In a word: fucking awesome. Three hours and 11 minutes of sheer glory in the form of people killing people and saying cool shit and blowing stuff up. Did I mention zombies and girl power? One darksome eve we pilgrims five set out upon a long road of black asphalt and minor tribulation until at last we pulled into an AMC-25 theater-complex as big as a cathedral and twice as holy. We had come to see Grindhouse, and it was going to be an authentic religious experience, like the time my brother and I got drunk on Michelob Ultras we stole from our parents. [Justin: Indeed, when the title rolls across the screen in almost impossibly huge red letters, you know the sermon has begun. ]
Grindhouse is actually two movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof, issuing respectively from the creative loins of Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, Spy Kids) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill). Sandwiched in between are a bunch of fake trailers filmed by the likes of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Rob Zombie (House of 10,000 Corpses), and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel). [Justin: All I have to say about Roth’s trailer is: Trampoline to the cooch! ]
The whole ensemble is intended to recapture the feel of the original grindhouses, grimy low-rent establishments dedicated to screening a heterogeneous assortment of marginal cinemas, from blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns to movies about cannibals and zombies. Chronic habitués included homeless people, degenerate freaks and adolescent males. [Justin: Present.] Most of the time these exploitation films were just a notch above pornography and sometimes they were a notch below it. [Justin: “White Meat. Dark Meat. All will be carved.” ] Planet Terror and Death Proof (to a lesser extent) bear the artificial marks of real-life grindhouse films: missing reels, degraded film quality, et cetera, but here these ostensible deficiencies are employed with great wit and brio as part of the film’s expressive content.
Planet Terror is filmed in a phantasmagoric style awash in polychromatic lights, lapidary one-liners, and gratuitous displays of violence. There’s no point in telling you the plot because the plot itself has no point. [Justin: Why are the Crazy Babysitter Twins so fucking crazy? Why the fuck not? And why would Rodriguez use his nieces for such batshit, sexual roles? Because this is fucking Grindhouse. ] Suffice to say that zombies are running amok, some nefarious-looking soldiers led by Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) are up to no good, and all hope rests with a ragtag band of well-armed survivors many of whom happen to be attractive women wearing décolleté outfits.
There’s Wray (Freddy Rodiguez) – [Justin: You mean, “El Wray” ] – an ominous drifter with a mysterious past, and Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer walking down the wrong path in life who’s looking for a change of pace and dreams of being a stand-up comedian. [Justin: This is an unattained goal that generates several excellent exchanges, especially after she loses her leg. ] There’s the marvelously deranged Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin), and his fetching wife Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton). [Justin: Why does she have a gun that fires fucking hypodermic needles? Why the fuck not? And do doctors really wear heels this high? Of course not, but who are you to say they shouldn’t? You’re no one, that’s who. ] There’s grizzled barbeque proprietor J.T. (Jeff Fahey), and his brother the surly sheriff (Michael Biehn) who vows to learn J.T.’s recipe if it’s the last thing he does. [Justin: Start at 250 degrees…]
This is probably the only movie you will ever see where Quentin Tarantino’s genitals melt, a throbbing tongue abscess is popped quite visibly, and a kid – [Justin: Rodriguez’s son, whose name is Rebel, naturally] – shoots himself in the face by accident. (If the part about the kid disconcerts you, don’t worry: it’s tasteful because it’s funny). Early in Planet Terror a certain garrulous doctor (played by Robert Rodiguez’s real life physician) randomly starts exhibiting to the other characters a succession of gruesome images on a computer screen. It’s awkward and disgusting, but also kind of awesome and funny – this pretty much sums up Planet Terror.
After Planet Terror there are three fake trailers which range from hilarious to horrifying. I won’t spoil them except to say that Thanksgiving is now my least favorite holiday. [Justin: Trampoline to the cooch! ]
If Tarantino’s Death Proof doesn’t quite live up to the all-or-nothing theatrics of Planet Terror, it also deals in a certain delicacy of sensibility beyond the reach of Rodriguez. Death Proof is a meticulous study in Southern languor, modulated cools, subtle accents, and crystalline moments that possess the virginal finitude and ephemeral pleasure of smoking a cigarette. Ostensibly a slasher-film/road-movie hybrid, Death Proof is in fact a narrative of feminist empowerment through regenerative violence, sisterly togetherness, and testicular audacity. [Justin: Zoë Bell most certainly has some fucking balls.] Like all horror movies, it takes place in a world without love – only sex and metaphors for sex.
Divided into two parts and pivoting on a “Psycho switch” (Tarantino gets this from Eli Roth’s brilliant film Hostel, a major influence here), Death Proof depicts two separate cohorts of young women being stalked by stunt-driver-cum-serial-killer Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Stuntman Mike appears at first in the Snake-Plisskin mold of tough renegade badass, but over the course of the movie this image erodes into that of a creepy, pathetic sadist just begging for comeuppance. [Justin: And mercy, which is in short supply. ] Among the first cohort, Vanessa Ferlito (who is so hot she undulates in place) and Sydney Poitier (daughter of Sidney) deliver stand-out performances. Among the second cohort, Tracie Thoms channels Samuel L. Jackson into a memorable character. Zoë Bell (Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman in Kill Bill) plays a stuntwoman who spends a lot of time on the hoods of cars, if you know what I mean (you probably don’t). [Justin: Don’t forget Rosario. I always love Rosario. And I still can’t believe they left their friend on “fucking Tobacco Road” with that lecherous redneck. ] In this dialogue-heavy movie Tarantino is clearly trying to feminize the conversational style featured in such movies as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. He has mixed success.
Somewhere between scenes of a peg-legged Rose McGowan go-go dancing and a psychopath killer in pilgrim costume screwing a cooked turkey, I decided that Grindhouse is the finest thing I have ever seen. This movie is a vindication of America and everything America stands for: zombie-killing, hot babysitters, guitar riffs, Detroit muscle-cars, and secret barbecue recipes. [Justin: And Fergie getting dismembered. I hate that woman. ] Thomas Jefferson, eat your heart out.
It was economics that built the grindhouses, and it was economics that demolished them. [Justin: And, unfortunately, it might be economics that make this film the only one of its kind: “Are We Done Yet?” made more money this past weekend. The fuck is wrong with this country? ] The advent of cheap VHS tapes obviated the market necessity of crowding people together into a theater in order to maximize viewers-per-showing. However, I would argue that something was lost in the shift from the collectivity of the theater to the privacy of the home, something redeemed from its contemporary impoverishment by Grindhouse.
Unlike real grindhouse movies, no one is coming to watch this movie merely for the sake of gore or nudity or whatever outré desideratum you please. Grindhouse is a grindhouse pastiche blow-out, yes, but one fructified by an ironic self-awareness of its own absurdity. The result is a film that manages to escape both the heightened expectation of an artistic cinema as well as the cynical pornography of authentic grindhouse fare. What Tarantino and Rodriguez present instead is a kind of grand love-feast of kitsch where a good time is had by all and the auteur is worthy of his hire.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this movie is like the best cheeseburger you’ve ever eaten – [Justin: One covered in blood and sausage and Nicolas Cage in a Fu Manchu] – and Tarantino and Rodiguez are like these two cheeseburger aficionados who have traveled all over America eating cheeseburgers and learning all about them so that they could make this one perfect cheeseburger. On one level, it’s just a cheeseburger, even if a spectacular one, but on another level, it’s more than just a cheeseburger. It’s a reprise of the history of the cheeseburger, a celebration of cheeseburgers everywhere and of the cheeseburger medium itself.
You must see this movie. [Justin: Better yet, if you’re thinking of avoiding it, DON’T. ] And bring liquor. [Justin: Preferably SoCo. ]