Review: Grindhouse (2007)

Note: This article was originally published in Technician on April 5, 2007.


Get a blast from the past with 'Grindhouse'

Filmgoers are about to get a blast from the past this weekend with the release of Grindhouse, a double-feature that pays homage to the grindhouse exploitation films of the '60s and '70s.

Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) have teamed up to direct a tribute to the edgy, low-budget films of their childhood. The result is a film lover's dream come true, and a damn good time as well.

The film begins with Planet Terror, an over-the-top zombie gore-fest directed by Robert Rodriguez. Rose McGowan stars as Cherry, a go-go dancer who teams up with an old boyfriend, El Wray (played perfectly by Freddy Rodriguez) and a slew of other eccentric characters to take on a horde of flesh-eating zombies and the corrupt military officials behind the infection.

Gore oozes out of every scene, the violence is nonstop, and there are so many explosions you'll think you accidentally walked into the next Michael Bay popcorn flick.

If there is any major flaw with Rodriguez's entry, it's that there's too much action, and it all seems a bit too expensive for something claiming to pay homage to low-budget exploitation films of decades past.

However, Planet Terror packs such a punch and is such a thrilling ride that this is an easily forgivable offense.

Tarantino's offering, Death Proof is a much different film, in both style and tone. Tarantino has long expressed a love for exploitation films, and he clearly knows the turf better than Rodriguez. Big-budget action is pushed aside in favor of lengthy conversations and suspense, but if there's anything Tarantino has shown he has a strength for, it's clever dialogue.

It's possible that after the kinetic energy of Planet Terror, viewers might find Death Proof lethargically slow, to the point of boring. However, every good double-feature showcases movies that are vastly different in pacing and tone, and Grindhouse is no different.

Kurt Russell's performance as a serial killer stuntman who uses a car as his weapon of choice is one of the actor's strongest yet, and indicates that he still has the acting necessary to be a leading man.

Part slasher, part feminist revenge flick, Death Proof showcases Tarantino's ability to craft both intriguing dialogue and high-octane action. Though it takes its time in getting to the car crashes and chase sequences, each scene feels like it belongs, and there's enough dark comedy to keep things interesting. When it is time for the action, Tarantino chooses to use raw filmmaking techniques rather than CGI to keep things suspenseful, and the result is a spectacular chase that demonstrates how creativity and talent are more effective than a computer any day.

In between the films, viewers are treated to another staple of Grindhouse cinema: an intermission filled with previews for coming attractions. All of the trailers in Grindhouse are fake, and crafted by such contemporary horror film directors as Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright. Each trailer pokes fun at a different subgenre of horror, from slashers to foreign imports, with hilarious results.

Technically speaking, Grindhouse looks and feels like something out of an old grindhouse movie theater. Both directors highlight the conventions and the flaws of the genre, from grainy and scratched footage to missing frames. When you add to that the inclusion of fake trailers, the atmosphere is perfectly nostalgic and campy.

Some might be put off by the extreme amount of gore and nudity in the film. Frankly, I'm surprised Grindhouse didn't receive an NC-17 for some of its more graphic imagery. However, these are both foundational elements of exploitation films, and Tarantino and Rodriguez were wise to acknowledge and have fun with the sheer absurdity of it all. As a parody of the gratuity of the genre, the result never feels gratuitous itself, but only as shocking and darkly hilarious as you'd expect given the material.

This is not a perfect film. However, in terms of entertainment value, it's the best time I've had in a theater so far this year. This is a movie to see with friends in theaters, and with a large audience to share the experience. At a running time of three hours, you'll be hard-pressed to find another film that gives you as much bang for your buck as Grindhouse.