Planet Terror: Special Edition

The DVD edition of “Planet Terror,” which was released theatrically as the first half of “Grindhouse,” contains: Feature Length Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Robert Rodriguez;
Audience Screening Track; Ten Minute Film School;
Sickos, Bullets And Explosions: The Stunts Of Planet Terror; The Badass Babes Of Planet Terror;
Casting Robert Rodriguezs Son Rebel; The Guys Of Planet Terror; The Friend, The Doctor And The Real Estate Agent; International Poster Gallery and International Trailer.

Film Review

Text, subtext, and context collide in “Grindhouse,” the loving tribute from iconic directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to the 1970s exploitation films that have inspired their youths and have shaped their cinematic sensibility as quintessential indie directors coming of age in the 1990s.

A decidedly mixed bag, consisting of two features of equal length (90 minute), Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Tarantino’s “Death Proof” relate to that genre of exploitation flicks in different ways, drawing from them different elements, such as themes, characters, visual motifs, music, mood, and effects.

As is often the case of anthologies, inevitable comparisons will be made between the two features, and thus, let me start by saying that while neither is particularly good, Rodriguez’s is at least a more coherent and entertaining zombie flick than Tarantino’s effort, a schizoid picture that tries (but doesn’t always succeed) to blend the slasher film with the more routine chase actioner.

“Planet Terror” is consciously silly but it’s superior in every way (execution too) to than “Death Proof.” I would have reversed the order and begin with the Tarantino segment rather than the way they are presented now. I know that the whole point is to show two entire pictures in a double-feature format, but judging but what’s onscreen, each segment would have benefited from substantial cutting, resulting in a thrilling 90-minute flick, in toto. Right now, the running time is 186 minutes, including previews that connect the two stories and the end credits.

Since only three or four actors appear in the two features (some playing the same character, while others play new characters), the decision of some European distributors to release “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” separately would not damage the experience at all.

In their previous (and dreadful) anthology, “Four Rooms,” a compilation of four shorts set in the same locale (Chateau Marmont), the Tarantino and Rodriguez segments were the best; the other two by Allison Anders and Alexander Rockwell were downright embarrassing. They also displayed their different approaches, sensibilities and tastes, such as Rodriguez’s penchant for fast-paced montage versus Tarantino’s preference for detailed mise-en-scene and deliberate pacing. Same can be said about “Grindhouse,” a project that, if you look closely enough, tells almost everything you need to know about Rodriguez and Tarantino as filmmakers.

Inspired by the unique distribution of independent “classics” of the 1960s and 1970s, these two bold features are presented together on a drive-in style double-bill, replete with fake trailers, missing reels, and exploitative mayhem. Other grindhouse trademarks that are contained in the two features are sloppy edits,
cheesy dialogue, and honky-tonk music.

Both segments are extremely violent, but in a different way, again reflecting the directors’ subjective tastes and sensibilities. The tons of blood used in “Planet Horror” exceeds everything seen in a Rodriguez film, but one of the interesting elements in “Death Proof,” is that unlike the “Kill Bill” movies, there’s hardly any blood spilled in the story, yet Tarantino is effective in creating ominous menace in other ways. (See below)

More significantly, the features pay homage to different genres of exploitation cinema. Basically a zombie horror flick, Rodriguezs “Planet Terror” unfolds as one long trip to a town ravaged by a mysterious plague (alluding to AIDS). It’s all in the timing. Unfortunately, “Planet Terror” suffers from the recent cycle of zombie pictures; in the press notes, Rodriguez claims that he began thinking about and writing the script before those movies appeared in the market, thus relaunching a small cycle. As a result, “Planet Terror” lacks the freshness and fun it could have had had it been released two or three years ago.

“Planet Terror” builds upon Rodriguez’s previous films, marked by quick-paced, frenetic energy, and explosive blood. The saga finds noir-inspired romance amidst a future-shock vision of a chemical apocalypse. Informed by “Zombie” and “Dawn of the Dead,” as well as by the work of director John Carpenter (“Escape from New York,” “Halloween,” “The Thing”), Rodriguez creates a dynamic, fast-pacing take on the zombie genre, first displaying and then exploding (literally) that genre’s thematic and visual clichs.

A “simple” night in a small and dormant Texas town gives way to paranoia and espionage and hidden identities in a narrative that progressively get more convoluted than complex–by design. Laced with healthy dosage of humor and occasionally sharp irony, “Planet Terror” is a retro-futuristic vision of horror thats been weathered and stripped to the extreme.

The plot kicks into action, when married doctors William and Dakota Block (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton) find their graveyard shift inundated with townspeople ravaged by gangrenous sores and a suspiciously vacant look in their eyes. Among the wounded is Cherry (Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer whose leg was ripped from her body during a roadside attack. Wray (Freddy Rodriguez of TV’s “Six Feet Under”), her former companion, is at Cherry’s side watching and urging her to get back to action.

After a build-up and some necessary exposition, Rodriguez gives up on any semblance of plot and resorts to high-camp action and graphic special effects. Shrewdly, though, he keeps McGowan, who has never looked so sexy or beautiful, center stage, by giving her character a wooden leg that later on becomes a huge machine gun (You have to see it to believe it). The point is made: Cherry, a babe dressed in mini leather skirt and tight, deep-cleavage shirt, may be down but she hasnt danced her last number.

As the invalids quickly become enraged aggressors, Cherry and Wray lead a team of accidental warriors into the night, hurtling towards a destiny that will leave millions infected, countless dead, and a lucky few struggling to find the last safe corner of Planet Terror. The segment ends up on a high note at the airport in a hilarious scene that cannot be described here without spoiling the fun.