Welcome to Cineray, the first article of a new column where I will write movie reviews and suggest cool flicks for you to spend your time watching. I’m a guy who loves cinema, but what’s more, I have a bit of education in the field as well. I have taken a couple of cinema courses, and I’ve studied screenwriting in a classroom environment. I also read film theory for fun, and I watch A LOT of movies.
I jumped at the chance, and here we go.
For my very first recommendation, I am going to start with a double feature: Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and Death Proof, directed by Quentin Tarantino, collectively known as Grindhouse.
You can certainly search and watch the two films separately, but I can’t strongly recommend the Grindhouse presentation enough. For one thing, the entire presentation will include the faux theater ratings and the Acuna Boys restaurant ad, but it also contains the great mostly fake trailers made by some famous director. I say ‘mostly’ because the first faux trailer before Planet Terror is Machete, which Rodriguez eventually turned into a film. When that happened, I held so much hope that we would eventually see all those trailers turned into movies by the same directors, but it never happened.
What’s great about the whole presentation is how the creators involved tried to recreate the entire Grindhouse experience of the ’70s for an audience in the present day complete with missing reels, and all the pops and scratches that were present in the films of that era.
The trailers themselves are mini works of art that reference 70’s films in various ways. Machete harkens back to films like Death Race 2000 where the fun is the body count as well as the lone hero films like Billy Jack.
Rodriguez has upped the violence and gore and brought a more current political climate to the tale. The rest of the trailers appear after the presentation of Planet Terror and I will discuss them in the order presented.
Werewolf Women of the SS from Rob Zombie references Nazi exploitation films with a great historical reference twist. The regency is after the fall of Nazi Germany in WWII, there was a German Nazi resistance movement called Werewolves. Knowing his history, Zombie takes that knowledge and smartly twists it into a concept of a Nazi scientist trying to create werewolf soldiers and hey why not throw in fictional supervillain Fu Manchu played by Nick Cage.
Again this is Zombie flexing his knowledge as Fu Manchu was not just a villain of comics and films but a literary creation of the 1920s and would have certainly been a part of movie serials.
Then there is Don’t directed by Edgar Wright who blends the style of Hammer and haunted house movies like the House on Haunted Hill into a demented little gem with shocks and laughs.
What I have also found so impressive about this one is that it no only references the films but if you have ever watched film trailers of the era it very much has that pattern starting with one jump scare into another until it builds to a mania of them. Finally, there is Thanksgiving directed by Eli Roth that is not only a reference to the Halloween films but even more so to the gorier slashers of the 80s like Blood Rage and the Mutilator. When I saw this film in the theaters I literally heard gasps during this trailer.
Moving onto the films, Planet Terror is a fun gory quasi-zombie movie with lots of great moments. The scenes involving Dakota and her needles have been known to make several of my friends squirm for example. Its storyline is not so much an homage to a single film or genre as several from the siege films of Carpenter to the zombie movies of Romero with a lot of Rodriguez’s trademark violence and humor. And of course, there is a memorable cameo from Tarantino. The one thing to note about the story of this one is that it moves a lot quicker and has a lot more substance to its characters than most of the grindhouse cinema of the era. The one-story element I feel like is a throwback to those movies is the lack of explanation of El Rey’s infamy and Dakota’s quick turn around after the death of her son. A characteristic of grindhouse is honestly thin backstories and bizarre character evolutions and motivations.
The second film Death Proof by Tarantino is not so much a horror movie per se and a lot slower but still very enjoyable. Tarantino has stated he wanted to make a slasher film but felt the genre to constraining and so decided to blend another of his favorite genres to create a style closer to his style of filmmaking. This movie is more of an homage to the road/car movies of the ’70s, several of which are said by a character in a conversation. I have often heard the pace of this movie is too slow but when you realize the films he is homaging you understand what he is trying to do.
Finally going back to the audience’s reactions I experienced is another reason I love this one so much. It was Tarantino and Rodriguez making something they wanted to see and were not as invested in what would work for audiences. It’s probably why it was one of the more unpopular ventures of the two men but that’s also why I champion the movie whenever I can. It is going to be easy to find the movies separately but the film is available for streaming in its entirety on Vudu and iTunes and best of all free on YouTube in HD. Finally, get some popcorn and a soda or your favorite beer and a pizza and seat down and watch it all in one big 193-minute viewing, trust me it’s the best way.