Re:Visiting – Grindhouse (2007)

The Grindhouse concept was an idea that had been bubbling away in the mind of Robert Rodriguez, and around the time he was finishing Sin City (2005) he spent an evening at his friend Quentin Tarantino’s mansion, who as he did from time to time put together a double feature of old exploitation movies in his cinema room for his guest. Tarantino included some trailers from his personal collection of slasher, horror and zombie movies, while the two drank and chatted cinema together until the early hours, during which they had their eureka moment.

Each would create a movie in homage to the trashy pulp B-Movie Horror/Thrillers of the 70’s/80’s, and they would present their films together in the cinema as a ‘Grindhouse’ double feature with a number of accompanying sleazy fake movie trailers, with the idea of providing audiences with a true old-school experience of visiting the dilapidated pre multi-plex theatres of days gone by. The two filmmakers had the passion and desire to pull off the unheard of feat in mainstream modern cinema, and with both of the visionary directors riding high on success at the time, they had the reputation and standing with the Weinstein Company to be backed financially in order to pull it off.

Both auteurs would put together a great cast for their respective projects, while also enlisting the help from some movie making friends to create the faux trailers. Rob Zombie (House Of 1000 Corpses) would create the Nazi exploitation inspired Werewolf Women Of The SS. Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz) provided Don’t, his tribute to the classic British Hammer Horror Movies of the 60’s and 70’s. While Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) created Thanksgiving, a slasher trailer in the vein of other holiday themed horror classics such as Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978).

Robert Rodriguez would also produce his own ‘Mexploitation’ trailer Machete, featuring “the Mexican Charles BronsonDanny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn) as a mercenary who is hell-bent on a violent mission of revenge. Such would be the positive reception to the Grindhouse concept, that for his very next project Rodriguez would go on to make the full length feature of Machete (2010), and then follow this up with a sequel Machete Kills (2013). The final trailer in the series Hobo With A Shotgun, was created by amateur filmmaker Jason Eisener, who won a competition set by Rodriguez. And this would also be made into a feature length movie in 2010, starring Dutch movie legend Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner / The Hitcher).

Main Features

Death Proof (Directed by Quentin Tarantino)

Death Proof (2007) was Tarantino’s fifth movie and was a labour of love for the director and former video store employee, who fully immersed himself into the project following that creatively fruitful night with Rodriguez, jumping at the opportunity to revisit the trashy cinema he enjoyed from his youth. Tarantino would come up with the idea for Death Proof and write the story from scratch specifically for Grindhouse, creating a movie which is one hell of a thrill ride. And which perfectly encapsulates the exploitation theme, with a grainy cinematography image to match the style of a cheap vintage film reel, where you see lines crackling across the picture and endure moments where the dialogue skips.

Tarantino also offered many Easter Egg snippets of tributes to his own former films, including mentions of the fictitious Big Kahuna Burger Restaurant and Red Apple cigarettes, linking Death Proof to his own cinematic universe. And as you would expect from the man who brought us the iconic scores on Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), the soundtrack for the movie perfectly fits the tone, starting with ‘The Last Race’ by Jack Nitzsche which plays over the opening credits.

The opening scene which is typically Tarantino and heavy in seemingly inconsequential dialogue, follows three female friends including local radio host Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier – Knight Rider), Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito Descent) and Banana (Jordan Ladd Cabin Fever) as they drive through downtown Austin, Texas. The narrative focus’s on the relationship development between them as they innocently shoot the shit and plan their night out ahead, before Tarantino shows us a glimpse of a dark 1970 Chevrolet Nova that appears to be stalking them.

The driver is Stuntman Mike played by the legendary Kurt Russell (The Thing / Escape From New York) who follows the girls as they head to a bar with a few friends including Eli Roth, where Quentin Tarantino himself is the bar tender. Butterfly spots his ominous looking car in the rain drenched parking lot as she smokes a cigarette, and Mike who is a real throwback old school character with a scar running down the length of his face, sits at the bar while the girls get drunk. He starts chatting to Pam (Rose McGowan), a lone female who has been stood up and offers her a lift home at the end of the evening.

As the night draws on Mike approaches Butterfly with a drink and recites a poem that Jungle Julie had set as a challenge on her radio show earlier that day, meaning that Butterfly needs to offer him a lap dance, giving Tarantino the chance to inject some serious sex appeal as she dances to ‘Down In Mexico’ by The Coasters. The evening comes to a close and Pam somewhat reluctantly accepts a lift in Mike’s macabre looking modified stunt car, which he explains is ‘Death Proof’ for the driver. But his ulterior motive soon becomes clear, and Pam’s lift home is the final ride of her life.

Mike it transpires is a cold blooded serial killer, and this is a slasher flick in which his Chevrolet is the dagger! The passenger side of his vehicle has no seat belt and is self contained in its own roll cage, and as he throws the car around Pam smashes her head against the sides until he finally pulls an emergency stop, and delivers a fatal blow as she hits the shatter proof windscreen scene with force. Mike then hunts down the vehicle that Julia and Butterfly are driving home in and head on collides with them at great speed, causing each girl to die under horrific circumstances. There is some great practical gore from Tarantino in this scene, including the leg severing of Julia as she had been riding shotgun with her foot hanging out of the cars window.

Death Proof then jumps forward 14 months to a small town in Tennessee, where we again meet Mike who has recovered from the injuries of his earlier crash-carnage, and is stalking yet another group of young females inc Abbie (Rosario DawsonSin City), Kim (Tracie Thoms Raze) and Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead 10 Cloverfield Lane). The girls pick up Zoë Bell (Uma Thurmans stunt double from Kill Bill, playing herself), and it transpires they all work in the film business and are on a local shoot. As it’s a day off from filming Zoë orchestrates the test drive of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, the car used in the classic exploitation film Vanashing Point (1971), and wants to play a game called ‘Ships Mast’, which involves her climbing out of the window onto the bonnet of the car, for a high speed thrill ride.

As they play their daring game, Mike watches and begins to stalk them in his Death Proof Chevvy. He starts to ram the Dodge as Zoë holds on for dear life, and after a thrilling car chase they eventually come to a stop and Abbie pulls a gun, shooting Mike in the arm. At this point in the movie the worm well and truly turns, and another chase ensues this time with Mike driving for his life, with the vengeful girls eventually rolling his vehicle. They pull Mike out of the wreck, and beat him to death on the side of the road, each taking it turns to rain blows down on the hapless psycho, before the credits roll to the bouncy soundtrack of ‘Chick Habit’ by April March.

Planet Terror (Directed by Robert Rodriguez)

Robert Rodriguez’s tale takes on different tone to Death Proof, in creating a gloriously visceral and over the top post-apocalyptic Zombie/Monster gore fest, with a darkly comic underbelly of absurdity. Opening with a routine by pole dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan Conan The Barbarian), Rodriguez uses the same grainy cinematography style of Tarantino, to create a similar cheap 70’s B-Movie feel.

We learn that she is planning a life away from stripping, and she walks out on the club and makes her way to a BBQ roadside cafe owned by JT (Jeff FaheyThe Lawnmower Man) where she meets her boyfriend El Wray (Freddie RodriguezDead Presidents). As she is walking down a dark road, a number of military vehicles pass her containing soldiers wearing gas masks. The convoy heads to an industrial medical facility where we learn ‘something’ has escaped, and Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis Die Hard) is the military commander seemingly tasked with containing the outbreak.

We also meet Dr. William Block (Josh BrolinNo Country For Old Men) and his wife Dr. Dakota Block (Marley SheltonSin City) who is hatching a plan to leave him and run away with her lover. That night at the hospital they work in, towns folk start to arrive covered with disgusting boils, sores and bites, and Dr. William quickly releases that something strange is happening, as the victims sores are spreading and accelerating at an abnormal rate.

As the movie rolls on, hideously deformed monsters start coming out of the night time mist, attacking people and feeding on their flesh. Cherry and El Ray are jumped on after he crashes his truck, but they escape and he takes Cherry to the hospital after her leg has been severed. In the hospital we meet Sherriff Hague (Michael Biehn The Terminator / Aliens) who is starting to try and piece together what’s happening in the town that night, and it’s clear that the ensemble cast of genre actors Rodriguez has pulled together is nothing but impressive.

JT has two of the flesh eating mutants visit his bar, while Dr. William discovers his wife’s betrayal after her lover is brought into the hospital with her brain missing. He forces Dakota, with the help of a little anaesthetic, to show him her phone and begins to abuse her in quite a sinister fashion. But they are interrupted and she manages to escape, after it it discovered that various bodies that have been brought into the hospital appear to have have risen from the dead, and have walked out leaving trails of blood behind them. The pandemic and reality of what is happening accelerates from this point in the movie, and both the hospital and the sheriffs office where El Ray has been taken for questioning, soon come under attack form hordes of the zombie like mutants.

Rodriquez naturally leans heavy on the inspiration of George R. Romero (Night Of The Living Dead) from here, and includes the further inspired casting of horror FX legend Tom Savini (Dawn Of The Dead) in the role of the Sheriffs deputy. And the gloopy visceral effects throughout the film could have come from the hand of Savini himself, as Rodriquez honours the Body-Horror style of the 1980’s, as we see limbs torn from bodies and many different versions of the hideous flesh-eaters.

The movie plays out as a typical fight for survival by the ensemble cast of motley characters, as the remaining uninflected band together to take on and escape the horrific threat. And after eventually being backed into a corner, the military descend on the killing horde before they can take out the protagonists, and take the survivors into custody at the research facility, where it is explained by scientist Dr. Abby (Naveen Andrews Lost), that the outbreak is the result of a leaked secret biochemical weapon.

Quentin Tarantino makes a memorable cameo appearance as a deranged infected soldier who tortures the captive Cherry, before he takes the stake of her wooden leg through his eye and attempts to rape her in the most disturbing fashion. While Bruce Willis’s military commander also undergoes a rather hideous transformation as the movie ramps up the gore, and all of the soldiers start to turn on their captives. The film reaches a climax with all guns blazing and an image synonymous with Planet Terror, as Cherry has an automatic machine gun attached to her leg stump, and the remaining survivors embark on their final push for freedom.

Words by : Mark Bates

Grindhouse Trailers

Machete (Robert Rodriguez)

Werewolf Women Of The SS (Rob Zombie)

Don’t (Edgar Wright)

Hobo With A Shotgun (Jason Eisener)

Thanksgiving (Eli Roth)


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