Somewhere on God's desk is a file marked "things that are completely useless" inside which, nestled snugly between decaffeinated coffee and Lindsay Lohan's court mandated rehab, surely sits the Blu-ray home cinema release of Grindhouse. Tarantino and Rodriguez are two men who have never quite gotten over the seventies and have built their careers around revamping the decade for today’s audience. Here they attempt to pull back the curtain and show us the wizard as he was meant to be seen in all his lack-of- glory.
Fine, whatever. But Blu-ray? Really? Doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose? Are these not films intended to be seen at the most disgustingly rundown multiplex, with sticky floors and rickety seats covered in who knows not what, or not at all? Isn't that the point? For the sake of those who are, for whatever reason, still unfamiliar with the term “Grindhouse,” it refers to a movie theater running a slate of what are sometimes called “exploitation films.” Film that are said to sacrifice genuine artistic merit or strong narrative in favor of shocking content, often comprising of extreme gore, brutal and gratuitous violence, and lots and lots of sex and nudity.
The term exploitation refers to the audience members, who it is said were somewhat duped and drawn in by over hyped and somewhat misleading advertising. Once inside, having paid their admission, they ended up with an experience that was perhaps something of a let down and not exactly value for money. You would not be surprised to see; scratches all over the print, sprocket run offs, mismatched sound and dialog and cigarette burns in the film. The film might not even complete, as people who worked in these places would go so far as to chop parts of the film out (usually the bits with the most sex) and take them home. These once popular theaters were ultimately killed off when the home video market exploded, but for a time this was the place to be.
But home viewing is for the die-hard's only, and those unfathomable folks out there who somehow believe that there is something incredibly rebellious about watching bad cinema. "You have to see this," they cry. "It's so bad, it's brilliant!" No, it's just bad, thank you. Grindhouse was always a far better idea on paper than it was in reality, as the staggeringly poor box office haul showed. That said, the trailers are still ace. Rent-a-Mexican actor Danny Trejo sending up his type casting with vigilante movie Machete. “If you're going to hire him to take down the bad guy, you better make sure the bad guy isn't you,” Damn skippy! Rob Zombie's Werewolf women of the SS is simply delightful, Edgar Wright and his haunted house crap-fest, simply titled Don't is equally excellent. The prize though goes to Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, a slasher film about a puritan killer which contains the most wince inducing scene of all time, involving a trampoline, a butcher knife and an over enthusiastic cheerleader.
First up is Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, a horror film set in a sleepy Texas backwater about a deadly cloud of nerve gas that descends on the town and turns it's people into mutant flesh eating freaks. Straightaway you know you are in the hands of a man who wields a complete mastery of such material. Unfortunately that does nothing to change the fact that such material itself is just plain bloody awful. Whilst that might be deliberate, and it certainly looks the part with the prettied up print still looking like it was shipped to the theater in a child's sandbox, it quickly loses its novelty value.
El Robrto is not ashamed about what he has written here, and sets about dispensing unfettered gore almost immediately as Bruce Willis platoon commander double crosses Naveen Andrews scientist and a cloud of toxic vapor is unleashed. Cue a barrage of gunfire; melting faces, exploding bodies and if you were not already done with your chili cheese nachos, you are now. What little plot there is revolves around a nurse trying to leave her doctor husband and run away with her lesbian lover. A notorious gangster (Freddie Rodriguez) is also on the run and runs right into his ex lover (Rose McGowan), as the entire town is beset upon by marauding flesh eating mutants.
That's about it really, and as gratuitously over the top as it is, it really is frankly not all that shocking. Rodriguez is an absolute master of the edit and camera work, and it's his set pieces that dazzle and elevate the film to a level that's decently entertaining. Still not as big a name as QT, but in all honesty the better filmmaker. Planet Terror sputters along in fits and starts until the last 20 minutes when it really all kicks off big style. Rose gets her machine gun leg, QT gets a cameo where he watches his dick disintegrate before his eyes (don't ask), and the laws of good sense and physics just disappear.
So, soon enough that's done and it’s on to Death Proof, QT's offering in this double header. Unfortunately in the wake of Planet Terror's adrenaline, just at the crucial moment you start to fidget, you realize that the better film has just finished. QT who, as talented as he is, must rank as one of the most self-indulgent people alive, proceeds to slow things down to a crawl for seemingly the benefit of his own entertainment. Anyone familiar with his films knows that he resists the accepted notion that action is character. QT likes to talk, and talk, and talk, and Wow, does he let loose in Deathproof. The shame of it is he seems to have nothing at all of any worth to say. His zip-zap dialogue, usually so sharp it cuts, is just banal waffle. Always permanently rooted in a time warp no matter the subject matter, someone should tell him that foot massages and Big Kahuna Burger are so 1994.
So we sit and we listen to a group of girls looking to go out for nothing more than a night on the town and some drinks. We listen and we listen and then finally Kurt Russel shows up to deliver scene stealing performance as Stuntman Mike; stunt driver by day, psychopath by night. A man who picks up ladies and then gets into crashes in his tuned up safety car on purpose. After yet more talk we finally get a little action, with one of the most spectacular and bloody car wrecks we shall ever see. Now we're getting there, except only we're not. They haven't finished talking yet.
When the chatter finally stops the rest of the film is essentially a very long car chase, and this being a QT film you might be wondering where the strong empowered women are? In a stunning role reversal that saves his film just in the nick of time he switches the action on its head. The girls get pissed and decide to exact a little revenge, which sees Kurt Russel hilariously spin from cackling menace to whiny little bitch, a turn that is just side-splitting in it’s execution.
As the credits role you and your buddies will not doubt be hollering with laughter. But by this point you have spent more time sitting in front of the screen than if you had gone to see JFK. Just marginally less time than if you had paid to see Kevin Costner's director's cut of Dances With Wolves. Your backside is aching, your bladder is full, and while this might certainly have been one the most unique experiences you will ever have in a movie theater, having coughed up for Blu-ray you might well feel a little let-down, a little short changed, and somewhat, well, exploited.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Robert Rodriguez's 10 minute cooking school. Greg Nicotero makeup/effects – Planet Teror. Extended trailer Werewolf Woman of the SS. Making of the trailers: Don’t, and Thanksgiving. Don’t Trailer storyboards. Death Proof deleted scene and gag reel. Hot Rods of Death Proof. From Texas to Tennessee: The Look of Death Proof.
"Grindhouse: Two Disc Collector's Edition" is on sale October 5, 2010 and is rated R. Action, Horror, Thriller. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez. Written by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez . Starring Bruce Willis, Freddie Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Biehn, Naveen Andrews, Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan, Vernessa Ferlito, Zoe Ball.