Grindhouse 2007 Dir. Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez
Let’s clear something up before I begin this review. Almost no one younger than thirty years old had ever heard the term “grindhouse” before 2003. Most folks in my age range weren’t present for the sleaze theaters on New York City’s 42nd Street and on L.A.’s Hollywood Boulevard, where these “grindhouses” were located. However, even though we were unaware of the term “grindhouse”, people of my generation likely still saw these cheap, gory and action packed films on VHS or on afternoon matinee television in the 1980s, though broadcasts may have been heavily edited. Thanks to the proliferation of VHS and the hard work of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the grindhouses were driven out of business by the mid 90s. However, TV shows like USA’s Up All Night with Rhonda Shear and Drive-In Theater with Joe Bob Briggs gave us a glimpse of the salacious and violent genre pictures made popular in the 1970s, and we didn’t have to sit next to some pervert in a raincoat to see them.
I actually first heard the term in 2003, while reading an interview with Quentin Tarantino about his upcoming film Kill Bill. A student of film, Tarantino brought this forgotten brand of cinema to a mass audience in all of its kung-fu, revenge driven, blood-soaked glory. Apparently it was during the making of this film, that Tarantino began talking to his friend Robert Rodriguez about recreating the classic “grindhouse” experience for movie audiences. The idea was pitched as two filmmakers splitting a feature budget, making two films for the price of one. Rodriguez liked the idea and apparently so did the Weinsteins, because their dual venture GRINDHOUSE was greenlit for production.
Tarantino used his portion of the funds to create an action thriller called Death Proof about a stuntman serial killer who uses his car to murder hapless young women. Rodriguez would use his budget to create the psuedo-zombie horror flick Planet Terror. These two films would also be bridged by a series of fake film trailers created by Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth. These filmmakers didn’t want to offer a movie, they wanted to offer an experience. Trailers depicted a gritty 70s inspired double bill that included Kurt Russell spouting one-liners, and Rose McGowan shooting monsters with her machine-gun prosthetic leg. The poster’s were even created to showcase the film’s sleazy bygone pedigree, extending the filmgoing experience outside the film itself. Audiences were getting a chance to transcend time and place and see a replicated film experience that was now gone. Unfortunately, audiences stayed away.
Whether because of subject matter, timing or the odd format, GRINDHOUSE flopped at the box office. This is a shame for those of us who were hoping for future GRINDHOUSE double features, however it’s not surprising. GRINDHOUSE is a cult film. The tongue in cheek humor in both features, and the out and out insanity of the fake trailers make it the perfect midnight movie or college movie night experience. Which is to say, it’s not for everyone.
Planet Terror is easily my favorite of the two features, showcasing a grotesque zombie invasion movie that follows a (Go-Go Dancer) named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) and her ex-boyfriend El Wray as they attempt to navigate a town that has been infected with a military weapon that turns people into bubbling, oozing zombies. Rodriguez knows how to deliver a film filled with sex appeal, action and humor. The film is ridiculous, but the characters are memorable and Rose McGowan, as a machine gun legged stripper, is worth the price of admission alone.
The fake trailers* bridging the two features were a beautiful mix. Rob Zombie gave us a horror film that fits into the Nazi exploitation sub genre with a trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S. Supposedly about a mad scientist who creates werewolf Nazi soldiers with the help from two sexy Nazi dominatrixes. That’s it. It’s just as gloriously bonkers as it sounds. Edgar Wright created what was perhaps my favorite trailer of the bunch, and might just be my favorite part of the whole film experience with a trailer for a British horror film called DON’T. This trailer is meant to echo the American distribution of European films like The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue with a trailer that makes no sense whatsoever. Using popular British performers, Wright perfectly nails the 1970s Brit horror aesthetic. Seriously, the joke just keeps mounting. Eli Roth created a trailer for an 80’s holiday slasher flick called Thanksgiving about a murderer dressed as a pilgrim, going on a killing spree. While I’m not a fan of Roth’s oeuvre, I have to say that his trailer nails it ,and manages to be the only trailer that looks like it would be for a real film.
Tarantino’s Death Proof is a different than anything seen in this project, offering an action gimmick in lieu of actual monsters. After murdering a group of young women with his 1971 Chevy Nova, a year later, Stuntman Mike tails a different group of women to commit the same act. Unfortunately for Mike, he doesn’t account for the professional expertise of driver, Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and stuntwoman Zoë (Zoë Bell). The film’s chase sequences are wonderful and the characters are fun, although it feels like the odd man out in a project overpowered by flashy, violent and gory films. It is slow-moving and deliberate in its pacing up until the car accident/chase sequences. It is also filled with witty, self-aware dialogue as is traditional with Tarantino projects. However, it is the performance of Kurt Russell as “Stunt Man Mike” as well as the iconography of his death proof car that make this film a wonderful piece of pop horror.
GRINDHOUSE is hands down the best movie going experience I’ve ever had in my life. The theatre was packed with an audience that really understood what the filmmakers were truing to accomplish and there was a real sense of the communal. This film is defiantly a horror oddity falling in line with similar experiments in the genre like Trick-r-Treat and Repo: The Genetic Opera. And like those films, it may not appeal to all people, but it will appeal to all of the right people.
*In some releases there was also a trailer for a film called Hobo with a Shotgun. This trailer was not screened with the version of the film I saw. It was the winner of a trailers contest held by Rodriguez and has since been adapted into a feature film.