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Planet Terror (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Planet Terror (DVD)
Advantages: Brilliantly bad homage to B Movies
Disadvantages: May come across as smug if you don't get the joke
Sadly, by the time it reached our shores, Grindhouse had tanked in America. Assuming that British audiences would be as stupid as their American counter-parts and not understand the heavily ironic tone of the whole enterprise, Grindhouse was hacked in two, shorn of several fake trailers and released as separate films... where they tanked.
Planet Terror is the Robert Rodriguez-directed part of Grindhouse. It's deliberately schlocky B-Movie plot sees a chemical weapon released on a small town in Texas which turns the majority of its inhabitants into flesh-eating zombies. A small group of survivors must band together and try and fight their way to freedom.
Everything about Planet Terror is very deliberately cheesy and (in a good way) awful. Rodriquez does everything he can to recreate that feeling of "cheapness" that pervaded the Grindhouse films that were knocked out as cheaply and as quickly as possible. The dialogue is clunky, the special effects ropey and the picture quality and sound rough. Great big scratches intrude onto the screen all the way through; colours suddenly change, moving from vibrant to washed out, to vibrant again - often within the same scene. Sound is similarly awful becoming hopelessly muffled at times, or the mix being all wrong so that the dialogue is drowned out by some irrelevant background noise.
The direction is also similarly awful - all done in that same, knowing way, of course. Rodriguez has characters talking with their backs to the audience, or presents the action from confusing camera angles that make it almost impossible to work out what is going on. There's even a "missing reel" (complete with authentic caption) where a whole chunk of the film has vanished and you have absolutely no idea what links the events in the scene preceding it to the events immediately after it.
You need to think carefully about all this. If it sounds like a fun and clever homage to the bad films of yesteryear, then you will lap up Planet Terror. If you have a soft spot for terrible, schlocky, low budget B Movies, then it will be right up your street. If you're not old enough to remember when some films really were this bad, then you will hate every minute of it, seeing it as little more than a smug exercise in self-indulgence.
There does come a time when all the tricks and in-jokes start to wear thin and smack of an over-indulgent director playing around in a great big toy box. Thankfully (in a rubbish kind of way), there is also a decent film in there too. For all its deliberate awfulness, Planet Terror is good fun if you share my weakness for rubbish B movies.
The plot is pretty hackneyed, even by the standards of the zombie genre, but it does mean that there is plenty of time for action. Talking is limited, shooting zombies is everything. Planet Terror is fast-paced and fun.
It takes all the staples of the genre (pretty women, guns, lots and lots of blood) and mixes them together in a very satisfying way. The film, of course, was sold on the image of Rose McGowan wearing a machine gun as a prosthetic leg, yet that doesn't actually happen until fairly late in the film. It's brilliant when it does, but Planet Terror doesn't solely rely on that gimmick for its success.
Fans of so-called video nasties will enjoy the gleeful bloodletting as the red stuff squirts all over the screen and zombies are shot, blown up, run over or even, in one memorable sequence, mown down by a helicopter. The human characters suffer too, with one being torn apart in a way which is hilariously reminiscent of some of worst effects from zombie films over the years. Yet, whilst it aims for cheesy, the special effects in Planet Terror are great, exactly as you would expect from Rodriguez. The zombies look suitable scary and oozy and the deformities caused by the virus as pretty grotesque.
It's clear that the cast have bought into the whole joke and each plays their part with a ponderous earnestness that deliberately clashes with the daft tone of the film. No-one hams things up (which would have been a mistake) and it's played as though they are starring in the most important and worthy film ever. Particular praise must go Rose McGowan as the sarcastic, world-weary Go Go Dancer (not stripper) Cherry Darling. Despite suffering the indignity of having a table leg and then a machine gun as a limb, she manages to be funny, tough, sultry and sexy. Backing up against her is an excellent Freddy Rodriguez as the slightly mysterious (and jacket obsessed) Wray. Both get the tone the film is aiming for perfectly and create brilliant leads for the others to follow.
They don't make 'em like this anymore, that's for certain and on the one hand, that's a very good thing. The improvements in cinematic sound and picture quality means that now even the cheapest films can look and sound OK. On the other hand, I do miss the bonkers, nonsensical plots, the laughably bad special effects and the awful acting and dire-logue that B Movies used to supply. If you share that same nostalgic yearning for truly cheesy monster movies, then Planet Terror is for you!
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Running time: approx. 105 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: The better half of the Grindhouse Pair