'Grindhouse': '70s old-school mayhem

Posted: April 06, 2007

In "Grindhouse," there are many violent crescendos, but one stands out: a one-legged woman with a machine-gun prosthesis mowing down a horde of men.

If you like moviegoing, you're going to like this scene. Unless you're Paul McCartney, for whom this is probably some kind of recurring nightmare.

Note, however, the emphasis on "moviegoing." "Grindhouse" isn't for the Netflix cineaste, eager to watch "Babel" on Blu-ray disc in hi-def with surround sound.

It's about being there. Feel free to talk, howl, and throw your popcorn at the screen.

"Grindhouse" isn't merely an homage to the exploitation movies of the 1970s - that's already been done, and done well, whether it's John Singleton's love letter to drive-in movies, "Four Brothers," or the postmodern zombie-movie romp "Sean of the Dead."

"Grindhouse" collaborators Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino go a step further. They recreate the experience of watching a '70s movie in a bad '70s movie house (like The Palace or The News on 1200 Market) - you get the exploitation movie double feature (192 minutes, complete with bad reel changes and missing reels!), the pops and scratches, imitation cheesy sound, ads for nearby greasy spoons, Day-Glo preview intros, and some fake trailers (some funny stuff, from Eli Roth and other guest directors).

You even get the projector bulb burning through the jammed film at the very moment the lead actress takes off her top.

This occurs midway through "Planet Terror," Rodriguez's tribute to George Romero. It's about a go-go dancer named Cherry (Rose McGowan) who walks off the job and into a zombie invasion, caused by a military experiment gone wrong.

During the long and bloody night, everybody gets to kill a zombie, and settle an old score. McGowan hooks up with her ex (Freddy Rodriguez), a woman (Marley Shelton) gets clear of an abusive husband (Josh Brolin), and the local sheriff (Michael Biehn) gets his nemesis' (Jeff Fahey) secret recipe for Texas barbecue.

Oh, and a mad profiteering scientist (Naveen Andrews) fills a Zip-loc bag with balls. Testicles, I mean. Cut from the men who disappoint or double-cross him. It's one of many gross-out special effects that Rodriguez uses to give his movie its tasteless appeal (yes, the movies are self-indulgent, but that's part of the method to this madness).

The focus of the story is Cherry, who complains throughout "Planet Terror" that God has granted her a roster of useless talents. Of course, all of them turn out to be useful during the glorious zombie massacre that concludes Rodgriguez's film.

If there is one theme that links "Planet Terror" with the Tarantino feature "Death Proof," it's the idea of women turning the tables on male oppressors. (Tarantino's cameo as a rapist in Rodriguez's film ends badly.)

"Death Proof" stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a retired Hollywood action double turned homicidal maniac, roaming rural highways in his "death proof" muscle car and safety harness, looking for carloads of nubile women to ram, mangle and kill.

A grotesquely explicit sequence shows what happens when Stuntman Mike slaughters five young women whom Tarantino has spent 30 minutes (with dialogue aimed at capturing the boozy rhetoric of friendship) carefully painting them as best friends out for a good time.

It's not his best work as a wordsmith, but still . . .

Boo!

Hiss!

If there were grindhouse gods, Stuntman Mike's next targets would turn out to be stunt doubles themselves, and go him one better, which is precisely what happens.

It's old-school. Where Rodriguez leaned on special effects, Tarantino is all cars and stunts. Riding the Dodge Challenger, T.J. Hooker-style, is Zoe Bell, Uma Thurman's action double in "Kill Bill."

She goes after Mike with a metal pipe, while her colleague (Tracie Thoms) uses the "roscoe" she keeps strapped to her leg. Russell is great as Stuntman Mike - a stoic menace, even better at screaming for mercy.

You can forget that, bub.

This is the grindhouse. *

Produced by Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez, Erica Steinberg, Quentin Tarantino, written and directed by Rodriguez, Tarantino, music by Rodriguez, distributed by The Weinstein Co.

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