If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Do you remember all the fanboy freakouts going on when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's theatrical double feature in 2007 was announced to NOT be coming out glued together in it's DVD release? The horror. I wasn't in love with their modern attempt on the classic Americana that is exploitation drive-through fare, and was only mildly flirtatious about the spin-off that came out this year, "Machete", based on one of the fake trailers that aired at the beginning of the original double feature, but at least all those fanboys can finally stop bitching right? Right? What, because this doesn't change out the original theatrical version of Quentin's "Death Proof" feature for his 37 minute longer (kill me now) director's cut, somebody out there is going to bitch? Well, of course they are.
Divided up by a series of fake trailers for silly looking horror films directed by a trio of the friends of the director pair (Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and Rob Zombie), the two films featured in the "Grindhouse" set are remarkably different in more ways than not. Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is a study in splatterhouse horror comedy, a zombie film that goes so completely over the top, both in the bizarre characters populating its soon-to-be-post-apocalyptic-world and in the surreal and excessive violence, that it actually becomes a hoot to watch. Fans of films like "Dead Alive" and "Feast" will likely get into the calculated and constant gross-outs and who doesn't like seeing a hot chick (Rose McGowan) with a functional assault weapon for a leg? I found myself rather surprised to have to admit that of the two films, I liked Rodriguez's entry much better, even while conceding that their 'reel missing' joke towards the end of the film, where an entire sequence of the story has been cut out, completely undercut the pacing of it.
"Death Proof" doesn't fare nearly as well, seemingly only gaining affection amongst the die-hard Tarantino fans (of which, there are legions). Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a relic of a bygone Hollywood era who hunts, stalks and kills gaggles of the most irritating girls on the planet with his stunt driving 'death proofed' muscle car. Fully half of the film is spent getting to know the first group of self-involved bitches (and I don't use that term lightly...these are bitches) only to find that, as far as character development time spent goes, it was a waste of it. The second group are even worse, made watchable only by the impressive skills and rough affability of Zoe Bell, who got her first big role featuring dialogue here, playing herself. She manages to make the whole thing at least somewhat worthwhile when she hangs onto the swerving hood of a Dodge Challenger in the exciting (but way too long) car chase at the finale of the movie.
No matter how I might feel about the films, what they've put together in this long-overdue theatrical representation of the two films is a nice set for its fans. At least, other than the audio, which is surprisingly NOT in lossless audio but is merely DVD quality (much has been made of this on the more techie oriented forums out there). Pretty much all the bonus features from the separate DVD releases of the two films has been ported over here with some brand new extra features. I'm not going to list through the sizable list of old features, but added into the new HD version is: A new episode of Rodriguez's 'Ten Minute Cooking School' about Texas BBQ; practical F/X master Greg Nicotero on the effects of "Planet Terror"; a look with Tarantino at the cars and chases of "Death Proof"; a feature on the production design of "Death Proof"; longer versions of the trailers for "Werewolf Women of the SS" and "Don't"; multiple commentaries for the trailers and 'making of' featurettes; an hour long interview with Rodriguez and Tarantino on the history of their friendship and the project with a q&a at the end; the Comic-Con 2006 panel on the film; and the much ballyhooed on the internet, "Hobo With a Shotgun" trailer, which was originally the winner of a contest to make your own Grindhouse trailer connected to promotion of the film and which now is being turned into a movie of its own featuring Rutger Hauer as the double-barreled derelict.
I certainly admire the attempt to bring back the fun and silliness of the classic exploitation films of yesteryear, and despite a general sense of affection for the first film, there's something hollow about "Grindhouse" and its associated features. Those classic films were the works of people outside of the system because the system wouldn't let them in. They had to work with micro-budgets, amateur actors, and use mediocre writers to cram together features that delivered the kind of schlock that would sell to drive-in movie theaters and teens looking for simple thrills that they wouldn't feel too bad about missing if they crawled into the back seat. Tarantino and Rodriguez seem like they're merely pandering by making these, perhaps even being just plain lazy, what with them being in the positions they're in. A much more interesting goal would have been either to set for themselves a firm and low budget cap, or to have only produced these films, giving some young up-and-comers a chance to show what they could do while slapping together the fake trailers themselves to rope in a bigger audience. As it is, "Grindhouse" feels too manufactured and calculated to have the desired effect, that thrill that came from experiencing the wonder of discovering tiny, obscure little b-movies that end up actually being worth watching despite everything working against them. Too much was working for "Grindhouse" for its bad to be much good.
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