Going back for a second taste of PLANET TERROR, the first half of the GRINDHOUSE experience, leaves you with much the same feeling as seeing the theatrical version - there's not much there in terms of depth, but what's there is a hoot to watch.
Director Robert Rodriguez channels his inner John Carpenter in a romp that's heavy on the fun and the splatter rather than any any actual chills. The story concerns an outbreak of something called DC-2, a noxious military chemical that turns those susceptible into flesh melting, cannibal ghouls. It's up to a motley crew of misfits including a one-legged stripper, a tow-truck driving ex-Special Forces commando, a sexy set of twin babysitters and a lesbian doctor on the run from her psychopathic husband to stop the threat and make their way to salvation - in this case Mexico.
Or something like that. Does it really matter when everything is this fun and over the top? Not really. Rodriguez isn't as concerned with sticking to the confines of what constitutes a "grindhouse" picture as he is filling the screen with incredible images and action that turn the genre on its ear. There are some serious nods to Carpenter here: the score, done by Rodriguez, is fantastic, pulsing and driving the action forward. The whole beginning of the movie is an exercise in tone, setting up the major locations and characters so that when the shit hits the fan, everything you've seen is revisited in a different light, in the aftermath of the zombie (infected, whatever) invasion.
The real shine in PLANET TERROR comes from its cast. You get two great performances from the "where have they been" category of Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey as brothers warring over a secret barbecue sauce recipe. Josh Brolin gives the most genuinely creepy performance as Dr. Block, the insane doc who terrorizes his wife both as a shitty husband and a flesh-eating ghoul. But the real stars of the movie are the women, who get all the best lines and action scenes. Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, the stripper turned savior of humanity, embodies a deliciousness that carries over to everyone she interacts with in the movie. Likewise Marley Shelton, facing the double threat of her husband and the army of ghouls taking over. When these two finally meet you get my favorite line in the movie:
The beginning, however, is all menace and grit, and it's here that Rodriguez really puts the pulp and sleaze into his picture. Low angles, choppy editing, and the wonderful degrading of the screen itself all make for a thrill of a beginning to the movie. Instead of trying to write something new, I'll excerpt what I originally wrote in the theatrical review:
But the real star of Planet Terror belongs to the screen itself. At first glance you might think the pops, scratches, and tinting issues were added more or less at random; a closer look shows that each Snap! Crackle! and Pop! is ingeniously inserted to enhance the mood and tone of what's going in the film. Rodriguez, instead of trying to authentically "grind" up his movie utilizes some of the key components of what makes a film a "grind" film and forces them to propel his story along. Watch the really violent action scenes - the quality of the film jumps and degrades in sync to what's going on. The quieter scenes don't have as much going on, but what does go on is subtle and effective. Take the scene where Tarantino begins menacing the two heroines in an elevator. As he talks, the film slowly turns red, and fades back as they closer to their destination. It's a small piece, but does wonders to the film. The ending is epic and funny, and wraps up what would have been a great single feature all on it's own.Great gore, great fun, and a truly ridiculous ending that will have you in stitches, PLANET TERROR is the happy-go-lucky side of the GRINDHOUSE experience. And while it might not have some of the depth and dread of DEATH PROOF, it may ultimately have the more replay value.