When Quentin Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse exploitation movie double bill, namely Death Proof, was finally released in the UK, his promise of an insightful throwback to films of the 1970s fell well short of his claims. Overlong, rambling and a gimmicky narrative undermined his attempts to nod back to the trashy midnight movies of old from a contemporary perspective proved unsuccessful. There was always more hope for Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. His unashamed direction of high octane actioners such as Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn had a whiff of exploitation in their approach, loading up with over the top set pieces. It transfers perfectly to Planet Terror, but is weighed down by trying too hard to replicate movies from the past.
While Tarantino went heavy on character for Death Proof and bored everyone, Rodriguez retreads the zombie action genre with considerable aplomb. A bio-weapon is turning Texas into a zombie retreat and a group of infected army commandos led by a deadpan Bruce Willis is encouraging its spread while they seek out continuing supplies of the antidote. Meanwhile, gogo dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) is reunited with her mechanic ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) then gets her legs chewed off by one of the zombies. Slowly, the two discover who is behind the zombie infestation and assemble a rag-bag collection of willing rebels, including local sheriff Hague (Terminator’s Michael Biehn and a dodgy doctor (Josh Brolin), to fight back. Admittedly, it does not always make a whole lot of sense, but Rodriguez packs it full of knowing winks to trashy sci-fi actioners from the past and gore by the bucket load.
Rodriguez packs it full of knowing winks to trashy sci-fi actioners from the past and gore by the bucket load.
Most people will know of or have seen Cherry’s replacement leg is an automatic machine gun. This gives a good indication of Rodriguez’s intention to ensure audiences have fun watching Planet Terror. There are more than enough explosive shoot outs and chases put together in a fake bad way featuring intercutting of shots clearly out of sequence or from the wrong angle and plenty of blood-splattering deaths. Coupled with the corny characters with grudges on their shoulders or points to prove, Rodriguez has carefully calculated the ultimate in grindhouse action. The trouble is, he’s done it so well a lot of the would-be pokes at the genre become as tiresome as when they were back then.
Planet Terror often gets too tied up in itself with pointless sub plots and waffle which would admittedly form part of these films back in the day, but really don’t need to be indulged in as much as Rodriguez does here. By the time Quentin Tarantino arrives for his embarrassing and over-long cameo, it’s already outstayed its welcome. The final battle is worth waiting for, however, so grin and try to see the funny side of it if you can. Missing reels, nods to John Carpenter and George Romero, old skool titles and a fake trailer help keep the mood decidedly tongue-in-cheek, yet, like Death Proof, Planet Terror gets lost in it’s own act of imitation somewhere along the line and lacks the zest to keep the interest throughout. Nevertheless, action and zombie film fans will find more than enough to warrant a second viewing which is a lot more than can be said for Tarantino’s grindhouse offering.