When we saw footage from Dimension Films’ GRINDHOUSE at the San Diego Comicon this past summer, we were so blown away that we were quite sure it was going to be THE horror film of 2007. After sitting through three hours of car crashes, car chases, explosions, blood, guts, gore, slime, knife fights, sex scenes, fake trailers and more action than you’ve seen all year, I can pretty much say that it lived up to the hype.
So what is a “Grind House”? For those of you who don’t know here’s Dimension’s definition: A downtown movie theater – in disrepair since its glory days as a movie palace of the ’30s and ’40s – known for “grinding out” non-stop double-bill programs of B-movies. In this epic theatrical experience you will be treated to two films, Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, a rip-roaring slasher flick where the killer (Kurt Russell) pursues his victims with a car rather than a knife, and Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR, which is about an alien/zombie attack. In between each film there are faux trailers from directors Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don’t) and Rob Zombie (Werewolves of the S.S.).
The two movies are made in different subgenres and hopefully both with entertain you equally. Rodriguez’s, which is a disgusting slime-filled zombie flick, has not only unique characters but also a really cool B-movie plotline/twist. The film carries a few small subplots that all come together in the finale. First there’s Marley Shelton, whom stole the show as Dr. Dakota Block. She inherits a special skill in handling needles, which go a long way in the end. In her story she’s planning to leave her husband (Josh Brolin) for her lesbian girlfriend; another subplot follows Bruce Willis and Naveen Andrews (Abby) fighting over some biological warfare; and then there’s Freddy Rodriguez (Wray) who hooks back up with his ex-girlfriend Cherry (played by Michael Jackson, oh wait no, the press notes say that’s Rose McGowan) and rekindles their relationship as he protects her. The FX work by KNB if off the hook as people melt, explode, and have giant pulsating boils appear all over their bodies and faces. In one scene a zombie pops a giant boil and rubs the pussy slime all over Josh Brolin’s face. The film gets better and better as it progresses as we see Wray go Wolverine berserker with a set of switchblades on a room of zombies; Cherry gets a giant-missile shooting gun for a leg; the babysitter twins kick some ass and take names; and Quentin Tarantino has a cameo as one of the army men who experience a unfortunate (and disgusting) fate. The movie is so jammed-packed with stars it’s amazing – how can you go wrong with the addition of Michael Behin, Jeff Fahey, Stacy Ferguson, Tom Savini and tons more? While PLANET TERROR is your good ‘ol fashioned gore-flick, Tarantino’s is all action and thrills inspired by classic pics like BULLET, VANISHING POINT, GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS and THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
Afterwards it sounded as if the majority of viewers enjoyed Rodriguez’s more than Tarantino’s, but I’m sticking to my guns here – Quentin Tarantino is a f-cking genius. I spent the last two days thinking about DEATH PROOF and wondered how there are no other filmmakers in this world that can make such a simple movie so goddamn entertaining. Very similar to his KILL BILL films, before the action begins he spends a lot of time developing his characters (which is also its flaw). We are introduced to four girls who cross paths with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), only to meet their demise in the single greatest car crash in the history of cinema (in four amazing different angles). At this moment we understand the plot… Kurt Russell is a washed up stuntman who’s looking for thrills by any means necessary. Even though the first 45 minutes are extremely dialogue heavy, we are treated to some great Tarantino lines; one of my favorites is when Stunman Mike is taking a girl home from the bar (Rose McGowan) and asks her “which way?” She replies, “right,” and he makes a comment along the lines of “oh too bad, we’re going left, it was a 50/50 chance wasn’t it? Had you said ‘left’ you would have thought everything was ok, but now…” That line just hits you right in the gut. The second half of PROOF deals with another group of four girls, this time being stalked by Russell. After a 20-minute exposition heavy (and completely relevant) scene prepping what was to come (talk of guns, a car chase movie called VANISHING POINT and long story about one of the girls falling into a ditch) the group heads off to test drive an old car that turns into one of the greatest chase scenes I have ever seen. To tell you more would ruin the surprises.
The only problem I had with the film is that we have to go through two separate rounds of character building. It feels almost like Tarantino’s film is two movies within one, which I know bothered A LOT of viewers. It did make it lengthy and very talky – and even though it was all relevant it did become a little tiresome. Beyond that, the movie is flawless as Tarantino’s casting job was perfection; not only did we get the stunning Rosario Dawson, but Uma Thurman’s stunt-double, Zoe Bell, has the starring role – as herself! Two of our four heroines are badass, the toughest chicks you ever saw — It’s been a long time since I rooted so hard for the victims to survive! DEATH PROOF has its bloody moments, but is really based on suspense and thrills (probably the best you’ve had in years). I vote for DEATH PROOF over PLANET TERROR any day, hands down.
In terms of making the film “look” like a grind house both features look like old films recently discovered and remastered for the big screen. There are cigarette burns, color burns, positive scratches, negative scratches, color bleeds, pops in the audio and more. Both films had reels freeze in the middle of a sequence and best of all – both films had “missing reels” (at the most appropriate times)! Another interesting note: Rodriguez dropped his conventional camera work for hilarious moments where he zooms into girls’ breasts. But what really brought back the grind house feel were the short films mixed throughout the entire experience. I won’t wreck it for you by telling you what happens in the trailers, but I will say Eli Roth’s had the strongest reaction and would be an amazing feature film (maybe the next GRINDHOUSE?).
Two for the price of one, how can you lose? Seriously? GRINDHOUSE is one of the most epic movie experiences of my life and I can’t wait to see it again. Before I write my reviews I usually like to let it sink in and see how I feel about it a day later. While I loved Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR I haven’t really been thinking much about it. I loved the movie and will probably watch it 1,000 times, but what I’ve really been dwelling on is Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. I can’t stop thinking about how cool it was and how I was on the edge of my seat for a good 30-minutes straight. I can only hope that knowing what happens doesn’t ruin my second viewing experience. I don’t think seeing either movie once is good enough as there’s just so much to digest, but who cares? That just gives you a reason to go see both films twice, maybe three times. I’m going to be there opening night and I hope the audience screams and cheers as much as they did when I saw it the other night, because that’s one of the best parts of going to an authentic grind house.
4/5 Skulls for the films
4.5/5 Skulls for value