Grindhouse

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“Bringing a new meaning to Girls With Guns… “

Grindhouse harkens back to an earlier time, when the only way to see cult or obscure movies was at your local fleabag cinema or drive-in. There was an entire industry of low-budget studios, like AIP, set up to create product for these outlets: knowing they couldn’t hope to compete in the areas of stars or general quality, they resorted instead to the old stand-bys of sex and violence. They flourished, roughly from the sixties to the end of the seventies, but the steady rise of home-entertainment media spelt their death-knell – at least as far as theatrical releases went. However, their films were an influence on many film-makers, and some of them have teamed up to bring you this love-letter to the genre, of the sort probably not seen for a couple of decades.

The structure closely mimics the original double-features, with an opening trailer, Rodriguez’s entry, Planet Terror, three more trailers, and then Tarantino’s film, Death Proof. What you take away from these will largely depend on what you bring: a knowledge of the low-budget horror, action and SF genres will enormously increase your enjoyment here. But, really – can anyone possibly resist the lure of a trailer (directed by Rob Zombie) for a film called Werewolf Women of the S.S.? With Sybil Danning? Udo Kier? And Nicolas Cage playing Fu Manchu? Where do we queue?

Planet Terror is a zombie flick. That’s really about all you need to know – but if you insist: the accidental release of gas from a military base causes the local population to turn into ravenous monsters. It’s up to pissed-off go-go dancer Cherry (McGowan) and her former boyfriend (Freddie Rodriguez) to take care of the issue before the entire world gets infected. The result is a phenomenally-gory homage, to a genre which has undergone something of a renaissance in the past couple of years. It’s clear that Rodriguez the director has a great love for these works, and brings all his favourite moments to his work here.

There’s a fine sense of escalation, from the relatively-subdued opening, through to the insane climax, in which Cherry – now fitted with an automatic weapon in place of a limb which was torn off her during an earlier attack – takes on an entire army of the undead. Ludicrous? Over-the-top? Nonsensical? Hell, yes. Wouldn’t have it any other way. About the only weakness is a tendency to go overboard with the trappings of grindhouse flicks, such as missing reels, scratched film, etc. far beyond the point at which it’s amusing. We get it. I said, we get it. Thank you. Fortunately, the DVD should have the “restored” i.e. un-screwed with version.

Despite McGowan, the second entry is really what pushes this into action-heroine territory. It pits Stuntman Mike (Russell) against three women, who have taken a classic car out for a test-run. Now, the first half establishes that Mike is a total psychopath – basically, he’s a serial killer, who uses his vehicle as a way to murder and get away with it. However, when it comes to his latest victims, he may have bitten off more than he can chew as they include a professional driver (Rosario Dawson) as well as a stuntwoman (Bell), both enjoying a couple of days away from the film on which they’re working.

This section has the usual problem of Tarantino movies: he’s in love with his own dialogue, especially during an immensely-talky first half. And making the problem worse, the words never seem like they’re coming out of the characters’ mouths, but it is all too easy to imagine Quentin Tarantino saying them. Self-indulgent, meaningless drivel, full of pop culture references, he believes will make you think, “How clever!” – unfortunately, the result is closer to “What a poser!” This gets old really quickly, and when things get going in the second half, it’s a blessed relief. If you need to use the bathroom, quite likely in a 195-minute event like this, early on in Death Proof is definitely the time. You won’t be missing anything at all, and I suspect it might have been better if the two directors here had swapped scripts.

To the film’s credit (or, at least Bell’s) when that happens, the results are amazing. There’s a car-chase which is among the most genuinely scary in cinematic history, with Bell, apparently unsecured, sliding around the hood of the car as it’s pursued and shunted by Mike. [Sadly, no pics appear to be available online] Bell is a New Zealand stuntwoman in real-life – she doubled Lucy Lawless in Xena for several series, and also worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill – and that shows, in a sequence which proves that CGI can’t yet reproduce the impact of real metal on real metal. Of course, it also helps that the characters shut the hell up, and stop wittering on about Quentin’s favourite movies.

If the set-up is somewhat contrived, the result, which also shows Mike up as the snivelling bully he is, more than justifies the end, and is a startling endorsement of vigilante girl-power at its most brutal. It’s a shame it took so long to get there, and Planet Terror is definitely the more enjoyable part of the double-bill; however, Zoe Bell has moved from obscurity to center-stage with impressive grace. If she can show acting skill as well (here, she appears largely to be playing herself, to be honest), stardom beckons.

Dir: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino
Star: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell

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