Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Planet Terror

While I’m still impatiently waiting for the proper Grindhouse DVD release, at least the better half of the film is now available for me to tide myself over with. Indeed, there was a curious dichotomy among the two halves, as, while Tarantino made the weakest film of his career, Rodriguez here really stepped up his game and made the best movie he’s done yet.

Both directors, in their respective films, based their movies off of 70s exploitation films, but while Tarantino took his cues from the old car chase movies like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (both of which he constantly name dropped in his film), Rodriguez wisely based his off of the old Italian zombie apocalypse films, in particular the works of Lucio Fulci. Of course, being a smart man, he merely takes on some artificial appearances of Fulci’s zombie movies and quickly moves on from there, giving us a film that, while taking on Fulci’s general look, is actually much, much better.

One major improvement would be the pacing. While Fulci’s films tend to move at a somewhat more glacial pace, Planet Terror is pretty much racing at full speed from the opening onward. By the time the movie begins, a trio of zombies have already managed to escape from a military installation in southern Texas, keeping us free from the normal required slow build of most zombie movies. Our main cast isn’t the normal panicky bits of uselessness one normally finds in such films either: as soon as they figure out what’s going on, they start loading up on the guns, all of which, of course, make zombies outright explode when hit. The film is as much an adrenaline-soaked action flick as much as a horror movie.

There’s also a slew of great cameo appearances. Naturally, being a zombie film, Tom Savini has to appear in it, as a cop in search of his wedding ring after an initial encounter with a zombie goes poorly. We also get Naveen Andrews as a rogue scientist with a love of collecting precious body parts from those who displease him, and best of all, Bruce Willis as the head of a mutated group of special forces. His monologue at the end, tying in the zombie outbreak to Bin Laden while he slowly transforms into Pizza the Hutt, is one of the film’s many highlights.

The visual appeal, too, cannot be overstated. Not only does it take the best cues from Fulci’s works (such as Marley Shelton’s great perpetual wide-eyed stare) while ignoring the rest, but it makes a great use of lighting as well. Under the premise that this was all filmed at rapid-fire speed like the old exploitation films, Rodriguez uses a great deal of harsh lighting, often leaving the characters’ faces covered in shadows, or even just leaving them as black outlines of people. Further, he went a great deal farther than Tarantino did at making it seem like an old, worn-out print, with constant scratches, flickering, altered colors, and other fun stuff that really adds a great deal to the whole experience. It’s an amazingly fun film, and is the main part of why Grindhouse was, in my opinion, the best film to come out so far this year.

Extra: while Tarantino staunchly refused to include any of the fake trailers that were in Grindhouse on the Death Proof DVD, Rodriguez did feel free to include his own fake trailer Machete that opened the film up. It’s a great bonus I was not honestly expecting.

Rating: ****


Robert said...

While I agree with you that Planet Terror was great I have to question your negative comments about Death Proof. Snake Pliskin, Car chases and chick power. Is there any better combination??

This is a movie that every guy should bring a girl to see. Everyone will leave happy and maybe even get lucky on the way home.

Zach said...

I don't dislike Death Proof. It is, however, clearly the weaker of the two films, with some shoddy pacing and (very surprising for a Tarantino film) clumsy dialogue. I do still think it's a good movie overall.