Cult-Film Throwback

This demented double-feature is worth three-plus hours of your time

Two hilariously depraved movies make up Grindhouse, a demented one-two punch from writers/directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

An attempted throwback to the endearing cinematic trash of yesteryear, it revels in the base horror and exploitation that made flicks like Vanishing Point and Dawn of the Dead cult-film sensations. The directors go for the vibe of an old filmhouse or drive-in, even dirtying up the print for authenticity's sake. While the star power and overall quality of the films make the project too respectable to be actual grindhouse material, the results are highly entertaining.

First up is Rodriguez's Planet Terror, a zombie film overflowing with blood that looks like raspberry jam. Some bizarre scientific experiment has resulted in a zombie epidemic, and it's up to Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Rose McGowan to save the day.

There are tributes to past cult-film glory throughout the film. Greg Nicotero's gore is reminiscent of the '70s Italian zombie film bloodlettings. A doctor goes nuts with hypodermics, which owes plenty to Re-Animator. Fahey's character owns a barbecue stand, reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and McGowan's character winds up with a machine gun for a leg, not unlike Ash substituting a chainsaw for an arm in Evil Dead II. Admittedly, some of you don't know what I'm talking about, because you didn't watch any of these movies. This movie might not have been made for you.

Planet Terror belongs to McGowan, who joins Salma Hayek as owners of the two sexiest dance sequences ever put to celluloid. Oddly enough, both of those dances were directed by Rodriguez. (Hayek did her infamous snake dance in his From Dusk Till Dawn. ) McGowan plays a go-go dancer (convincingly) with higher aspirations, and she gets her opportunity for new career choices when zombies gnaw off a big part of her dancing livelihood. The sequences when her character dispatches the enemy with machine-gun-leg blasts are mercilessly sick fun.

Up next is Tarantino's Death Proof, with a scarred Kurt Russell playing Stuntman Mike, a serial killer with a sick fetish involving beautiful girls and his stunt car. Russell hasn't had this cool of a character since his turn as Snake Plissken in John Carpenter's Escape From New York. His prey is an assortment of beautiful girls, including Rosario Dawson, Jordan Ladd, a second appearance by McGowan and an amazing stuntwoman named Zoe Bell. Bell deserves her own film franchise. What she does in this movie is beyond belief.

Stuntman Mike likes killing girls while crashing his car, and some of the carnage is shocking and unexpected. As for the car chases, Tarantino proves himself a master of the craft, with Bell doing some amazing stunt work on the hood of a car. Tarantino includes a beautiful twist in Death Proof that is at once surprising and hilarious. He also includes plenty of his trivia-laden dialogue. I happen to love his dialogue, but some folks might find themselves jostling in their seats during the longer, talky parts.

The experience is like no other in recent cinema years: two full-length features back-to-back, strung together by fake preview trailers and an actual intermission. The trailers are directed by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright. Roth's Thanksgiving is so well done, it feels like a movie that could've and should've been made.

The three-hour-plus running time seemed to scare people off in its opening weekend. What a shame if you are a fan of this sort of craziness, and you are waiting for the DVD. Sure, the DVD will be choice, but this is an experience you need to have at the theater. Seriously--that's the whole point of the thing.

Call your baby sitters; skip days at work; tell the wife you're shopping for sod, and make some time to see Grindhouse.

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