Thursday, November 29, 2007

"I'm gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge"

After watching (and reviewing) Tarantino’s Grindhouse contribution, Death Proof, earlier this week, I couldn’t seem to keep myself from watching Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. So on the return trip to the video store to bring back Death Proof, I felt compelled to pick up the other half of Grindhouse.

Now that I’ve seen both, I guess I can level my “whose movie was better” opinion. I’d have to say that the reviews were more or less right, Tarantino’s Death Proof is the better movie. But making that kind of comparison, however unavoidable, is a little strange. While Death Proof played like a cross between Monte Hellman and early Wes Craven, Planet Terror comes across much more like old John Carpenter on a dangerous mix of bad acid and a lot of meth. Just wanted to make it clear, though these two movies are meant to be packaged together, they are two very different animals.

Similar to Death Proof, Planet Terror’s plot isn’t really all that important, but here goes anyways. In an unnamed backwater Texas scrub town, a biochemical weapon stored at an old army base begins mutating all the local residents into a horde of infected, cannibalistic, zombie-like “sickos”. A ragtag group of uninfected locals (including a tow truck driver with a mysterious past and an affinity for guns, a sassy ex-go-go dancer with a chip on her shoulder, a BBQ chef obsessed with getting on the Food Network, and the bumbling Sheriff’s department, among others) must battle their way through the ever growing horde of mutants and tangle with a roving band of murderous ex-military personnel. Throw in some stuff about addiction, exploitation of our military, and confusing back-story relationships between just about every character and there you have it. It may sound confusing, and it is a little at times, but plot is not really the point.

Pretty much from the get-go, the movie is a non-stop insane-o-fest. By minute 10 you’ve seen a man get his balls cut off (as well as the giant jar of balls in which an entire ball collection is kept). By minute 12 you’ve seen a man get his face melted off by a mysterious green gas. Pretty much all bets are off at that point. From there on, you’ll be treated to what was one of the goriest movies I have ever seen. It was staggering, just the sheer volume of gore. It blows my mind to think about the amount of fake blood, guts, and viscera that went into the filming. Bodies are constantly gushing blood, guts, being eaten, or just ripped apart.

Planet Terror also offers some truly cringe-worthy moments. It’s not all over-the-top, campy horror movie excess (though it is to a great extent). One character in particular gets stabbed repeatedly with syringes one moment, only to break her wrist in a car door handle the next. And the cringes don’t just come in the form of in-your-face gruesomeness, Rodriguez definitely knows how to remind the audience that all bets are off, no reminder more clear than when a child accidentally shoots his own face off (oddly enough, Rodriguez didn’t want to traumatize any child actors by filming that scene, so he just cast his own son).

Overall, the movie was a lot of fun. It’s highly stylized, overflowing with tough-guy talk, sneers, sassy retorts, huge explosions, and just about any ridiculous movie convention you can think of. It featured both Rodriguez’s typical guitar-based Southwestern score, as well as a very Carpenter-esque synth score (a la Escape from New York). Even all the faux-damage to the film reel is employed with a purpose (while Tarantino used film stock then intentionally damaged it for effect, Rodriguez shot in digital and added the damaged-film effects in post). As the tension mounts, the screen wobbles and bleeds, color distortion creeps across the screen as villains leer at our heroes. While decidedly less “authentic” than Tarantino’s strategy, Rodriguez maintains more control over the ‘70s exploitation motif, lending the movie a much slicker appearance (for better or worse).

There are more than a few things that don’t make much sense (e.g. how does Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg fire? why does the arrival of zombie-like mutants cause every car within eye-sight to spontaneously explode? since when has Freddy Rodriguez been a badass action star?), but the movie is way too damn fun for any of that to matter. From the moment that first testicle hits the pavement up to the last exploding head, Planet Terror is a whole lot of blood-soaked, ratcheted-up genre fun.

I should warn, this movie is most definitely not for everybody. You’ll need a strong stomach and a very strong appreciation for horror/action movies. The non-stop action, gore, and violence means that the movie can definitely wear on the audience. Especially if that audience isn’t that into ridiculously over-the-top violence in the first place. Be forewarned, if this doesn’t sound like something you’ll like, you’ll hate it.

Overall, very nice work boys. It’s a shame the Weinstein’s haven’t released a theatrical cut on DVD yet. It’s a shame I rented two double-disc movies, and didn’t get to see the special guest directors’ fake intermission trailers (I was especially looking forward to Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS). Maybe someday…

PS. Prior to the start of Planet Terror, you’re treated to a faux-preview for a film called Machete, starring badass Danny Trejo. Pretty awesome. Featuring, very prominently, plenty of downtown Austin landmarks. Plus Cheech Marin dressed as a priest, points a shotgun at someone, and says, “God may have mercy. But I don’t.” Sweet.

1 comment:

Molly said...

Riveting review, Scott! I'm on the edge of my seat for the next installment.

Merry xmas,