Dimension Films // 2007 // 105 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // December 17th, 2008
There's no effin' way this is happening. This can't be happening.
But it is happening, right in front of your disbelieving eyes.
If you were lucky enough to be alive and aware in the 1970s, you may have been participant to the grindhouse experience, a filmgoing adventure that might barely qualify as being "cinematic" and was, rather, a test of one's endurance and fortitude, venturing into a musty viewing auditorium, trying your luck when selecting a seat, chair springs squealing as you fold down the lower cushion, provided the cushion was still intact and said springs weren't dangerously exposed, ready to impale the novice patron. The air was thick and often humid, often preserving the near-noxious mixture of cigarette smoke, B.O., and other scents that suggested human secretions best avoided in public places yet often plentiful in such settings.
Mind your step along that sticky floor.
The lights would dim, if ever they were actually functional to light the auditorium prior, indicating the feature was about to begin. A blurred and out-of-frame image would flicker upon the stained screen, that obviously having endured a barrage of half-full soda cups from previous audiences yet of little concern to the disaffected theater manager. The inferior sound system would blare and hiss a dissonant cacophony that would hurt the ears until such time as the half-awake projectionist would finish jamming his fat finger up his right nostril, digging for the dried and jagged secretion of his own, to realize he should lower the volume, center the image on the screen, and wipe his nose-mining prize on the side of the aging projector, alongside previous trophies.
Overrun with scratches, dirt, hair, and sprocket lines, the image on screen betrayed the fact this was no "major motion picture," likely only a single print in existence, that which is certainly transported from one dive theater the next in a greasy brown sack. With a coordinated orchestra of "pops," "pings," and what must surely be "film flatulence," the feature film unfolded in front of you, often to your disbelieving eyes and ears. Forget the quality of the presentation -- or lack thereof -- and focus upon what was happening in the film. Usually you were treated to a trotting of bad-acting bad guys who were on the hunt for big-boobed bimbos, be it on the city streets, the western range, or even in space. With a budget culled of pocket change, lint, and the stray pubic hair, these grindhouse features gave you everything you paid for on Dollarama Day. And if the projectionist could keep the film from burning on screen, and if you could keep other nearby patrons' less-than-discreet activities from distracting you, you might have actually endured and survived a showing. You'd leave the auditorium, avoid eye contact with anybody as you shuffled across the gum-pocked lobby carpeting, and made your way to the parking lot and the freedom of your Ford Pinto. All this for a buck, chum.
God, those were great times. And now they're back. Eff-yeah, they're back!
The grindhouse experience has returned in such a faithful treatment you'll want to dump a box of stale Dots on the floor in front of you, loosen your belt, then lean to one side to push out a pre-feature fart as you giddily ready yourself for a return to the glory days of old. Thanks to renegade filmmakers Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), the grindhouse experience was let loose on moviegoers April 6, 2007. Boasting an honest-to-God double-feature, complete with cheesy bumpers that announced "Previews of Coming Attractions" and the oncoming of the main presentation, those who ventured into this time-capsule event relived the past in stellar -- that is, dingy and decrepit -- fashion. And while much furor has arisen that, even two years hence, the complete Grindhouse theatrical presentation hasn't been released to home video, here's one of the two features, Planet Terror, from Robert Rodriguez. It's a jerky and jacked-up jaunt to the 1970s, the image looking as cruddy as it should and the story so hyperactive with melodrama and manic goings on that you'll know you're sitting soundly in the heart of exploitation cinema at it's worst.
Mind your step.
"Cherry Darling" was hardly a stage name but, rather, a dream to be wished. Nevertheless, Cherry (Rose McGowan, The Black Dhalia), an exotic dancer employed at Skip's Go-Go-Go Club, was likewise hardly able to call her work anything remotely resembling stage performance but -- what the f*** -- it was a living. She'd had it though, especially every time that pencil-d**ked Skip -- or so she heard from some of her less fortunate peers -- would march into the dressing room and start yapping to her about how to perform and which attributes to emphasize for those cheap whiskey swilling creeps out in the main room. Enough was enough and Cherry had decided it was time to "pop," leaving Skip and his scum hole for good. She couldn't seem to get a break, though, as she was nearly run down by a bunch of assbags barreling down the back roads in their Army-issue Hummers. Unknown to Cherry, these jarheads in the Humvees weren't out for a midnight joyride but, rather, on a mission to contain a deadly biotoxin, code name: Project Terror, up for sale by renegade Abby (Naveen Andrews, The Brave One). A gift of sorts from that Afghani assh*ole, Bin Laden, Abby knew this was the stuff of nightmares, able to liquify human flesh practically on contact, and, as much as he feared its potential, it was the fear of letting some other mercenary get highest price for it that drove him to negotiate with the unstable Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis, Die Hard). When the deal goes bad and Abby seems he's about to loose his balls on the aborted agreement, he sends the noxious gas into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, at his seedy Bone Shack barbeque and restaurant, J.T. (Jeff Fahey, Messages) still works on the perfect sauce, seemingly unaware of the terror that soon will descend around him. Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin, W.), is sick and tired -- mostly sick -- of dealing with humanity's frailties at the local hospital and mostly tired of his deceitful wife, Dakota (Marley Shelton, The Last Kiss). There's no time for that, not now, because a patient with a most unusual advanced form of gangrene and epidermal rot has just dropped by the examination room. Before long, the whole ward is full of patients oozing fleshy goo across the floors and showing unusual patterns of aggression against the non-infected. Cherry, meanwhile, has just seen her past flash before her eyes in the form of "El Wray" (Freddy Rodriguez, Poseidon), former lover, future pain in the ass. Right now, though, Cherry needs a ride out of this rotten town and Wray's tow-truck seems the warmest welcome around. Wray, of course, is on the lam himself, what with the seething Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn, The Art of War) pursuing him with relentless intensity. Wray isn't the source of Hague's frustration but, rather, a scapegoat for the sheriff's infuriation over not being able to unlock the secret barbeque recipe of estranged brother, J.T. This will have to wait, though, because this Texas town no more significant than a pimple on a cat's hind tit is about to become epicenter of chemical warfare gone awry. Welcome to Planet Terror. Don't bother running -- you're already dead.
"Just do me a favor right now. Stay...strong."
Planet Terror works because it just doesn't give a sh*t; it really doesn't. Apparently, this is an outgrowth of the marathon double- and triple-features that writer/director/producer/actor Quentin Tarantino likes to put on at his private home theater, assembling authentic film relics (bumpers, trailers, PSAs) into vintage experiences for his guests. Robert Rodriguez was a frequent guest. The two determined others would enjoy the same and so was born Grindhouse. Rodriguez grabbed a 30-page manuscript he had been developing for some years, married it with a slimy bit of musical score he had assembled, and began searching for actors.
It's amusing and impressive to see the talent on tap here, all of whom put 110-percent into their roles to deliver an authentic result; it wouldn't have worked with anything less. Bravado runs in rivers and sexy sultriness is dropped on us by the bucketful. Freddy Rodriguez largely helms the show with overt machismo that suggests he, as an actor, has been an attentive student in this leg of film history. Speaking of legs, Rose McGowan offers plenty to look at even after she discovers a new useless talent when a high-powered machine gun replaces her ravaged right limb. Both combine to deliver a genuine pissed off yet pouty chemistry, both angry at the world for not recognizing their individual and collective potential. Perhaps after they save the world from these ravenous zombie-like cannibals, then they'll get some f***ing respect.
Josh Brolin is suitably stalwart yet slimy, the clearly germophobic hypochondriac hesitant yet determined to do his duty, be it coolly amputating an infected arm from a patient or extracting retribution against his two-timing wife, played by Marley Shelton with equally outrageous aplomb.
In true exploitation style, an un-credited cameo role goes to an action icon, this one being Bruce Willis. On set for a mere two days, Rodriguez coaxes a similarly over-the-top performance from the "unlikely hero" of our age, making him the baddie of the picture through a very trim collection of uncomfortable close-ups and minimal on-screen interaction with the other actors.
The rest of the cast reads like a who's who of character and genre acting, from the quirky Jeff Fahey to the hardened Michael Biehn to the fan favorite goremeister, Tom Savini. Gore is the other major character here, plenty of it in plain view as victims are devoured, decapitated, disemboweled, and disease-ridden. If there's some sort of "gore gag" you consider a favorite, it's highly likely you'll see it here.
Planet Terror works to perfection, like a grand symphony of sleaze and sickness. It sets about to unleash its decadence from the first frame (and actually before that since Rodriguez' mock trailer for Machete tells all in attendance that this is no "feel-good picture of the year"). It zigs and zags down a dark road of raunchiness and doesn't care much if you can't keep up. It perfectly portrays the hurried filmmaking of the 1970s, offering imbalanced visuals, unsteady zoom-ins, jagged jump cuts, and plot holes galore. It never intends to enlighten, only to earn a profit from its low-budget investment. To that end, it doesn't have time to present a smooth and lyrically flowing narrative, nor does it want to. It has no need for exhausting exposition, redemptive preaching, or social conscience; it just steps up and kicks you in the balls (or basket) with steel-toed disregard. If you're startled, good. If you're shocked and sickened, great. And if you're offended and outraged, well then get the hell outta here; this isn't a movie for you anyway. Planet Terror is what it is, and that's all that it is.
It just f*cking is. Got it?
So now here's Planet Terror on Blu-ray; what dumbass thought this film would be a good candidate for the high-definition treatment? I don't know but I'd sure like to shake his hand (provided he's washed it). If you've heard the litany of criticisms by others who proclaim this particular film to be a waste of BD capacity, well tell them to take a flying f...Look, Rodriguez shot the damn film with high-definition video cameras and then rightly added severe degradation and aging to the film in post-production. Some believe that Blu-ray will only give you a better look at a cruddy picture, and they're right; it is a better picture and it looks incredible, delivered in full 1080p using the AVC codec. On screen detail is very crisp and clean, skin textures faring best (especially the craggy wilderness of Danny Trejo's complexion during the Machete trailer). The intentional film grain added to the image is spot-on perfect, giving the picture a texture so vividly deteriorated you can practically feel it from your chair. Colors are likewise enhanced here, offering an over-saturation that provides yet another welcome piece of accuracy. Black levels are often all over the map, as intended, as is the contrast. That said, Rodriguez' team at Troublemaker Studios never lost control of the image and never resulted in a product that could be considered unwatchable. In high definition, Planet Terror looks incredible, and don't let anyone convince you differently.
On the audio side, the sound comes by way of a well-balanced yet still out-of-control Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that is absolutely alive with information, a constant barrage of overplayed dialog, bombastic explosions and gunfire, jarring over-the-shoulder surround effects, and a blaring score. Yes, it's that good. Every channel gets a solid workout for the course of the 105-minute runtime and your subwoofer might even need a hosing down after it's all done. 'Nuff said.
And what about extras? Well, what about 'em -- except there's a Humvee full of bonus stuff, all of the same stuff found on 2007's standard definition DVD release plus a couple of interesting Blu-'sclusive additions. First up, on Disc One of the two-disc release, you'll find audio commentary from Rodriguez himself, speaking to the distressed version of the film, extended to 105 minutes here (beyond the 84-minute theatrical cut). Constantly chatting for the duration, he tells of the origin of the film (it started as a video game concept a decade prior) and how he made the picture on a shoestring budget, this being is most-cheaply made feature to date. He'll tell you plenty about the filmmaking process and the non-stop effects on screen but he wisely refrains from telling you information that's already covered within the other special features, referring to them when appropriate. If you want to enjoy the theatrical experience of the film upon it's original release, select the "Audience Reaction" track where the soundtrack is ported over from a live showing of Planet Terror, complete with cheers, jeers, and unmistakable auditorium echo. Go get yourself all sweaty and stinky, grab a six-pack of brew, and join 'em.
As for those elements exclusive to this Blu-ray release, you'll find the "scratch free" version of the film, this showing without the post-production aging effects overlayed. If you feel you need to watch a clean image, this is it. It's shown minus the Machete trailer and bumpers. It's also presented in the VC-1 codec and only sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Without the weathered look, however, it just ain't grindhouse.
There's also promise of some BD Live content but, as of this writing (prior to the disc's official street date), that has yet to be enabled. Have to go back for some of this later, it seems.
Haven't had enough? OK -- then head over to Disc 2 where you'll find a boatload of featurettes as follows:
* 10-Minute Film School: The only featurette of the pack presented in HD, pay attention as Rodriguez takes you on a high-speed tour of the hundreds of effects sequences of Planet Terror. Take notes; there might be a pop quiz at the end. (11 min.)
* The Badass Babes of Planet Terror: Learn how Rodriguez selected his various femme fatales (and fatalities) and how he expanded his minimal script to fit each young lady after their names had been added to the credit list. (12 min.)
* The Guys of Planet Terror: Now it's the dudes' turn and here you'll learn how the men of Planet Terror brought their own square-jawed dispositions that inspired Rodriguez' completion (and even total revision) of their characters. (17 min.)
* Casting Rebel: Who'd have the balls to kill a kid in a film like this? Worse than that, who'd ever sink so low as to kill his own kid for the sake of exploitation. You'll get one guess on this one. (6 min.)
* Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions -- The Stunts of Planet Terror: Think it's just the characters who are tough in this film? No way, and here's where you discover how the grueling stunts and effects were achieved, many with the actual actors' own lives in peril. (13 min.)
* The Friend, the Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent: It's not exactly nepotism but it's surely a move that will gain Rodriguez some sweetheart deals and reduced co-payments in the future. See how a director will stop at nothing to save a buck, on set and off. (7 min.)
Also included is the international theatrical trailer plus a gallery of international advertising elements.
After all of this, it's easy to say that your stay on Planet Terror will be a lengthy one. Anyone complaining?
So what's to rebut, except maybe the fact that, even though this is an extended edition of the film, there's still more material as yet unreleased and of which Rodriguez hints will become available in a future edition. Unless you've nabbed the Japanese import of the complete double feature (you'll find it at www.amazon.co.jp), you're likely one of the irate demanding the complete experience be made available stateside. It's a good argument but neither Rodriguez nor Tarantino seem to be listening to these rants. Look, this is a money making franchise and these two "businessmen" are going to tap this mutha for all it's worth. How's that for exploitation?
It just f***ing is! There's nothing else to say.
[Editor's Note: At this time, Genius Products has no intention of releasing a complete Grindhouse edition.]
Like it or hate it, that's grindhouse and that's Planet Terror. Nothing wrong that I can see, and I've seen a lot. Now get a copy of your own or get the Hell out of here!
Review content copyright © 2008 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #49
* Top 100 Films: #16
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary
* "Audience Reaction" track
* "Scratch Free" version
* "10-Minute Film School"
* "The Badass Babes of Planet Terror"
* "The Guys of Planet Terror"
* "Casting Rebel"
* "Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions"
* "The Friend, the Doctor, and the Real Estate Agent"
* International trailer
* International advertising gallery
* Official Grindhouse site
* Troublemaker Studios