by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Grindhouse is high concept at its highest, more than three hours of homage to the grindhouse flicks of the seventies and late sixties.

A "grindhouse" was a local independent theater which made a living from running the same kinds of B-movies which appeared in drive-ins, always as double or triple features. These films were made with small budgets and a small number of distribution prints which made the rounds from theater to theater. By the time the prints arrived at the last sites in the circuit, they were often damaged by wear, handling, censorship, and even outright theft. Theater owners and projectionists would often snip out things they liked, or things they had to snip out to meet local decency standards. Once these cuts were made, a film was rarely restored. The print's migration would continue "as is," and the film would get ever shorter and more shop-worn. These films were normally the exploitation genres: Italian gialli, soft-core porn, martial arts flicks, splatter and horror films, gearhead and redneck movies, spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation efforts, women in prison films, and so forth. Occasionally a European art film with some nudity would sneak into the circuit as well, much to the chagrin of theatergoers who had been lured in by deceptively sensationalistic  marketing. It wasn't just the art films which could disappoint. Every single one of the films seemed to have a great newspaper insert, a lurid trailer, and a sensational come-on poster, but the actual films often disappointed in contrast to the sleazy promise of their marketing campaigns.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez started with the idea that they would make two of the movies that were promised by those posters, with each director making his own film and the entire package to include a double feature and fake trailers to other, similar films.

The two men chose to interpret the task in very different ways. Rodriguez stuck with his original concept of delivering the kind of movie promised by the trailers: sleazy, gory, gross, sadistic, and funny, with every element exaggerated to wild, frenetic levels. His film, "Planet Terror" is basically the ultimate zombie movie, and is just non-stop insanity. It lives in a word of its own, somewhere between a parody of 70s exploitation, a refinement of 70s exploitation, and a typically mad Rodriguez movie like From Dusk 'Til Dawn.

Tarantino went in a different direction. His segment, "Deathproof," is about a stuntman who kills women with his tricked-up car, by engaging them in crashes which he can survive but they can't. Since he stays sober and attacks drunken female drivers, John Law lets him skate. Tarantino did not parody 70s genre films or expand upon them. He simply made one of his own, presumably using the logic that parody would be redundant. Unfortunately, he got hanged from the height of that concept. Those movies often went on too long with too much talking, so he did that. They often dropped plot threads, so he did that. They often ended without wrapping up, so he did that. They often had incoherent plots, so he did that, too. A real film insider will appreciate the intellectual honesty of what he did, right down to the film stocks, the cameras, and the CGI-free action.

Tarantino delivered exactly what he intended to, and what he did, he did perfectly. Unfortunately, his concept is a bit too "inside" for average audiences to appreciate. After all, a bad movie is a bad movie, whether one makes it that way intentionally or unintentionally. QT might have benefited from exaggerating the films of that time rather than merely duplicating them. With all the problems, there are two elements which redeem the Tarantino segment: a crazed performance by Kurt Russell as the murderous stuntman, and dazzling car chase footage actually performed "old school," by live actors on the road in real cars.

In short, Rodriguez delivered the movie that grindhouse marketing promised but never delivered. He did a Robert Rodriguez movie as a parodic riff on the films of the grindhouse era. Tarantino, on the other hand, actually made a genuine grindhouse movie, albeit with better camera work on the car stunts. If the complete film cost $53 million to make, Rodriguez probably spent about $52.9 million of it.

Before the show begins, there is a fake trailer, directed by Rodriguez, for a film called Machete. (I understand that Rodriguez has now decided to make this film a reality as soon as he finishes the Sin City sequels.) In between the two main features there are three more fake trailers directed by three different directors: Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright. Although the two main features are entertaining, the four trailers are, for my money, the best part of the show. Every single one of them is hilarious from start to finish, and each one riffs on a different element of period exploitation marketing. Great stuff.

The total entertainment experience is excellent, with the only exception being that Tarantino's segment takes a long time to develop, and the beginning is long-winded in the extreme, which gives the three hour presentation a big sag about two hours in. Given that most human bodies are psychologically prepared to head for the exits after two hours, this is not the perfect place to install a lull. Perhaps Tarantino's film should be shorter, or perhaps it should have gone first, because I was dozing off a bit in parts of Deathproof, but there's no way anybody could doze off during Planet Terror.

I have to admit I would have been perfectly content to leave after Planet Terror and the fake trailers, and that's exactly what I would do if I went to see the film again. I would enjoy seeing those parts one more time, but one view of Deathproof was enough for me. Given the lack of nudity, I probably won't even watch it again when I get the DVD.

That's kind of a minor quibble. Tarantino did his own thing, and that's cool because the package would have not worked as well if the two directors had produced films which were too similar -  and they are as different as can be. And a quick scan of the reviews and IMDb comments reveals that there were plenty of people who preferred the Tarantino segment!

Grindhouse is not a movie, or even two movies, but an experience. It's the Rocky Horror of a new millennium. It's the kind of film that gets people together in costume at midnight screenings so they can talk back to the movie. It's the kind of thing that you should show in HD on your home theater to your rowdiest friends, all of whom should be fueled by the intoxicants of their choice. I reckon that would be an evening of rip-roaring fun.


* DVD features not yet announced






84 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
78 (of 100)


8.5 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $53 million for production. The opening weekend was a disappointing $11 million, about half of expectations.


  • No nudity from the stars, but quite a but from various unidentified actresses in Planet Terror and the fake trailers. (Including Sherry Moon in one of the trailers.)





Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Great fun, but not much chance for cross-over here. Its sleazy and gory in the extreme.