Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

“You see, we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left too and if that was the case, it would have been awhile before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!”
Only recently was this released on blu-ray – the ‘experience’ with all the trailers (opposed to the separate releases which have been available for years). I was tempted to buy them both separately, but I held out – I bought it yesterday and watched it last night and I am whacking a analysis up now. Lets be perfectly honest – the ‘experience’ is the only way to view these films – don’t you dare waste your time with the longer cuts! It made financial sense to break them up (damn you America! “three hours – no, I can’t do it”) but, artistically, this is the only way to view Planet Terror and Deathproof.

Last year, my favourite film of 2009 was Inglourious Basterds – some may disagree. I heard only recently how what was good about The Social Network was how classical it was in approaching the theme – no references to previous films, no constant pop-culture ‘in’ jokes – think of Scott Pilgrim VS The World – just static shots and clear story-telling built on an incredible script. Grindhouse was a labour of love from two filmmakers obsessed with film – and not just cinema as an art form, but self-referential cinema. I have a funny-feeling that could be a genre all unto itself. Scott Pilgrim, Pulp Fiction amongst many others are the starting points – the doors that reopen a genre again. What is different with Grindhouse is the deep love that both Tarantino have for the exploitation genre – blaxploitation in Jackie Brown, heist movies in Reservoir Dogs. Could you argue that the Grindhouse combo is taking those homages to the next level – verging on parody. I think so.

So, Machete trailer has passed and the Grindhouse experience has truly begun…
Planet Terror
I think that you split the two thus so – Planet Terror is a 70’s exploitation film parody, whilst Death Proof is a 2007-movie with the attributes of an exploitation movie. This is a great way to explore the films (what a shame my 11-15 year old film-club can’t enjoy this!) and, therefore, mentally analyse the genre. Without watching anything from the genre! You watch the Planet Terror and understand the nature of exploitation and, three trailers later, you get to see what would happen if such a film was made today – because the 70’s nostalgia is much more apparent in Planet Terror than in Death Proof.
Planet Terror presents a world whereby a gas has leaked out and is infecting – 28 days later style – the populace. I think what Roderiguez does so well is choose what he wants to pay homage to – and simply does it. The down-and-dirty nature of expoitation means that the use of a ‘missing reel’ adds comedic effect – and clears up multiple plot-points without actuall showing what has happened. How did Marley Shelton’s Doc join the group? How did the strip-bar owner join the clan? why does Michael Biehn respect El Wray? What exactly was El Wray a part of? I might even go so far as to assume Roderiguez splits everyone up – purely to make the missing-reel that much more ridiculous.
Rose McGowan is well-cast too – her not-comedic comedian schtick, the whole idea of ‘playing things straight’ fits perfectly in the film – a film whereby everyone plays it straight. It does feel a little too much – a small part of me wishes the film ended on the escape from the texan grill … but alas it does not – ploughing into a breakout-from-jail final act whereby we find Bruce Willis, has in fact, killed Osama Bin Laden. Well done to you Bruce. Ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek, exploitation at the height of parody.
Death Proof
I prefer Death Proof. I know not everyone agrees with this but I think it ties in with my [potentially misplaced] attitude to comedies. Planet Terror is clearly comedy, whilst Death Proof less so – as I said, this film played is neccessarily played straight in Death Proof not for comedic purposes but for the story. When an explosion happens in Planet Terror you laugh – it is so ridiculous. When Zoe Bell is on the front of the car  you are gripping to your seat. It is the type of crazy-stunt that, I assume, these type of films offer – and a modern take is so much more gratifying. The Tarantino-references are not a problem either. We know that Inglourious Basterds has a character who is a film critic, we are suprised at the knowledge Samuel L. Jackson may posess about television series – but it is clear that in an entire double-bill obsessed with exploitation films, we will get a reference to other movies. And we do – Vanishing Point amongst other motor-head fuelled-filled films – “Gone in Sixty Seconds – and the original not that Angelina-Jolie shit”. I really am perplexed at how people didn’t like this part of the film – its Tarantino at his best. He makes some fantastic references and points you, as a viewer, into a back-catalogue of films to watch post-viewing. Believe me, if Vanishing Point is on TV, it is Tarantino who has inspired me to watch it. Thank you QT. 
Spectacular Double Bill
What is brilliant about these films – is the playful attitude towards cinema. Cinema can be entertainment – believe me, my Dad see’s film as purely entertainment. A lot of people think that contemplating philosophy is simply too much – the multiple layers in The Dark Knight, the socio-economical issues that underpin This is England is simply too much. Batman is action film. Horror is just a ‘scary’ movie – no deeper subtext. Well, I think this is where Grindhouse comes in… it expects nothing. It is purely entertainment – and its nice for us film-junkies to know the references and to explore them more – but these films do this without any force. Simply by watching – and enjoying – the movie, you are soaking in the references. It is just  zombie-movie, it is just a car-chase movie … but those who care… know the history and this simply makes us love the films more. No waiting around, no expectation or neccessary prior-knowledge – you can get scared – “immediately”

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  1. Nice review. I don't really like these movies (and find the extended version of Death Proof to be unbearable vain, like stop talking about Vanishing Point already, we get it). The reason I don't like them is the same reason I didn't really love Black Dynamite either: what made these movies special in the first place is that they had no point of reference, they played by no one's rules and just made it up as they went along. By paying homage to them it feels like Tarantino and Rodreguiez are forced to work within the limitations of the genre and thus they don't have the magic of just going back and watching actual grindhouse movies. Thus they ultimately play like extended vanity projects when an original feature by either filmmaker would have been much preferred.

  2. When you say:

    “Lets be perfectly honest – the 'experience' is the only way to view these films – don't you dare waste your time with the longer cuts! It made financial sense to break them up (damn you America! “three hours – no, I can't do it”) but, artistically, this is the only way to view Planet Terror and Deathproof”.

    You're 100% correct! That said, I'm a fan of both, and I have to admit I broke down and bought them separately. I didn't have the patience to wait, I guess.

    BTW, the Blu-Ray is excellent. Nice write-up!

  3. @flickering myth – i think DEATH PROOF is underrated. When Zoe is on the front of that car and is, bit-by-bit, almost falling off, is incredible. Multiple watches later, it is nail-biting stuff!

    @Mike – I think you could argue that ALL of Tarantino and Roderiguezs films are paying homage to something-or-another… so this is merely an obsessive tackle of exploitation movies, as KILL BILL was an obsessive tackle of Asian Cinema and JACKIE BROWN or blaxploitation.

    @Dave – Many-a-time, I walked around shops with both DVDs sitting in my hand (akin to holding the crap KILL BILL boxset in my hand) but eventually, when push comes to shove, I think C'MON! Patience … patience …

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