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Grindhouse: Terrible Twosome Does a Double Take on Terror

Erin McGinn and Tae Andrews | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Plenty of blood, scares and laughs are at the heart of the “Grindhouse” opening film, “Planet Terror.” Robert Rodriguez’s zombie horror film is a non-stop adrenaline rush. The shoot-em-up zombie romp balances multiple storylines with a very tongue-in-cheek approach.

“Planet Terror” is successful not only as an homage to the grindhouse flicks of the ’70s, but it also retains the fun spirit of such classic zombie franchises as George Romero’s “Dead” series or the Italian-made Fulci’s “Zombi” films.

In “Planet Terror,” poisonous gasses are released into the atmosphere, turning the townspeople of Austin, Texas into gut-wrenching zombies. The film features Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer and aspiring stand-up comedian who happens to meet up with old love interest El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, of no relation to director Robert) and is forced to team up to fight back snarling hordes of bloodthirsty zombies. In typical zombie movie fashion, the film has numerous storylines featuring, among other things, a government experiment gone horribly awry. In addition, the film’s eclectic ensemble features appearances from heavy-handed military men (notably Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino), an unsavory scientist (Naveen Andrews of “Lost” fame), in addition to an abusive doctor (Josh Brolin) and his wife (Marley Shelton), who is trying to leave him.

Although it is presented in the style of a B-level movie, the film’s witty script, pulp style and high-budget make it a far superior product when compared to others of its kind. Even though the film is full of outrageous special effects, “Planet Terror” manages to retain a very rudimentary quality about itself. Although there is a ton of stylized gore, the bright red goo oozing and splurting every which way is comical by its very nature and is enjoyable in its unrealistic fashion. Limbs are hewn apart and heads are blown off in such a way that the men of Monty Python would be proud, as all the limb-lopping puts the inimitable Black Knight sequence to shame. However, the truly unforgettable effect is the iconic image of “Grindhouse” – Cherry’s prosthetic leg that Wray fashions for her out of a machine gun. Although that is something that actual grindhouse movies would never have been able to accomplish, it truly keeps with the spirit of the genre in its flashy combination of sex and violence.

The acting is purposely comical and greatly overplayed. Even better, the actors handle their roles with great enthusiasm – you can tell that they’re having fun onscreen.

Rose McGowan easily steals the show with her role as Cherry and is consistently entertaining – even more so once she loses a leg. The brief appearances by both Bruce Willis and Stacy Ferguson (Fergie) are perfectly played out in a very stereotypical fashion. Freddy Rodriguez capably handles the male lead and is perfectly stoic compared against McGowan’s emotional dancer. Tarantino also manages to make a cameo in the film and is enjoyably revolting as a crude and cruel soldier, but to his discredit it is nearly impossible to forget that it’s him on screen.

“Planet Terror” director Robert Rodriguez deftly handles his film, and it is obvious how much he genuinely wants the film to be fun for the audience. Once the movie begins rolling it continues to constantly build with an absolute minimum in lag time between the more exciting moments. This results in an absolutely mammoth, snowballing rollercoaster ride of gore and explosions.

As a whole, “Planet Terror” is a never-ending gross-out and blow-up of a film. It knows how awesome it is, and it laughs at how fun it is – making it all the more enjoyable for the audience. Just be prepared to be exhausted by the end.

If movie theaters had seat belts, you would want to strap in for “Death Proof” – it’s one heck of a wild ride. Even though you can’t click it after buying your ticket stub, you might want to at least hold onto the arm rests or something when director/twisted genius/madman Quentin Tarantino hops behind the wheel to present his idea of a horror movie.

Burning rubber, wheeling and dealing death at every turn, Tarantino’s latest delivers as a horror film fueled by pure popcorn cinema – you can’t help but wince, scream and squirm on the edge of your seat as he serves up sequence after sequence of heart-racing chase scenes and can’t-look-away terror.

Kurt Russell rocks as Stuntman Mike, a creepy yet charismatic serial killer with a taste for vehicular womanslaughter. Stuntman Mike stalks his nubile victims by prowling around in his black muscle car, replete with growling engine, skull and crossbones and a whole lot of ponies under the hood. Due to his job and fortunately for Mike, his car has been reinforced so that no matter how bad he totals his wheels, he’ll survive – giving the film its title, “Death Proof.”

Unlike his buddy Robert Rodriguez, who directs his half of “Grindhouse” with a lead foot, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t go pedal-to-the-metal from the get-go. Instead, QT employs herky-jerky stop-and-go pacing as he lets the engine idle on “Death Proof” with signature stretches of dialogue, then revs the film up to its breakneck conclusion.

“Death Proof” comes equipped with many of the accessories we’ve all come to know and love over the years. Tarantino doesn’t disappoint with diner dialogue reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs” and a vintage soundtrack groovier than a bag of Ruffles potato chips.

At times, Tarantino does fall in love with the sound of his own cinematic voice. At one point, QT’s love tendency to get cute with his dialogue leads him to include a bit in which several of the characters quote fragments from a Robert Frost poem. Although his wordplay doesn’t snap quite as much as it normally does, Tarantino’s love of long-winded anecdotes remains fun despite not having a point or really going anywhere. His uniqe insight into the wide world of women remains an interesting experience, as he attempts to delve into one of the great mysteries of the universe, the female psyche, through a series of “girl talk” conversations from the film’s many female characters.

However, with the babe parade on display, who cares? At one point or another, Hollywood hotties Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all spend some quality screen time. In particular, Sydney Poitier sizzles onscreen as “Jungle Julia,” a sassy no-nonsense radio host who runs afoul of Stuntman Mike while showing her out-of-town friend Arlene (played by Vanessa Ferlito) a good time.

Much like Uma Thurman’s character The Bride in Tarantino’s two-part jaunt “Kill Bill,” “Death Proof is full of femme fatales, as several of Stuntman Mike’s victims develop a healthy case of retaliatory road rage and take a crash course in defensive driving to kick the serial killer to the curb. Tracie Thoms packs some girl-power punch as Kim, who’s basically Tarantino’s female equivalent of Samuel L. Jackson: a token black woman who drops mother f-bombs with aplomb. In addition, stuntwoman Zoe Bell shines as her character by the same name and may actually be “Death Proof” after her stunts in a series of death-defying moves and high-speed hijinks in one of the film’s two major chase sequences.

Due to Quentin Tarantino’s dark genius and flair for the unusual, the tires never fall off this wild ride as “Death Proof” zooms to its hair-raising (and satisfying) ending.