A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 374 – Grindhouse: Planet Terror

Grindhouse: Planet Terror – March 9th, 2011

So we’re back to Grindhouse, and okay, while Andy did assure me that this wasn’t nearly as bad as Death Proof, I admit I was nervous. All I knew about it was that there were zombies and that Rose McGowan somehow ended up with a machine gun leg. And I’m down with the machine gun leg, but still. Nervous. Zombies aren’t my genre. I know they’re a big thing right now and have been for a couple of years but it’s just not something I enjoy. So given that this isn’t my sort of movie and it’s the follow-up to a movie I found painful and offensive, my hopes were not high.

Thankfully, this movie wasn’t at all like Monday’s. Oh sure, it’s got plenty of objectification of women and skin on display. The opening credits are over a prolonged go-go dance from Rose McGowan. But while horrible things happen, they happen in the campiest zombie horror type way. The point is the gore, not the body being gored. And it happens to everyone! Equal opportunity gore! It manages to hit the target that Death Proof missed by such a wide margin.

Of course, they’re not quite the same sort of movie. One is a stalker/serial killer sort of thing and the other is a zombie apocalypse. And neither genre is one I go for on a regular basis, so maybe it’s a thing with the former that would always piss me off. But I actually enjoyed the latter. It had a bizarre awareness of itself that goes well beyond the level of self-awareness I expected. On one level, it’s an over-the-top homage to zombie flicks. On another level it’s a not-half-bad zombie flick, homage or not. And then it dips into parody every so often, doing something so wildly hilarious that it’s practically daring you to take it at all seriously because the characters are playing it entirely straight. I appreciate that sort of subtlety. And yes, I did just use the word subtlety to describe this movie. But I swear I mean it only in reference to the layers going on. Not the plot or the action or the characters or the dialogue.

Like I said, it’s a zombie apocalypse. There’s a plot about the military and biochemical agents and how some chemist is selling this toxic stuff to Bruce Willis for some reason and then he releases it when Willis threatens him. But really? Who cares how it starts? How it starts is not the point. The point is there are zombies that start to take over the town the movie takes place in. And so we follow an ensemble of characters as they band together (or not) and fight for their survival. In amongst those characters we’ve got a mysterious badass named Wray, his ex, former stripper Cherry, a couple of bickering twin babysitters, a pair of brothers who’ve been feuding over a barbecue sauce recipe (one of whom is a cop), Dr. Dakota Block and her husband (whom she’s cheating on cause he’s creepy and she’s scared of him) and a few other assorted folks who have no lines. The go from location to location, shooting their way out and causing carnage as zombies descend upon them.

Of course everything goes horribly wrong at every turn. Dr. Block’s husband shoots her hands up with anesthetic at one point, rendering them useless so she has the manual dexterity of a cat, forced to bat at things and open doors with her feet (which cats can’t do, thank goodness). And the movie plays that up every chance it can, having Dr. Block wave her floppy hands a few times just for show. Cherry’s leg gets torn off and she clomps around with a table leg stuck on the stump until Wray gives her a machines gun and somehow rigs it so she can fire it without using her hands. That’s a neat trick. People get their heads blown off, stuff explodes, barbecue sauce gets blood in it. And Wray, the baddest of bad asses in the movie, drives a tiny little pocket bike like it’s the gnarliest of hogs. That’s where the parody comes in. Shot after shot of the zombie-fighting convoy, with Wray in the lead on his tiny clown bike. I laughed through the entire scene and I’m still chuckling now.

The whole movie plays out as bloody and hilarious as one could want. The zombie makeup is gruesome to the point of ridiculousness. Blood spatters so thick it’s like a shower of tomato soup. The characters are really caricatures. But damn if it’s not satisfying in a few key ways. A lecherous guard’s genitals rotting off before he’s stabbed in the eye by his prospective rape victim? Satisfying! Dr. Block firing syringes of sedative into the eyes of jackasses? Very satisfying! Cherry gunning down swaths of the undead with her leg gun? Extremely fucking satisfying. And not once does this movie seem to be losing its focus as a piece of homage. The negative scratches and intentional quality issues are maintained throughout. A reel is missing mid-sex scene. The credits are impossible to read. And not once did I feel like anyone responsible for the movie was trying to lecture me on anything or make a point. The only point being made here is that zombie apocalypse movies are full of gore and badassery. Any other point would just be pointless.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grindhouse: Planet Terror

March 9, 2011

Grindhouse: Planet Terror

This was entirely unintentional. We have accidentally committed ourselves to an all zombie weekend. We’re viewing the second Grindhouse movie tonight (slightly delayed by a pause yesterday for International Women’s Day) and starting tomorrow we are going to be watching a trilogy of zombie movies that we had planned for this weekend a year ago. We’ll probably tack another zombie movie on to Monday night as well if we’re not completely sick of them by then.

It amazes me what a contrast this movie is to Tarantino’s contribution to the Grindhouse project. Keep in mind that for the theatrical release these two films were cut down to about forty five minutes each and shown as a double feature movie (with the brilliant trailer for Machete sandwitched between the two of them.) We didn’t see them in the theater (which is a good thing because Amanda would have walked out after the first twenty minutes and we’d have missed all the fun of this portion) but I really can’t imagine what kind of experience that would have been. How do you go from the gritty, nasty, obscene Death Proof to the campy, hilarious, wonderful Planet Terror?

I just have to view this movie on its own and ignore Death Proof. I’m pretty sure that when we reviewed Sin City I talked about how much I love Robert Rodriguez as a director. Well, as a director, writer, editor and composer. More than any other living director I feel that his movies are entirely his vision because he is involved in every aspect of their creation. So this particular movie captures an odd feeling because it is simultaneously full of cool, quirky, awesome Rodriguez moments and cheesy self-aware moments of parody and homage. The brilliant thing is that this mix actually works. This movie is delightful cheese.

I’m going to skip summarizing the plot. It’s a riff on the typical zombie apocalypse flick. We have our collection of survivors, our nefarious bad guys, and hordes of sickening shambling dead. Our survivors are: a Texan barbecue chef, his brother the sheriff, a sexy go-go dancer, a mysterious drifter, a victimised wife, mother and anesthesiologist, and various other supporting cast. On the opposing team we have a corrupt army officer, an enigmatic mad scientist with a bizarre fetish for gonads, and a frightfully evil doctor. Absolutely everybody gets something fantastic to do. Every character, even the most minor little ones like the twins and the strip club owner, gets their moment to shine.

There are four primary leads, and they are two couples. There’s Freddy Rodriguez as Wray, the mysterious stranger with a past who ultimately becomes the leader of the survivors. He has a history with go-go dancer Cherry, played wonderfully by Rose McGowan, who has to ultimately find her inner strength to make it through this hellish experience. The other couple is the husband and wife team of Dr. Bill Block and Dr. Dakota Block. Bill is a jealous and controlling husband and Dakota is trying to find a way to leave him. When everything starts to fall apart Bill becomes progressively more sinister and evil and he lends the movie its most terrifying moments. It’s always a brave choice to play a completely evil character, and Josh Brolin Makes William Block subtly nasty from the very first moment he appears on screen.

I will say that the Dakota storyline is not my favorite. She has a truly horrifying plot thread that involves senseless and heartbreaking loss, some of the most painful to watch physical challenges and the only actual suspense in the movie. Whereas most of the movie is campy, gory fun her thread is much more psychological and frightening. It throws me a little out of the movie. But there’s a good payoff at the end even if everything doesn’t turn out perfectly okay for Dakota, and the acting job that Marley Shelton does with her character makes the whole thing worth going through for me.

What amazes me most of all though is that even when Robert Rodriguez is consciously trying to make a bad and cheesy movie he can’t help doing it well. There are so many cool little directorial flourishes – bits of good film making that he just can’t seem to avoid. The action is over the top, wonderful and completely filled with joy. From Wray fighting his way through the hallways of a zombie infested hospital to rescue his ex girlfriend to the delirious final gunfight with hundreds of zombies and Cherry’s “upgraded” leg. The gore is stupendous. The violence is ridiculous. Several times I simply found myself staring at the screen slack jawed unable to believe that some of these moments are actually committed to film. Like the shot between the hairy thighs of a potential rapist as his putrefying genitals drip down between his legs. It makes me want to get a copy of The Toxic Avenger, which had its heart in much the same place, although it didn’t have the star power or budget.

One last thought: if you watch this sick, disgusting, and completely enjoyable movie and like what you’ve seen then I highly recommend that you run out and buy House of the Dead: Overkill for your Wii. Because it’s like playing a version of this movie as a light-gun shooter. You will laugh uproariously and enjoy yourself for hours on end. You can thank me later.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment