In their double-bill homage to the cheap, grungy movie-houses of yore that featured an ever-changing orgy of back-to-back exploitation B-movies, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have created an unparalleled, irreverent pair of dueling films. Loving attention is given to recreating the experience of damaged film stock, melting celluloid, missing reels and trashy trailers that distorted the experience of watching something like Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Here, the movies go far beyond anything you could imagine. It’s all about the pay-offs, and there are many.
The auteur directors share a proclivity for pulling out all the stops. While Tarantino is famous for his take-no-prisoners approach, it’s Rodriguez that pushes the limits of how many gross-out gags he can squeeze into every frame. Inspired by movies like Zombie and Dawn of the Dead, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror leads off the set as a zombie thriller born of toxic green vapors released from a Texas military base. Cherry (Rose McGowan) quits her go-go dancer job before running into a former beau, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), at a local barbecue roadhouse. Already, wedded doctors William (Josh Brolin) and Dakota (Marley Shelton) have been overrun with sicko patients (read: zombies) suffering from bubbling facial boils, repulsive skin lesions and marinated flesh that only momentarily disguises their bent for annihilation. Juicy fake-blood-bloated zombies explode under endless rounds of ammunition as Cherry is elevated to humanity’s salvation after Wray replaces her freshly amputated leg with a machine gun.
An intermission features faux trailers by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie, to elaborate on the ‘70s era mood. The astonishing previews are models of decade-accurate atmosphere, with added touches of outrageous humor.
The second feature is Death Proof, the fifth film of Tarantino’s deliberate career, which draws on Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point and H.B. Halicki’s Gone In 60 Seconds as much as it does from slasher films.
Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) quietly invades Guero’s Taco Bar, where a cluster of badass gal-pals get their weed and drink in preparation for a weekend getaway. A nasty scar on Stuntman Mike’s face foreshadows events when he agrees to give hippie-chick Pam (Rose McGowan again) a ride home. She abruptly changes character once she’s in the passenger bucket of his skull-emblazoned “death proof” stunt car. What follows is the most horrific car crash ever committed to film. Mike is a deranged stalker who lives to mangle the bodies of pretty girls with his car. But he more than meets his match in the third act when he attacks a trio of film industry women driving a white Dodge Challenger.
Real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill) shows off her daredevil skills in a car chase unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. As Tarantino has pointed out in interviews, he has officially thrown his hat into the ring of famous movie car chases. The result is a white-knuckle experience that validates the stretches of goofy scenes that came before.
GRINDHOUSE ( * * * 1/2 )
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. • Starring Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson. • R, 185 min. • At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.