Original Grindhouse double feature movies of the 70s were notoriously abysmal. Containing fantastically flawed plots, scripts that made you want to hammer nails into your own ears, and special effects with such a blatant low budget that it was just plain embarrassing. They did however have a certain charm to them, achieving cult status amongst movie buffs, and providing such an infamous cinematic experience that the likes of Hollywood directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would want to recreate it. The original concept for Grindhouse was to have an exact emulation of this with Planet Terror by Rodriguez, and Death Proof by Tarantino running back to back, even with adverts for other fake movies in-between. Unfortunately in US cinemas the desired acclaim wasn’t exactly achieved. The reception was in fact so bad that both movies were separated from each other, and then given an extended cut before release on DVD in the US and in theatres anywhere else in the world. Annoyingly that means this review is only based upon the extended cuts, though they were viewed back to back in some hope of keeping them both in their original context. Even more annoyingly the spoof trails which appeared in-between the two features were happily removed, just to rub it in the faces of those who couldn’t quite make it out to America to see the theatrical run...thanks Quentin.
Part of the apparent magic of Grindhouse that’s important to mention is the way both movies were presented. Both opened with the original ‘Feature about to start’ splash screens which though unnecessary, simply felt cool and set the tone and even setting quite appropriately. Planet Terror has been given considerable ‘ageing’ to its film and scratches were ridden over the film. Colours were slightly faded and it seems Rodriguez anyway managed to create the desired effect of having the viewer think they were watching a film actually made in the 70s. Death Proof was presented with a much cleaner picture to the point where half way through the movie it seems Tarantino completely forgot what it was his project was about, turned off the ‘age’ filter leaving the audience to watch the second half of an incredibly failed movie with nothing to distract them from it...thanks Quentin.
Planet Terror was easily the stronger of the two features and it suffered the least when having another 25 minutes of footage pumped and maimed into it, all to produce a viable standalone release to further the fuelling of the Jacuzzi of dirty money residing at Quentin’s place. The story sees Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) conveniently reunited with ex-boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodríguez) on the same night that Sayid From Lost (Naveen Andrews) unleashes a deadly green coloured bio-weapon into the unsuspecting night. Once the virus is let loose the protagonists form a band of generic stereotypes to fight off the infected Zombies and find a safe haven to start anew. It’s hard to talk about the faults of the movie as many were deliberate for effect. Thankfully this provided character and humour to the movie, with a highly entertaining tongue-in-cheek script and directive style that I might go as far to say places the movie on a par with the rather brilliant craption parody Hot Fuzz. Highlights included missing reels, a gun-ho destruction of waves of zombies and a child being shot in the face.
Low points came in two forms. Firstly the fact that it was impossible to tell when exactly the movie is supposed to be set. For about half the movie I assumed everything was taking place in the 70s, however suddenly none other than Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas fame) and a few of the other characters had somehow obtained some Blackberrys. A bit too suspect to not ignore and achieved in taking me out of the movie a bit. The same issue arose in Death Proof though only in the first half. The other low point came at moments nearing the end of the film where the extended cut kicks in and makes the movie possibly feel a little too extended. None other than our pal Quentin pops up to show off his acting skillz in a scene which is quite unnecessary and develops neither the plot nor the movie generally so...thanks Quentin, failure number three.
Talking of Quentin... After sitting through the particularly satisfying zombie romp we come to the self-indulgent, reference heavy, overlong, poorly written, badly acted piece of annoyance otherwise known as ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof’. These words may seem harsh but I honestly struggled to stay awake through all the endless dialogue given to characters I frankly cared so little about I prayed that my efforts in trying to watch them would finally be rewarded with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) killing the bitches in his car. The premise of the tale is that Kurt Russell spends time stalking women who he then kills by smashing into with his ‘Death Proof’ stunt car whilst they unsuspectingly drive along, fairly simple for someone like Tarantino to do well you would think...
The incredibly drawn out 114 minutes is split into two acts following two different groups of women. But already this seems wrong, as the viewer gets no sense of Mike’s sadistic serial ways presented to them if they only ever see two groups and not more, even as an introduction. Instead we are given a scene in between the two acts where two characters tell the audience the precise plotline of the movie, even though it’s so staggeringly obvious that you could avoid the movie altogether and still convince someone you’d seen it. Quentin makes a point of appearing in one of his own movies once again with a performance as the bartender, who despite having nothing wrong with him didn’t make me warm to his movie any more.
The acting was a case of swings and roundabouts and Kurt Russell’s performance was easily the best thing in it to the point where he claims it to be one of the best characters he’s ever played. It’s just a real disappointment that he’s onscreen for so little of the movie. The girls in act one did a better job all round and I found them considerably less annoying to watch, even if they did too much talking and not enough dying. The real blood curdling enragement came in full force in act 2, where every single one of the four girls failed in all possible ways. The worst offenders were Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell. Thoms character has been written as the most stereotypical black person ever known to mankind, and every one of her lines felt unnecessary, unrealistic and just plain annoying as she provided idiotic ‘black’ wisecracks to nothing in general. Zoe Bell interestingly played herself in the movie, and had her part written especially for her by Tarantino, who felt after years of her acting as a stuntwoman in his movies she deserved an acting role. Unfortunately for Zoe the girls she hangs out with in this fictitious life are obviously much younger than her and not Australian, making her stick out somewhat. It’s also noticeable that Zoe is in fact a stuntwoman and not an actress. It’s possible she doesn’t usually speak for a reason... but I wont lay too much into her as there’s no chance I would ever be caught hanging myself off of the front of a Challenger in a high speed car chase, so she deserves some positive thought.
Quentin surprisingly didn’t appear in the second act which was disappointing if anything after he managed to wangle himself in at opportune moments, though maybe he realised his movie was so ridden with references to his other movies to make himself and other Tarantino fanboys salivate to the point of drooling that is effectively destroyed what could have well been a good movie...thanks Quentin.
It seems that both movies suffered from the corporate decision to separate and extend them and I feel that taking them out of their original context makes the movies much harder to ‘get’ and appreciate. I say that especially for Death Proof where it just felt like there was no point to the movie at all, except for an overly glorified advert for all previous Tarantino movies. Hopefully the original cuts in their full Grindhouse form will be made available for viewing pleasure someday, but then again we’ve been kept waiting for ‘Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair’ for the past four years, now finally being released on Nov 6th