Saturday, April 7, 2007

Episode 25 - The Grind House Edition

With this post I'm a fourth of the way to one hundred episodes of What I've Been Watching. Should I be proud or ashamed of myself? I'm not really sure, but I think I'll commemorate the occasion with a special review. It just so happens that this post coincides with the release of one of the movies that I've been anticipating the most in 2007: Grind House. As you probably know (unless you've been living under a rock), Grind House is not one movie, but two, shown back to back in double feature format. Also, there are four "fake" trailers for films that don't exist sprinkled before and between the full length features. As Grind House isn't your average movie, this will not be your average review. I've split the film up into multiple sections that I'll be reviewing one by one.

Machete: Machete is the first of the "fake" trailers, and also the first thing that you see when watching Grind House. It stars Danny Trejo as a hitman who calls himself Machete and very violently murders a whole lot of people. Also appearing in the trailer is Cheech Marin, who plays a gun-wielding priest. This trailer, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is all about action and violence, which is illustrated nicely by a scene in which Trejo attaches a gatling gun to the front of a motorcycle and proceeds to ride the vehicle, launched into the air by an explosion, while raining bullets down upon his enemies. Machete is over the top, exciting, funny, and entertaining.

Planet Terror: A go-go dancer by the name of Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) quits her job to follow a different path. Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) plans to leave her husband William (Josh Brolin) to be with her lesbian lover (Fergie). Sherriff Hague (Michael Biehn) wants desperately to know how his brother JT (Jeff Fahey) makes his famous barbecue. El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) rolls his tow truck up to JT's restaurant for a bite to eat, where he runs into ex-girlfriend Cherry. As all this is happening, at a nearby military base a transaction between a scientist named Abby (Naveen Andrews) and a decorated soldier named Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis) goes awry when several canisters of a dangerous chemical weapon are released in a hail of gunfire. The toxic fumes begin to take effect quickly, turning everyone in their path into hideous throbbing mutant creatures intent on one thing: killing. Robert Rodriguez's full length addition to Grind House is a balls out action horror film. It has all of the cliches that you would expect from a low budget monster movie from the early-to-mid eighties. All of the stereotypical characters are there from the strong female (McGowan) to the stubborn, well-meaning cop (Biehn), and from the charming loner (Rodriguez) to the maniacal military man (Willis). And let's not forget the wonderful Nicky Katt as a particularly disgusting infectee. Also, while we're discussing memorable characters, we can't leave out Quentin Tarantino's great performance as "the rapist". This has got to be the highlight of Tarantino's acting career to date. Robert Rodriguez did his best to achieve the most gore that he could while staying true to special effects techniques utilized in the glory days of low-budget filmmaking. Often times during the movie, dismemberments and impalings were achieved by using prosthetics and dummies rather than computer effects, which gave Planet Terror a charm that most movies lack today. As a fan of movies like John Carpenter's The Thing, Aliens, and Tremors, I greatly appreciated every instance during this film when I could tell that something was done without the aid of computers (including a scene that I believe to have been done using backwards animation and/or stop motion, which I am ecstatic about). Going along with the true nature of grind house films, Rodriguez added fake film grain to Planet Terror, along with a purposefully placed missing reel, which causes the film to jump some ten minutes into the future at one point, leaving audiences completely unsure of how they arrived there. This as a tricky move, but Rodriguez masterfully used this technique to heighten the experience of the movie. Spectacular special effects and a wonderful score by Rodriguez himself, as well as great acting on everyone's part add up to a truly incredible movie-going experience. Not to mention, I feel that Planet Terror marks a new zenith of Robert Rodriguez's directing talent. Sin City is an amazing film, but I truly feel that Rodriguez reached a whole new level with this movie. If you like eighties horror/monster movies and buckets of blood, Planet Terror is the movie for you.

Werewolf Women of the SS: Werewolf Women of the SS is the second of the four "fake" trailers included in Grind House. Directed by Rob Zombie, the concept of the film is that Hitler, while attempting to create an army of superhuman soldiers, stumbles upon the recipe for turning women into werewolf warriors. Aside from a very brief cameo by Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu, Werewolf Women of the SS lacked any redeeming qualities. It was by far the worst part of Grind House.

Don't!: Another of the fake trailers included in Grind House, Don't! was moreso centered around a premise than an actual plot. Directed by Edgar Wright, it's essentially a spoof of haunted house films and their trailers. It repeatedly tells the viewer not to do things such as open doors and explore dark rooms before flashing shocking imagery in front of you. The trailer managed to be at the same time hilarious and disturbing. The visuals, including a nude Nick Frost from Shaun Of The Dead chewing on baby dolls and human bodies leaking milky white liquids were disturbing while the repetition of humorous warnings and phrases gave Don't! a lighthearted quality.

Thanksgiving: Director Eli Roth gives us the most disturbing of the "fake" trailers, and also the most reminiscent of actual grind house-style films. While all of the films included in Grind House had a grainy film quality to them, Thanksgiving felt as though it really was from the 70's. I would almost believe that it were a real film made on a low budget some thirty years ago. The trailer is about a psychopathic murderer who kills people to the theme of a holiday much like the Halloween series. There was a lot of audience reaction when I saw this trailer in the theater, as there are some genuinely grotesque/disturbing images. Making an appearance in Thanksgiving, Michael Biehn gives a terrific reading of the line "Son of a bitch...", which caps this trailer off nicely.

Death Proof: Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a professional stuntman whose specialties are vehicular stunts and crashes. Mike is a very charming, like-able guy, but unfortunately he has a penchant for killing women. As such, he has a very unique method of tracking down groups of girls and using his death proof car as a weapon. Enter his latest victims: three women out for a test-drive in the country side. Stuntman Mike goes in for the kill only to find that these feisty females intend to fight back. Rounding out the Grind House experience, we have Quentin Tarantino's offering. Less of a horror film and more of a thriller, you can expect lots of Tarantino-esque drawn out conversations and witty retorts aplenty. In fact, prior to seeing the film I heard from several sources that they found Death Proof to be a bit long-winded and slow because of too many extended scenes of dialogue. I don't believe that the scenes in question harm the film, although I was aware of their excessive length as I viewed them. Quentin Tarantino's quirky, ranting dialogue has always relied on an acquired taste to be enjoyed, and I found them entertaining despite their length. The first half of Death Proof essentially sets audiences up to get to know and understand Stuntman Mike and his methods of acquiring and engaging his targets. In this way, Death Proof is much more subtle and slowly paced than Planet Terror, but when the action kicks in, it is well worth the wait. The climax of Death Proof is a massive car chase through the countryside between a pair of muscle cars that seems as though it will never end. Frankly, it is the best car chase that I've ever seen on film. Previously, I had given this honor to the film Ronin, but Death Proof knocks it out of the park along with every other car chase I've ever seen. The way Tarantino handles the chase, which is as much fight scene as it is chase scene, is masterful to say the least. The camera angles and shots that he achieves are beautiful. They are also unencumbered by the purposefully poor cuts and poor film quality that the beginning of the film showcases, making it even more enjoyable. During the course of Death Proof, you will no doubt love Stuntman Mike as well as despise him. I'm hesitant to say that this is the defining role of Kurt Russell's career, but I have no hesitations about saying that it is his most visceral and powerful performance to date. I've always loved Kurt Russell, but after seeing Death Proof I have a whole new love and respect for him that I never had before. He is absolutely outstanding in this film. At times the women whom he is after were a bit annoying, but I found them all to fit well in their roles. The only one I'd previously had any knowledge of was Rosario Dawson, but joining her as fellow strong female characters were Tracie Thoms, Zoe Bell, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Sydney Poitier as Jungle Julia. Quentin himself turned in another worthwhile performance in this film as the owner of a bar that is pivotal to the beginning of the movie. Another tidbit that I'd heard about Death Proof was that it had one of the best cuts to the "The End" screen ever. While I wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement, I would say that it is one of the most unexpected cuts to said screen that I've ever seen. Overall I enjoyed Death Proof just as much as I did Planet Terror and would be hard pressed to choose a favorite between the two. They are in the same vein as one another, but aren't really the same genre or style, so it's a toss up, really. However, the great thing about Grind House is that they're technically both part of one magnificent viewing experience, so it's absolutely fine to just say I loved Planet Terror and Death Proof equally.

No comments: