Admittedly, Quentin Tarantino can be irritating. He’s a weak-jawed geek who believes his own press clippings (and thinks he’s tough guy because he makes action flicks). And he’s also a screamer – an actor who can’t stop shouting on screen.
But I’ve never met him, so maybe I’m being presumptive.
Because whether Tarantino is a jackass doesn’t matter. The man makes dynamite movies – from “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) to “Pulp Fiction” (1994). He makes those guilty pleasure flicks filled with great lines, fast action, and superb acting. As a director he yanks the gusto out of his actors. John Travolta should send him Christmas cards for saving his career.
That brings us to “Grindhouse” (2007).
All the credit can’t go to Tarantino, of course, as he co-directed “Grindhouse” with the talented Robert Rodriguez. But the movie is an achievement of writing, directing, and acting.
The concept is brilliant – a throwback to the 1970s drive-in B-movies (called grindhouses in the industry). The movie meshes two exploitation classics: a serial killer revenge flick and a zombie splatter fest. Sprinkle in some pop references and ironic dialog with a dash of dark humor and you’ve got a roller coaster ride of a movie.
The movie looks like a film pulled out of a rusty canister – complete with missing reels and burnt celluloid. There are fake trailers for movies with names like “Machete” and “Werewolf Women of the SS.”
But the movie flopped. It brought in a meager $25 million and cost more than double that to make. There was just too much going on in “Grindhouse.” For 191 minutes there were the two movies, the trailers, and an intermission. It was a glorious effort – but it was just asking too much of the viewer.
But all that’s been fixed with the DVD release of Tarantino’s “Death Proof” and Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror.” Rather than sawed-off versions – we get full length features. Both movies are better off longer.
“Death Proof” is the best Kurt Russell movie in long time – one where he gets his Snake Plisskin mojo back. He plays Stuntman Mike, a charming viper of a misogynist serial killer. Stuntman Mike – gored face and all – has a black “death proof” car with a cage inside it. He likes to put women in the cage and then drive really fast, braking, and cornering until he’s basically turned his female passengers into hamburger.
This snippet of dialog sings:
Mike: Well, Pam, which way are you going, left or right?
Mike: Oh, that's too bad.
Mike: Because it was a 50-50 shot on whether you'd be going left or right. You see we're both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case, it would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you're going the other way, I'm afraid you're going have to start getting scared – immediately.
Stuntman Mike then proceeds to give Pam a ride she’ll never forget (or, in fact, survive). “Death Proof” is actually two movies. The first half is about how Stuntman Mike stalks, charms, and then murders a group of four female friends.
The next half he’s up to his old tricks with another group of four women. But two of these women are
But what makes the film work? Character and dialog. Two things that were given short shift in the original version.
“Planet Terror” is Rodriguez’s homage to the gore-infused horror movie. The plot is secondary (it has something to do with a chemical being unleashed and turning the innocent into flesh-eating zombies). There’re lots and lots of blood – and black humor (Jeff Fahey as a barbeque chef is outrageous).
Rodriguez shines with the small moments – the love scene between the protagonists (Freddie Rodriguez and Rose McGowan) is a high in low-brow. McGowan’s character has had her leg severed and a broom handle shoved into her stump as a replacement. Ridiculous camp at it’s best.
Then there’s Bruce Willis in a self-parody. There’s Freddy Rodriguez mounting a mini-motor scooter as he zips down the highway firing bullets into the heads of zombies. There’s Tarantino himself (shouting per usual) playing to type as a rapist thug.
But most of all there’s energy. The throttle is open wide and “Planet Terror” doesn’t stop.
So while “Grindhouse” had its challenges as one movie – do yourself a favor and get both these DVDs for a true grindhouse double feature.