Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to the 2007 double-feature, Grindhouse (the other half being Tarantino’s Death Proof) is the over-the-top, gory, zombie masterpiece, Planet Terror. Though, like many other “tribute to the good old days” horror movies, it’s not really that scary, Planet Terror definitely accomplishes what it intended to do, and then some. Rodriguez and Tarantino created Grindhouse as a tribute to the exploitation films of the 1970’s. The point of these movies wasn’t to scare people, it was to see how much violence, blood, and sex they could cram onto 10,000 feet of 35mm film. If there was room left over, they could sprinkle on a coherent story or some character development, but that stuff wasn’t necessary. The traditional grindhouse movies were usually extremely low-budget and would often have a cheap, grainy look on screen. Rodriguez has preserved all the sex and all the blood while updating the shortcomings of the classics, to make something really special. And obviously the term ‘special’ is used loosely here.
The biggest updates to the grindhouse style were that this thing had a big budget, good writing, and a decent cast of stars. The only real stars in the classic grindhouse movies were only stars within the genre whom you wouldn’t really see in mainstream Hollywood films. Rodriguez not only directed the shit out of this beast, but he wrote it too. And he didn’t slack on the script. The dialog is clever, irreverent, and consistently entertaining. There’s subtext between characters and we slowly find out these back stories throughout the movie. There is drama built up between certain characters already before the movie opens and we get dropped right into it. So you’re interested in the story even outside of the whole zombie apocalypse thing.
One of my favorite aspects of the production of this movie was the way it sounds. The score is actually pretty great, but I’m talking about the sound effects. Everything has an awesome sound. Not just the gunshots and the zombie flesh bites, but everything. A faucet knob squeaking, a glass thermometer clinking against a guy’s teeth, milk being poured into a a coffee mug. It seems like it would be mundane but there’s something unsettling about it. The sound is too loud, too perfect and clear its almost insulting. It fits with the theme of the movie though. Everything cranked up to 11.
Even the plot is a little over the top, but it works. We start out in a strip club with Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) dancing on stage. At the end of the dance, we see that she’s crying. You’re instantly interested in this character. It jumps around a lot and we meet a bunch of other characters, most of whom will meet up with (and try to kill or eat) each other at some point throughout the movie. Bruce WIllis shows up as the commander of a military unit who’s involved with some kind of biological weapon that turns people into zombies. The soldiers get infected and the plague spreads across this little Texas community.
Cherry runs into an Ex and they form a little band of survivors and try to escape the madness. There’s a run-in with the zombie super soldiers and then everyone looks like they were in the front row of a Gallagher show without a raincoat. In the meantime, everyone gets their arms, legs heads, eyes, and testicles violently removed. Lets put it this way, if you were a med school student on the night before your MCATs and you haven’t studied at all, and you watched this movie, you’d probably get like a B-.
Even though this movie is about pushing the limits of what the human digestive system can endure without vomiting, it’s actually got some heart. Maybe that’s not the right word. But really, I found myself really feeling for the characters. And not just in the sense that wanted them to survive the zombie outbreak. They all had something at stake or something that they really wanted or needed in life before the zombies showed up. They were just really interesting and that was a pleasant surprise. But that’s not why you’re here. You want to know if this was a good movie. Let me sum that up with a problem that I’m sure the production staff had at the end of filming. Which clean-up crew do you send in first: the guys with brooms to sweep up the spent shell casings, or the guys with mops and buckets to clean up the gallons and gallons of blood? That’s a judgement call. Feel free to leave your responses below.
Now, lets get real:
- Is it scary: 2- Like I said, the point of this wasn’t to be scary, it was to be upsetting and offensive to anyone with a soul.
- Originality: 6- It wasn’t really particularly original but it was a fresh take and a really successful update.
- Blood: 10- and thats just because the system doesn’t go any higher. This movie is goddamn disgusting. It makes you want to take a shower after watching it.
- Believability: 8- It all rang fairly true to me (zombie bioterrorism and the stripper who loses a leg to a zombie bite and attaches a machine gun to her stump, aside) I thought the characters were really authentic and genuine.
- Setting/Cinematography: 7- Rodriguez does a great job with the visuals. The cinematography is tight and simple and honest. You see exactly what’s happening. Thats the point. It’s not artsy or fancy. It’s just dirty and gritty and in your face.
Final Score: 33/50