Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007) & Planet Terror (2007) Review

Most people, interested in such things, now know the story of Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez's ill-fated Grindhouse project. It was supposed to be two exploitation homage flicks (Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarrantino's Death Proof) released together as one film complete with fake trailers for other non-existent exploitation flicks that gave viewers the long lost experience of attending a "Grindhouse" cinema or drive-in.

Unfortunately, for all those involved, Grindhouse bombed at the US box office. Many commentators put this down to movie goers being too stupid to get the concept. Maybe, that was the problem. Or maybe, just maybe, no one wanted to pay good money to watch two crap films. This is, after all, why "Grindhouse" cinemas and drive-ins died out in the first place.

Once it was obvious Grindhouse was a box-office dud, and before you could say "fuck artistic integrity" the Weinsteins decided to dismantle Grindhouse and release Death Proof and Planet Terror separately in new extended cuts. This, of course, completely misses the point of why these films were created in the first place and puts them in the unenviable position of having to stand on their own which they were never designed to do.

Death Proof

Death Proof tells the story of two separate groups of women who are tormented by a charming, but ultimately psychotic and homicidal, stuntman in a death proof car.

Well, sort of.

For the largest part of its running time Death Proof simply features a bunch of female caricatures sitting around reciting page after page of repetitive Tarrantino dialogue. They never really seem like characters from a 70's exploitation flick, and they certainly don't seem like real women. They're just dull Tarrantino mouth pieces.

The trailer may fool you into thinking the film is a car chase action fest. Don't be fooled. There are only two action sequences in the whole film. The first is over almost before it starts and the other comes way too late in this ridiculously long film.

Tarrantino's commitment to doing an exploitation homage seems a bit half-hearted too. The fake film artefacts, dodgy cuts, and stagnant direction are applied to the first half of the film, but the second half of the film is almost pristine and looks more like a modern action film (when it finally kicks into gear). It's almost as if he became bored with the concept and didn't bother maintaining theses devices all the way through. I can’t blame him, I suppose, I was pretty bored by it all myself.

And why is the film nearly two hours long? Most of these exploitation films were notoriously short. I'm pretty sure, like virtually all Tarrantino films, Death Proof would have benefited from some more judicious editing.

In a much shorter form, and combined with fake trailers and Rodriguez's Planet Terror, maybe Death Proof, as part of Grindhouse worked. But on its own it's an overly long, inconsistent exploitation homage that nearly bored me to death.

Planet Terror

Planet Terror is a balls and all (and I mean that quite literally) homage to splatter movies of the 1980's. Unlike Death Proof the tone is consistent, and things move at a pretty brisk pace.

Of course, being a homage to 80's splatter movies it, quite deliberately, inherits all the problems these films had. No character development, cheesy dialogue, and confused plotting. But these films often work in a "so bad they're good" kind of way and that’s exactly the level Planet Terror works on.

There is blood and guts galore in Planet Terror, so much so that, like many splatter films of the 80's, when the umpteenth virus-infected mutant person is hit by a truck and explodes in a shower of blood, guts, and body parts it's not shocking it's actually pretty amusing. Of course, Peter Jackson did this kind of thing years ago with Bad Taste and Brain Dead.

I also thought it was ironic that Rodriguez has reached a point in his career where he's made such an expensive film that deliberately looks cheap, when he really made a name for himself making cheap films that looked expensive.

If you're a fan of 80's splatter movies then you'll probably get a kick out of Planet Terror. If not, then you would probably be well advised to give this blood and pus soaked film a wide berth.

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