Grindhouse is the latest collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (an enduring partnership that includes From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City). Planet Terror is an all out tongue in cheek zombie film, directed by Rodriguez, that’s shown back to back with Tarantino’s Death Proof. And there’s more – fake trailers and advertisements to give an early 1970s exploitation feel to it all. It’s over three hours long and, although enjoyable, this is really one for the fans. USA Today reported that the opening weekend for Grindhouse was disappointing, but there’s no way that this will ever find a mainstream audience. Since Pulp Fiction, Tarantino is happy to go down his own little alleyway into the weird and obscure and to take his pal Rodriguez with him.
Planet Terror sets itself some tricky challenges – to be both a decent zombie film and to be an amusing parody. Zombie films are as ubiquitous as the walking dead that populate them, and there are a good few very good ones from the last 40 or so years if that’s your type of movie. There’s even been an enjoyable spoof with its own scary moments ( Shaun of the Dead ). Rodriguez does reasonably well, Planet Terror is certainly sickening enough, both with the amount of blood spilt and the gruesome humour, but this film outstays its welcome by a good forty minutes. It’s not that I didn’t get the joke. I did – I just stopped laughing quite early on. But if machine gun wielding one legged table dancers appeal to you, don’t let me stand in your way.
Death Proof is less of a parody of a particular genre and more of the type of film typical of Quentin Tarantino. There’s the smart and intricate dialogue, a wealth of interesting female characters, the clever soundtrack and the sense of unease; on first viewing you have no idea whatsoever of where things might be heading. There’s also Tarantino’s clever use of an established actor who you may not have rated too much in the past. Think of John Travolta and Bruce Willis – both excellent in Pulp Fiction – or Michael Keaton in Jackie Brown. In Death Proof it’s the turn of Kurt Russell, who is excellent as a very deranged stunt man, and causes one of the best car chases I’ve seen in cinema for a very long time. A review in the New Yorker mentions it in the same breath as Spielberg’s Duel.
Ultimately however, the people chuckling the most at Grindhouse are Tarantino and Rodriguez themselves. I didn’t really find the spoof film trailers that amusing, and the reason for this was that the real film trailers preceding the main feature were more absurd. How can you possibly be more ridiculous than:
- A film starring Nicolas Cage with another one of his insane hairstyles where he plays a man who can visit and/or forsee the future
- A hilarious comedy about two men who pretend to be gay in order to fool their employers
- A remake of Halloween
- A new Die hard instalment
- A film about a haunted hotel room starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson
Hollywood films these days are spoof-proof.
The other jokes they throw our way also wear a bit thin; the deliberately grainy film quality, the spools that appear to jump and the ‘missing’ reels, segments of the films that just aren’t there. Rodriguez and Tarantino also lazily forget from time to time that we’re supposed to be in the 1970s, giving their characters convenient mobile phones and internet access. Or maybe that’s a joke I missed?
But I did enjoy Death Proof. I’ll need to see it again, but it could be one of Tarantino’s best. He’s not breaking new ground, but he’s not attempting to. He’s just having a great time being Quentin Tarantino. I still left the cinema with that post-Tarantino guilty feeling though; should I really have enjoyed all that easy carnage so much?