A common pitfall of too many movies these days is they try to be “two movies at once”, mixing two unrelated or even contradictory plots, genres, themes or values. “Grindhouse” takes on this battle and wins by literally behaving as two movies at once, and in doing so, creates a cinematic experience that is indeed more than the sum of its parts.
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature is not playing as one in far too many nations, who are being robbed of what makes the work special. Firstly, the feel of watching two films separated by trailers is an essential part of the fun; there’s something indulgently satisfying about coming up on the conclusion of Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” and knowing you’ve still got Tarantino’s “Death Proof” coming up for the price of the same ticket.
The question this reviewer asks himself is, if this was not a double feature, would I bother going-would anyone sit down and just watch one of these movies by itself? One feature alone does not communicate the requisite excess. Moreover, as a sort of proof of the importance of the double feature’s structure, imagine the result if the films were played in reverse order; the result would be considerably weaker. Rodriguez’ movie is played for splatter and gore and thrill, with a downbeat, pseudo-contemplative air at the end, whereas Tarantino’s is more character-driven and designed for big cheers at the satisfying conclusion, yet weighed down with reels and reels of ponderous dialogue at its start that would kill the pace of any film not preceded by a feature-length zombie-killing adventure. Cinema is an art of juxtaposition, and in broad strokes, “Grindhouse” juxtaposes two moods side by side in a deliberate manner.
Moreover, the second film comments on what has come before it more than once, in some ways more obvious than others, sharing in a little universe and an aesthetic reaching as early back as the previous film and as far back as “Pulp Fiction”. But it’s Rodriguez’ turn at bat first, setting just the right mood with a funny, over-the-top trailer before getting into his horror story.
In his zombie shoot-’em-up, Rodriguez elevates Rose McGowan from Marilyn Manson footnote to bona fide sex goddess, whose tempting body and lips ooze more sexuality than the zombies do slime; her sexuality steals every scene right up until she obtains a gun in a manner too bizarre to describe; chances are this film will give birth to a fetish no one ever knew could exist.
Tarantino’s fetishes are on display as well; it’s no accident that he begins his film with a shot of pretty female feet and then continues with as many foot shots as possible before launching into endless scenes of largely inconsequential dialogue. It’s here that “Grindhouse” drags; while “Terror Planet” has nary a dull moment once its zombies get going, even the most die-hard fan of Tarantino’s words will be wishing things would pick up. The thrilling conclusion is worth the wait, and there’s at least a few things to enjoy along the road; Zoe Bell, an experienced stunt performer but not actor, brings real personality and punch to her role as, well, herself, and the never-failing Rosario Dawson survives a horrid haircut and relegation to a supporting role that she makes the most of.
Of special note among the actors, though, is Tracie Thoms, who takes on Tarantino’s profanity-infused dialogue with aplomb and relish; it’s as if she was born to be in his little world, and it’s not hard to imagine her showing up in more of his work in the future, shouting twelve-letter profanities with effortless vigor.
But it’s the trailers that are the real stars of the show, and one suspects that several more could have been included without anyone checking their watch. They provide both big laughs and a welcome change of pace, and bring with them vintage bumpers and interstitials guaranteed to excite any fan of old-fashioned typography and graphic design. One trailer, “Werewolf Women of the SS”, contains what may be the funniest celebrity cameo of all time.
To see “Grindhouse” is not to see two movies, but to see one movie that acts as a sort of museum or recreation of an experience that no longer exists. While it’s hard to imagine seeing it multiple times or buying it to own, it provides major thrills, jaw-dropping sensuality and smiles so wide it hurts the mouth. Fans of the auteurs behind the piece will get exactly what they came for, and yes, that’s a compliment.
Written by Jane Smith (owner of 123 Movies Helper)