the Bandit wink at the camera to the seemingly endless mentions of Vanishing Point, are obvious and overdone. But nevertheless, there’s plenty to like in both films, if your heart’s in the right place. Which, if you’re an exploitation film fan, is at home, far away from the scratchy film screen.
Rating: 8 on 10