Directed by: Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez
Premise: A recreation of the grindhouse cinema experience of the 1970s. The film features two back-to-back full length movies, Planet Terror (directed by Rodriguez) and Death Proof (directed by Tarantino), plus trailers for fake horror films stylized to look like the exploitation cinema of the 1970s and 80s, running before and in between the two films.
What Works: Grindhouse is a very interesting experiment in film and it achieves its goal to recreate the grindhouse cinema experience on screen. Planet Terror and Death Proof are very much like Roger Corman pictures of the 1970s both in their story and in their style. Planet Terror involves a military experiment gone awry, and a small American town is besieged by flesh eating monsters. Death Proof is a road story about a killer using his car to attack groups of young women. The films have no moral to speak of; they are exercises in gratuitous violence, gore, and unnecessary nudity and the films revel in that. Of the two features, Death Proof is far better. The film resembles Kill Bill in that it takes the useful elements of the past style but combines those elements with contemporary sensibilities. The presentation of the features has been fashioned to fit the grindhouse look, including missing reels of footage, scratches and discolorations on the print, and an intermission with movie trailers, creating an overall experience that is fun in a nostalgic and self conscious way.
What Doesn’t: Audiences should be prepared for what they are getting into. Neither of the movies are themselves that great, even by the standards of their genres, although Death Proof fares better than Planet Terror. The trouble is that even if a filmmaker has created a self-consciously bad movie, as Rodriguez has done, it is still a bad movie. As an attempt to recreate the grindhouse experience, the film is intended as a social experience, like going to see a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That is not bad, but the enjoyment of the film will largely be dependent on who the viewers see the film with and it will certainly play better in the theater than it will on home video.
Bottom Line: Grindhouse is not so much about its individual pieces as it is about the sum of its parts. This is a unique and experimental picture, an attempt to manufacture a cult film (and I mean that in a good way). Grindhouse is about how we (used to) experience the movies and like Pulp Fiction it is a love letter to pop culture.
Episode: #136 (April 8, 2007)