For 10 seasons, the guys and robots at “Mystery Science Theater 3000” made their bread and butter off the type of movies “Grindhouse” so expertly pays homage to. Cinematic travesties like “Manos: The Hands of Fate” or “Devil Fish” were perfect for MST3K’s patented riffs and snide observations on the innumerable mistakes, errors and outright faulty filmmaking of those actual grindhouse films.
So what would the sarcastic bots say about “Grindhouse,” a film in which directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino dare to commit those same mistakes and errors, on purpose? They just might have to switch off for once and enjoy the show.
Both born in the 1960s, Tarantino and Rodriguez were technically too young to have actually lived through the grindhouse heyday of the ’50s and ’60s. But the two directors’ film careers have left them with lots of money, enough to cultivate one hell of a film collection. “Grindhouse” is the Frankenstein’s monster of such film collections, stitching together bits and pieces of various exploitation films into one sexy, bloody behemoth — or more accurately, two behemoths.
Audiences get more than their money’s worth since “Grindhouse” is actually a double feature, opening with Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” which is followed by Tarantino’s “Deathproof.” The two directors seem to delight in recreating the drive-in experience at every turn, by using scratched film stock, abrupt interruptions to the films because of “missing reels” and a handful of campy fake trailers sandwiched between the films.
The fictional trailers were all directed by Rodriguez and Tarantino’s friends, including Rob Zombie and “Shaun of the Dead” creator Edgar Wright. But the one that almost steals the whole movie is “Hostel” director Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving,” an absurdly grotesque slasher parody that is so grainy it makes the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” look like it was shot in hi-def.
The fake trailers are the icing on the cake. But the actual films? Oh, what a delicious cake. Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” kicks things off with some old-fashioned, Troma-style gore. When a small Texas town becomes the unwitting host to a zombie invasion brought on by military testing, it’s up to El Wray (Freddie Rodriguez) and his girl, the luscious Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan, with a sub-machine gun for a leg) to save the town from the government-sponsored apocalypse.
Rodriguez clearly studied the makeup effects of horror masters like David Cronenberg and John Carpenter. In a backward way, his half of “Grindhouse” is as violent as “300,” except the CGI fountains of blood and painted Spartan landscapes have been replaced with buckets of corn syrup and the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
But whereas Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is a more traditional homage to B-horror flicks of yore, Tarantino’s “Deathproof” is sure to leave audiences with little confusion over whose film they’re watching. The second half of “Grindhouse” begins with more indulgence of Tarantino’s famous foot fetish, as the opening credits scroll over a close-up of a tasty mama’s feet.
“Deathproof” is a chatty departure from the nonstop blood spatter of “Planet Terror.” Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a charmingly sleazy stunt car driver, with, as you might have guessed, a car that is deathproof. Settle in for 90 minutes of Stuntman Mike terrorizing some foxy single girls who get more than they bargained for after a night of extreme inebriation at the local roadside dive.
“Deathproof” has some terrific car chases, enough to make “The Dukes of Hazzard” seem like a driver’s education film. But to get to such scenes, one must endure pages and pages of “Ooh, girl,” “Bitch, you crazy!” and other masturbatory Tarantino dialogue. Granted, Tarantino’s pop culture referencing banter is as delightful as always. But at two hours and 45 minutes into a nearly 3 ½–hour film, sometimes it’s okay to just cut to the chase, literally.
“Grindhouse” is what happens when two directors who never really grew up are put in a room together, given all the toys they could ask for and told to do what they do best. The results are intentionally sloppy, but polished, hilarious, grotesque and some of the most fun people could have at the movies.
“Grindhouse” was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
“Grindhouse” received 3 ½ stars out of 4.