I think I was born in the wrong decade.
Although I grew up watching the great horror movies of the 1980s, I seem to have a special affinity for the “groovy,” rough-and-gritty feel of the 1970s horror films. Maybe I just enjoy cinematic experiences from the times when the writing and characters had to drive a story and the special effects were a supporting player; nowadays it seems to be the exact opposite, with each new CGI-tacular movie trying to outdo the last. But every so often, a film will come along that breaks the trend and gives its viewers both a good-looking film and a great story to boot. Throw in a healthy dose of retro feel with an homage to a bygone era of cinema, and you’ve got the makings of one amazing movie-watching experience, specifically known as ‘Planet Terror.’
Half of the ambitious two-movie “Grindhouse” project put together by directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (Tarantino’s B-movie/exploitation homage ‘Death Proof’ being the other half), ‘Planet Terror’ is simply a good old-fashioned zombie movie made by people who know how to entertain. Rodriguez has actually said in multiple interviews that he came up for the idea of this movie while filming sci-fi/horror romp ‘The Faculty’ all the way back in 1998. In fact, he even told ‘The Faculty’ stars Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett that he firmly believed zombie movies were going to “come back in a major way,” and he started writing a zombie movie so he could be one of the first to ride the wave. Unfortunately, Rodriguez got caught up doing other projects and his zombie film fell by the wayside, but when Tarantino approached him about doing “Grindhouse,” he knew the time for his zombie movie had finally come.
The cast is clearly having fun and know how to entertain: there is an eclectic mix of well-known stars (like Rose McGowan, Naveen Andrews, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Fergie, and Bruce Willis) who really take the time to chew the scenery and make the most of their parts, and this makes the film feel like equal parts blockbuster and B-movie. The zombie kills are gory and plentiful, and it just seems like everyone involved knew exactly what kind of movie they were making – one to entertain and not worry about winning any awards – and they had no problem executing.
Granted, these are your standard-fare zombies, but I like the way the “plague” is presented – initial exposure to a top-secret army gas is what turns you into a zombie, but prolonged, regulated exposure to the gas can actually keep you normal, a tactic some of the military men in the movie attempt to use to keep themselves non-zombified. Also, super-mega-bonus points to a movie that is ballsy enough to amputate its leading lady’s leg halfway through the movie – and then replace it with a fully functional machine gun!
Surprisingly, I felt that a lot of the reactions and responses of the characters in this movie were pretty realistic. There was such a broad spectrum of the types of characters in the story, and so many of them reacted to what was going on in different ways, but in ways that were consistent with their characters’ personalities, it definitely added to realistic feel of the film.In a movie that I enjoyed pretty much from star to finish, I actually expected this characteristic to fall flat, so this was one of the most pleasant surprises of the film.
There’s lots of great gore and grossness in the film, especially during the scenes that take place in the hospital during the initial phase of the mass outbreak. And the editing of the film takes this category’s score “to the Max,” especially with the addition of one of the iconic pieces of the ‘70s B-movies – the missing reel! Rodriguez purposefully omitted a key scene in the film and never explained how things in the story went from one condition (relatively calm) to the extreme (house on fire! Zombies everywhere!), and somehow missing this scene (replete with the kitschy “reel missing” logo and scratchy 16-mm film graphics) actually adds to the overall entertainment value of the film (at least for me it did).
I love this movie and highly recommend it to any sci-fi /horror zombie film lover, you shouldn’t be disappointed!