This was maybe one of my favorite rewatch experiences I’ve ever had, partly because I got to see it at a sold out showing at the Los Angeles New Beverly. It’s insane considering that last time I saw this was on its initially release where my dad and I attended it at an empty theater in Houston. This is a film meant to be seen with a rowdy audience, excited for the grit and gore that awaits them.
Starting with Planet Terror, I relieved to see how much it holds up. This film excels because it’s doing a broad parody of the exploitation genre and having so much fun in the process. Unlike Death Proof which is a more grounded, thematic approach, Rodriguez is going all out on aesthetic incorporating the scratchy bleached out color of old footage and even burnt or lost reels that would happen to films of that era. Planet Terror is a virus outbreak scenario following a rag tag group of survivors including a stripper, lesbian doctor and barbecue restaurateur as they shoot up mutants and military.
The film works because it has such commitment to its silliness but also doesn’t overly wink at the camera. It respects the audience enough to believe they’ll get the jokes and plays it so straight faced. My favorite story line is Dr. Block (Marley Shelton) who is planning on leaving her husband (played by Josh Brolin) and when he finds out, he stabs her hands with a numbing agent and she spends the rest of the movie with limp wrists. It leads to some great physical comedy especially with her trying to drive a car. Because there’s such a colorful cast of characters there’s always something interesting to cut to and countless amazing set pieces.
My only complaint about this movie is that it’s set in present day with heavy cell phone use. I wish it had either stuck to being in the 70’s like the music and the cinematic style is already harkening back to or have no time stamp at all. You’re watching these incredible prosthetics and make up effects then someone pulls out a Nokia Sidekick and it would take you out of it completely.
This movie is like Resident Evil on crack and if Resident Evil was good. It has a brilliantly underrated cast with character actors like Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn and Naveen Andrews. It uses practical effects where it can and blends CGI well (who doesn’t love a machine gun leg) and makes a genuinely fun action film, better than most I’ve encountered in the last few years. This movie is gravely under appreciated and I would love to see it have its renaissance.
Death Proof usually ranks last when it comes to Tarantino’s filmography. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just misses the mark where most hit the bullseye. I like what he set out to accomplish, making a realistic grindhouse feature specifically in its storytelling, setting and characters. Even though it’s cleaner and obviously high budget than any of those films made in the 70’s, he utilizes the heat and sweat of the south, the grungy bars, the muscle cars and the flashes of ultra violence to make an effective exploitation thriller.
I’d consider the first half near perfect. The introduction and character development for the group of friends is great at establishing their personalities. They’re funny and likable which is intentional because I think the film really wants you to be on their side making their demise more powerful. Then we meet Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who we don’t if we can trust or not. He’s such a creepy uncle type that you can’t tell if he’s harmless or a threat as he drinks a virgin pina colada and oggles the younger women, my favorite being Arlene played by Vanessa Ferlito who gives my favorite cinematic lap dance. After having such a fun time with everyone at the bar, when the plot ramps into horror movie territory, it’s so effective because you don’t expect it to go so dark and as far as kill these girls in such a violent manner. The car crash is an amazing use of practical effects which makes it even more gruesome.
After this intense climax the film hits the restart button and we have to meet a whole new set of girls and it feels tiresome. We already know what Mike’s capable of so now it becomes a waiting game of him to show up and terrorize. Even though I love the second cast so much with indie darlings like Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, I care less about their relationships when I’m craving the thrill of their inevitable Stuntman Mike encounter. It delivers a great pay off at least and the moment when Zoe Bell just starts smashing his car with the pipe is so exhilarating but the second half becomes an endurance test because it feels like we already sat through one movie and then have to start another. It’s still a better movie than most directors can hope to make but it pales in comparison to most Tarantino masterpieces.