‘Grindhouse’ is worth seeing
Cinephiles and uber-filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were nourished on a movie tradition that remains foreign to most of us today: the grindhouse. These cheapie theaters showed exploitation flicks full of blood, gore, sex, nudity and little else. Grindhouse double-features played back to back while the floors got stickier and the crowds got ickier.Though most grindhouses died out by the late ’80s, Tarantino and Rodriguez are now paying homage to the film of their formative years with “Grindhouse,” an exceptional double-feature that combines a zombie movie directed by Rodriguez with a unique slasher pic directed by Tarantino. They are separated by hilarious (and disgusting) fake trailers and commercials, just like in a real grindhouse. Both filmmakers have said that grindhouse films rarely lived up to the posters, but they wanted to create films that delivered on the pulpy promise within those frames. One film is merely a super-fun take on exploitation horror, while one film truly approaches a greatness no grindhouse ever featured.Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” comes bursting out of the gate with oozing zombies, severed privates and more blood than a charnel house. If any of the aforementioned things turned you off, it’d be best to sit this one out. Rodriguez sought to make the zombie movie of his childhood dreams, and one can imagine him trying to one-up the gross-out suggestions of his friends on set: “No wait! What if the zombie-blister exploded in his mouth!?”The plot doesn’t make much sense, of course, but in a small Texas town, a ragtag band of rebels led by legendary gunman El Rey have to survive against a rapidly mutating populace. No explanation is given as to why the group is immune, but that’s not really important. What matters is the zest and humor with which Rodriguez finds ways to blow up things, infect new people and mow down the walking dead.While the plot never even attempts to add up, Rodriguez employs some striking visuals in “Planet Terror.” The iconic poster image of go-go dancer Cherry Darling’s (Rose McGowan) machine-gun leg (which she loses after a run-in with zombies and her prosthetic peg-leg gets … oh, never mind) delivers on all its possibilities in the film’s climax. It’s an idea that an 8-year-old might come up with, and that’s why it rules.After a series of hilarious fake trailers (“Werewolf Women of the S.S.;” “Don’t;” “Thanksgiving”), Tarantino’s “Death Proof” takes over, and where Rodriguez’s film was a lark into over-the-top horror, Tarantino combines two genres – slasher films and car-chase films – to create a near-masterpiece. The scene opens on several hip chicks in Austin, Texas, yammering on about boys and sex with a frankness and wit that only Tarantino writes. “Death Proof” is pregnant with danger: We know the title of the film, but the movie takes its time, letting us hang out and party in Austin with the girls all the while knowing something terrible is going to happen.Enter Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a charming has-been stunt driver who, despite an obvious charm, has a foreboding scar across the left side of his face. He enters the scene, charms the girls and abruptly shatters the mood when it’s revealed he’s a serial killer who kills helpless women with his invincible stunt car.Russell gives a tour-de-force performance, especially as he segues between weary and charming to terrifying and, finally, terrified. His terror comes at the hands of a band of vacationing stuntwomen he decides to attack. To reveal any more would be criminal, but suffice it to say that Tarantino turns the entire genre on its head and leaves the audience breathless during one of the most thrilling car chases ever filmed.Both films use digital tricks to mimic the grindhouse style: Crackles, scratches and color blurs were digitally added to make the film look worn, and occasionally a missing reel pops up, usually right during a sex scene (paying tribute to the dirty projectionist who stole his favorite part).The major difference between the films is that Tarantino is a vastly more talented filmmaker than Rodriguez. While Rodriguez recreates crap movies in a fun, over-the-top way, he’s still making a crap movie. Tarantino elevates crap to something almost like art.Most people will have to wait till DVD to see “Grindhouse,” as it underperformed at the box office, but it’s one of the rare films that shines on the big screen. If you get a chance to see it in a theater (and have a strong stomach), take it. Though “Grindhouse’s” lack of financial success likely disappointed studio heads, it’s a fitting footnote for the film itself. Both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” are destined to become obscure cult classics, just like the films that inspired them – only more so.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.