Written By Casey Powers
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowen, Freddy Rodriguez, and Bruce Willis.
Planet Terror was the first part of the 2007 double-feature entitled Grindhouse. It was paired with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and featured such gimmicks as faux scratched film and fake movie trailers that played between the movies and missing film reels, all in a nod to exploitation films from the 70’s and early 80’s.
For anyone not familiar with exploitation cinema, it can basically be summed up with movies that had no shame. Exploitation movies were cheap, poorly made and relied on excessive amounts of sex and violence to sell themselves. Some have gone on to critical acclaim while most were left behind and abandoned. Still there will always be a solid group of film fans who enjoy the old school exploitation films, and odds are if you are on this website you’re one of them. So without any further delay let’s get into how well of a tribute this modern exploitation film is.
The movie starts out with a military officer (Bruce Willis) doing a deal for toxic gas with an Afghani scientist (Naveen Andrews). Once the deal goes bad the gas is leaked and spreads to the nearby Texas town, where the citizens start mutating into zombies. The rest of the movie follows the rag-tag group of townsfolk desperately trying to survive the chaos. Among the survivors are Go-Go dancer, not stripper, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowen), Dr. Dakota (Mary Shelton), a woman trying to escape her psychotic husband, and Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) a mysterious man who seems to be the world’s greatest killing machine. There are others as well, this is a Rodriguez film we’re talking about, but those three are the main protagonists.
And that’s pretty much all you really need to know in terms of story. Yeah, they go into why Bruce Willis and his soldiers wanted the gas but who cares? This movie is for people who want to see zombies get taken out in cool and entertaining ways and have the helpless victims get ripped to shreds, and on those notes this movie delivers. It’s a fun over the top action ride that can be enjoyed again and again.
The action scenes are fun and imaginative. The best one being the climax where Cherry Darling, having had her leg torn off at the beginning of the film, finally gets a machine gun attached to her stump and proceeds to blow the hell out of a small army of mutant zombie soldiers using her Go-Go dance moves.
The acting is also pretty solid all around. John Brolin plays Dr. Dakota’s husband and is great as always, and Dr. Dokata, Marley Shelton is also quite phenomenal. She has the most opportunities to express fear, sorrow, and joy. And she nails all of them. I’m not sure why she hasn’t been in more stuff because she is quite talented. Also it was a great decision to have her runny mascara around her eyes for most of the film since it brings so much attention to her eyes and how expressive they are.
And of course there is Rose McGowen. Now I’ve never been a huge fan of her’s but she does a really good job selling her character. There are some moments where she has a tearful break down, and she is really convincing. She has a few genuinely touching moments that caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting emotional content in my cheesy action/horror movie, damn it!
I think the great acting comes down to the unconventional writing style that Rodriguez adopted for this flick. Rodriguez wrote only a small scene for each character, and then after hiring his actors he wrote the rest of the movie with the personalities of his actors in mind. It’s a method that really paid off, as each character feels like a real person.
The effects for the movie are also quite well done. They are a nice mixture of practical and digital effects. There are a few moments where some of the effects come across as a little hokey, which isn’t that bad considering the whole movie is supposed to be hokey. Rodriguez even decided to leave in a few shots of the crew’s reflection and visible cranes in the background to help add in to the low budget amateurish vibe they are paying tribute to. I also have to give credit to the faux scratches all over the movie. I thought that they were just a lazy filter at first to make the movie seem old, but since then I’ve learned that they had to go in and do every scratch individually. After hearing that it really gave me some new respect for the effect.
Overall the film has the spirit of an exploitation film while still doing its own thing, which is all that you can really ask of a tribute. The movie has its own fair share of shock moments, showing actual medical oddities and ignoring the unspoken rule of not hurting kids or dogs, but it never really feels tasteless. Overall, Planet Terror is a movie that gets the fun of the old exploitation movies and combines it with competent film making.
Bonus Review-The Trailers
As I stated before, the Grindhouse movies came with fictional trailers that were shown before and in between the movies. There was a total of four trailers altogether. A fifth one was added in for festivals and for release in Canada. It was Hobo With a Shotgun in case you’re wondering. But I figured I couldn’t do the Grindhouse movies without doing the trailers since they are part of the experience. Unfortunately whatever idiot in charge of the DVD release didn’t include the trailers on the discs. But you can still watch all of them on Youtube. Here are the first two.
The most famous of the trailers was Machete starring Danny Trejo. In case that sounds familiar that’s because the fake trailer went on to spawn an actual movie, and a sequel. Overall the trailer is more entertaining than the film itself. It gets all of the beats of a movie without any needless exposition and some of the blander characters. Not to mention some of the epic parts of the trailer feel rather tame and watered down in the movie adaptation. But this is a review of the trailer, not the movie. And the trailer is quite fun and entertaining; it’s also the only one on the DVD release.
Werewolf Women of the SS
The second trailer of Grindhouse was written and directed by Rob Zombie. Like a lot of Zombie’s work, it’s really just a rehash of other movies. Now this might seem perfect considering the trailers are just paying tribute to other movies, but the other Grindhouse trailers took tropes and themes from exploitation movies, not direct elements. The title is clearly a take-off of Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, an actual exploitation film from the seventies. Zombie just has Ilsa become a literal She-Wolf, and has her played by, surprise, Sheri Moon Zombie. We get it Rob—your wife is hot, you don’t have to put her in everything you do. Also Nicholas Cage is in it, so there’s that. Overall the trailer falls flat when compared to the other trailers, but it’s still worth a watch.
Overall I give the first half of Grindhouse a solid…