Movie review by Greg Carlson
The most brilliant aspect of the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino double feature “Grindhouse” is that it is almost impervious to negative criticism. By crafting a meticulous homage to the 1970s exploitation movies that fueled their young imaginations, the filmmakers can get away with literally anything. From missing scenes that carve out gaping plot holes to a nearly palpable hostility toward narrative development and coherence, the constituent elements of “Grindhouse” thrive on sensationalism and excess. As an experiment for the multiplex generation, some measure of the experience of attending this sort of film in an appropriately disgusting venue will be missing, but that will not stop hipster fans from dropping their jaws at the audacity and showmanship of the moviemakers.
Presented in the United States as a complete multipart program, “Grindhouse” sandwiches its pair of features in between all manner of nostalgic genre re-creations, including ratings certificates, outré trailers for coming attractions, and a host of telling imperfections that replicate scratched and banged-up prints chugging through occasionally malfunctioning, poorly maintained projectors. Accompanied by a gorgeously designed series of posters and lobby cards, as well as a promotional stockpile of t-shirts, soundtracks, actions figures, and the like, the modern day vertical integration of ancillary “Grindhouse” merchandise parts company with the gutbucket flicks that inspired it.
Following a terrific trailer for a revenge picture called “Machete,” Rodriguez launches a rocket with “Planet Terror,” a gory, goopy, bloody, toxic-waste monster romp in which an ensemble of miscreants and malcontents fends off the advances of a disgustingly infected populace hell-bent on crashing the local barbeque shack. Juggling several corny storylines, Rodriguez’s penchant for the utterly repellent is manifested in a nauseating motif revolving around testicular trauma. It is a small miracle that a number of the segment’s actors, including Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, and Marley Shelton, manage to breathe some life into their cartoonish characters.
Viewers will split their arguments regarding the superior half of the “Grindhouse” bill, but Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is a far more ambitious and impressive piece of filmmaking than “Planet Terror.” Filled to bursting with Tarantino’s signature loquaciousness and unabashed foot fetishism, “Death Proof” features Kurt Russell as psychotic road devil Stuntman Mike, a warped misogynist who hunts young women from behind the steering wheel of his reinforced Detroit muscle. Essentially divided into two sections that could practically operate as self-contained short movies, “Death Proof” shifts into high gear during its final car chase sequence. A marvel of old-fashioned, adrenaline pumping stunt-work, the intense road race features hair-raising exploits performed by real life daredevil Zoe Bell. The climax recalls aspects of Russ Meyer’s “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” delivering a knockout punch during a blazing steel pipe free-for-all.
The custom movie trailers shown during the “intermission” comprise a crowd-pleasing trio of spot-on spoofs. Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the S.S.,” channels Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa series and sports a few cameo appearances guaranteed to earn a laugh from the audience. Edgar Wright’s haunted house movie parody is even funnier, peppered by emphatic but incomprehensible voiceover narration by Will Arnett that offers absolutely nothing to explain the plot. To print the title, which doubles as the trailer’s payoff, would not be fair. Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” is a blood-splattered gem, crafting yet another holiday-themed horror flick. Featuring parade mascot decapitations, humans trussed like stuffed turkeys, and a killer dressed as a pilgrim, “Thanksgiving” pulls no punches, and is not for the prudish or squeamish. But then, neither is anything in “Grindhouse.”
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/9/07.