Friday, April 27, 2007
Grindhouse: Double Feature (2007) review
This was far better than I expected, and is probably the best deal for your money in 2007. I don't think I've seen a double-feature in over thirty years, so this was a real treat. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have made classics here with "Planet Terror" or "Death Proof," making some great additions to the b-movie universe.
As everyone knows by now, there are also trailers for fake-movies, and so, this review will cover each one of them as well. Remember: people used to make out and/or have-sex in the theaters while the originals were playing. They didn't usually bother to watch them--hence the term "grindhouse." I know this because I witnessed couples "doing it" in theaters back then.
"Machete trailer" (director: Robert Rodriguez): This was an obvious homage to all the revenge pictures, and some of the "Death Wish" rip-offs. It's about a Latino hired-assassin (the great Danny Trejo, who's been in almost every Rodriguez movie) a man betrayed by his latest scumbag employer (played by Jeff Fahey). Naturally, they almost kill him in a set-up, but he survives and gains a sidekick in a Catholic Priest (Cheech Marin!!). Hilarity ensues, and the voice-over is as bad and funny as all those real grindhouse trailers. Keeping-with the aesthetic of "Planet Terror," it has the scratchy-print look, frame-jumps, and crackly-sound. I loved it. Rumor has it that this is being lensed now for a direct-to-DVD release when Grindhouse is released to the format."Planet Terror" (director: Robert Rodriguez): Many reviewers have said this is the best-part of the double-feature, and I'd have to agree. That doesn't mean Tarantino's "Death Proof" isn't great, however. Most horror fans will find this satisfying: a biowarfare chemical ("DC-2") has been released and is creating a contagion of infected zombies who are...wow, pretty-disgusting. They're basically becoming swollen pus-bags that are mutating and decaying all at once.
Then, there's the military convoy that ices some Indian scientist who has something they want. He collects the balls of other men, and carries a bag of them around! Most of this is an homage to George Romero and John Carpenter, and there was even a scene where James Brolin's psychotic doctor character gets slimed that has a musical cue from Escape From New York.
In addition to being an homage to Romero's and Carpenter's films, this is a tribute to all the Italian knock-offs, like "Escape From the Bronx," and Sergio Martino's "2019: After the Fall of New York" (1983). Tarantino's cameo also has a reference to Lucio Fulci's "ZOMBI" (1979). You'll know it when you see it. Then you have the chicks: Rose MacGowan's go-go dancer character is pretty bizarre (and hilarious), while Bruce Willis's part is small, but crucial. It's a bigger part than most reviewers have reported, and he shines.
Jeff Fahey is excellent as the Texas BBQ chef, the brother to Michael Biehn's (Terminator) "Sheriff Hague." Overall, the characters are well-drawn, and we see just about every cliche of this kind of movie in Planet Terror. Best of all: we get the misogyny of the b-film with the addition of a feminist response. The women are the heroes here! This theme continues into "Death Proof" with its ending that this writer believes is the death of the "frail woman" in the movies.
I was impressed! The final scene with Bruce Willis even has a little offhanded political-statement to it about the war on terror. I won't spoil it for anyone. Pure horror bliss, and possibly a classic in its own right. Great for the intentional plot-holes, dopey dialog, and a woman with an assault rifle for a leg. Hilarious and satisfying! What could be more terrifying than the two Hispanic babysitters? Be honest.
"Werewolf Women of the SS trailer" (director: Rob Zombie): This was just kickass! Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula), Bill Mosley (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Rob Zombie's Halloween, etc.), Tom Towles (Fortress, House of 1000 Corpses, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer), Sherry Moon, and Nicholas Cage in his best performance since "Red Rock West" (1993)--this little faux-trailer almost beats the features! This is an obvious homage to the "Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS" movies from the 1970s, a guilty-pleasure! Visually, this is probably the best there is in Grindhouse, which is saying a lot, and it must have cost a fortune. Classic.
"Don't" trailer (director: Edgar Wright): This was funny, and looked like an homage to "Hell House" (1973) and "The Haunting" (1963), but really is just a great example of how wrong-headed marketing was in the glory days of the grindhouse. Alternate-titles were often picked by the distributors, rather than the filmmakers, and so you got movies with names like this! I'm guessing this is an indirect-reference to Mario Bava's "The Whip and the Body" (1963), which had the unfortunate American title, "What?". Yep. Pretty funny.
"Thanksgiving" (director: Eli Roth): I think every horror-fan knows who Mr. Roth is by now, the director of "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel." I love this guy, and his movies are respectable additions to the horror and thriller genres. He really has the same love for b-movies as Tarantino and Rodriguez, and he belongs here just as Rob Zombie does. This was pretty offensive! Of course, that's why it's good, and you're going to have to see this with your own virgin eyes. Word has it that it was this trailer that almost scotched an R-rating from the MPAA. Excellent, and an homage to "Black Christmas" (1974) and many others. Did I say it was offensive? Classic.
"Death Proof" (director: Quentin Tarantino): The reviews of this are unfair. Most of them have said that the movie here is too dialog-heavy, which isn't completely true. Besides, isn't that like saying Fellini's films are "too carnivalesque"? Imagery aside, dialog is why Tarantino is liked so much--dialog! The characters here are just so well-drawn, which is crucial. You have to know these characters first for their impending-deaths to mean anything, and you have to like them at least a little so that you fear for their lives. Yes, Tarantino is commenting on other hot rod action movies, but we're still watching this for characters and for story.
We're introduced to a stable of girlfriends who are extremely mouthy--this is inaccurate?! I've overheard young women talking like this ferchrissakes! So did Tarantino, apparently, and he reproduces the speech of these kind of chicks accurately.
He's done his homework: the dog sure didn't eat it. What most viewers forget is that many of the b-movies were like this: you had to wait for the last-third of the film for the payoff. You necked during the first 2/3rd's. And are the chase scenes great? They might just be the best ones lensed since Sam Peckinpah's "The Getaway" (1972), or even "Bullitt" (1968), or even the excellent "Cannonball" (1976). It's also true that Kurt Russell isn't technically the "star" of Death Proof--the ladies are, and the serial killer known as "Stuntman Mike" has likely overstepped himself targeting a group of stuntwomen.
Russell's barroom scenes are superb, and you can tell that Quentin Tarantino has waited his entire life to write dialog for Kurt. Nobody, and I mean nobody, delivers lines like Kurt Russell. And what a treat this segment is for lovers of muscle cars!! If it's not a classic, it sures comes close. Quentin's next movie will be a remake of Enzo G. Castellari's "Inglorious Bastards" (1977), one of the best b-movie takes on WWII ever (outside of Sam Fuller), and the best rip-off of "The Dirty Dozen" (1967).
Strangely, Tarantino's Death Proof doesn't utilize that many of the scratches, frame-jumps, and the audio-dropouts that Rodriguez's does. It does have the "missing reel" aspect, however and it's pretty grainy in parts like. Not bad. Not bad at all. I cannot wait for the DVD, and expect multiple-editions. In some countries, each film is getting released separately in longer cuts.