Review by Jack Foley
IN ORIGINAL form Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror formed the first half of the ill-fated Grindhouse project that was co-created with Quentin Tarantino and universally rejected by US audiences.
Now shorn from its better half (Death Proof) almost as ruthlessly as one of its characters limbs, this bloody homage to the exploitation flicks of the ’70s and the early films of John Carpenter gets its own cinematic outing. And it’s a wild, wild ride.
When an accident unleashes an experimental bio-weapon that turns people into flesh-eating zombies, it’s left to a small group of survivors to fight back from their small Texas town.
These include a sharp-shooting drifter (Freddy Rodriguez) with a penchant for martial arts, a plucky go-go dancer (Rose McGowan), a sexy nurse (Marley Shelton) who likes to carry hypodermic needles in a thigh-belt, her creepy themometer-chewing husband (Josh Brolin) and the town’s grizzled sherriff (Michael Biehn).
By turns funny, sick, disgusting and creepy, Rodriguez’s film arguably embraces the original grindhouse format more successfully than Death Proof and feels like a livelier experience as a result. But while it’ll doubtless get the horror junkies screaming along with their popcorn on a Saturday night, it lacks the lasting punch of Tarantino’s vision and is just (and only just) the weaker of the two.
Rodriguez has always been a director whose own boundless imagination sometimes gets the better of him (as the likes of From Dusk Til Dawn and Once Upon A Time in Mexico will testify) and, as a result, there’s a mounting sense that he’s trying to cram too much in, often at the expense of coherence and tone.
Hence, for everything that works in Planet Terror, there’s plenty that doesn’t. On the plus side, Freddy Rodriguez creates the type of kick-ass character that’s destined for cult status, McGowan oozes sex appeal (even with a machine gun attached to her severed leg) and Brolin creates a genuine sense of menace. While there’s a fantastic sequence involving Shelton’s nurse struggling to get away from the hospital with anaesthetised hands and a fun cameo from Bruce Willis.
But some of the set pieces verge on bad taste and yet another cameo from Quentin Tarantino smacks of self-indulgence and merely highlights why his talents are best reserved for behind the camera. Lost‘s Naveen Andrews also fares pretty badly in the acting stakes.
Disappointing, too, is the fact that the much-hyped fake trailers that accompanied the original Grindhouse now seem to be missing completely, except for the still marvellous Machete that sets things in motion. It seems that UK audiences will never get to see the offerings from Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright on the big screen.
In the main, however, Planet Terror offers outrageous, exploitative and excessively extreme fun that effectively achieves what it set out to do in the first place.
Running time: 1hr 45mins
UK DVD Release: March 10, 2008