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PLANET TERROR

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacey Ferguson, Bruce Willis
Director:  Robert Rodriguez
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dimension Films
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  October 16, 2007

“If anyone comes to the door that isn’t me, I want you to shoot them…okay?”

“What if it’s Dad?”

“ESPECIALLY if it’s your dad.”

Film ***1/2

Planet Terror is a high octane thrill ride of blood, guts and mayhem, so much so that the screen sometimes literally runs red.  It was once Robert Rodriguez’ half of Grindhouse, and hopefully someday it will be again, but it stands alone as a gruesome, gut-busting throwback to 70s zombies films where the screams are almost as incessant as the laughter.

It stars Rose McGowan at her sexy best as Cherry Darling, an exotic dancer who ends up on the run for her life with her mysterious ex Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) when a chemical agent that spreads through contact begins to take over their Texas town.  There are a pair of married doctors (Brolin and Shelton) who seem to have a few more problems than just the viral outbreak to deal with.  There’s a barbecue chef (Fahey) and his sheriff brother (Biehn), who argue over recipes but team up against the zombie onslaught.  And there’s a mysterious military man (Willis) who may have all the answers.  Oh, and lest I forget, there’s also mega-pop star Fergie, looking sweaty and sexy, but coming into town at just the wrong time.

You won’t find many movies so playfully and unapologetically over-the-top as this one.  Nothing that could be left in cruise control wasn’t taken into maximum overdrive, whether it’s the constant barrage of blood, gore and violence, the sultry sex appeal of the stars, or even the infamous back story of Wray…which is never seen.  Missing Reel, don’t you know.

The missing reel is both a clever throwback in it’s own right and an ingenious plot device to boot.  When it cuts back, we’re in the middle of all hell breaking loose, and the switching of gears is jarring, hysterical and totally original.  What 70s films often achieved on accident, Rodriguez brings about with a devilish, devious purpose.

For those familiar with 70s movies of the undead, this film is everything you’d expect and more.  It’s high octane, turbo charged, and as violent as any of those pictures you might remember, and probably a lot more.  It will make you shriek with horror and laughter at the same time.  Rose McGowan, with her machine gun leg, has already become something of a 70s icon three decades after the era actually came to a close.

As it did in the theatre, the film actually begins with Rodriguez’ fake trailer for Machete (“They just f—ked with the wrong Mexican!”) that sets the table perfectly.  If it doesn’t get you clapping and cheering in your seat, you just aren’t capable of having a good, escapist time at the movies. 

At the same time, it disappointed me, because after it, the film began with the Grindhouse logo on screen, and made me hope the movie would end with the fake middle trailers that ran in the theatre.  If it had, you could have popped Death Proof on immediately afterwards and recreate an extended, unrated version of Grindhouse in your home.  But those trailers, directed by the likes of Rob Zombie and Eli Roth, are still missing.

And therein lies the rub.  Grindhouse remains my favorite film of 2007, but we fans still can’t experience it again, or worse, if you’re one who missed it in movie houses, you may not ever get to see what we saw.  As much as I love Planet Terror and Death Proof, and as willing as I am to admit they can stand apart, Grindhouse was a product even greater than the sum of its individual parts.  It needs to come out intact before the experience becomes as hazy and faded as some of the real 70s films we saw in our youths.

So kudos to Robert Rodriguez for his bloody, apocalyptic fireball of vintage cheese and sleaze entertainment, but do us a favor…lean on the studio a little more to give fans what we deserve, and that’s to have Grindhouse released on DVD as it was meant to be seen.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Keep a sharp eye out, and you'll spot stuntwoman extraordinaire and Death Proof star Zoë Bell as one of the zombies.

Video ***

“I’m Cherry.”

“You sure are.”

It looks pretty bad, and in this case, that’s a compliment.  Rodriguez went a little further than his partner Quentin Tarantino in going for the authentic grindhouse look.  The print is speckled, scratchy and bubbly, and the overall effect is charming and keeps you in the right frame of mind from beginning to end.

Audio ****

“I never miss.”

Sure, the 5.1 audio has deliberate noise here and there, but it’s more than just a 70s recreation.  The sound is loud, dynamic and forceful throughout, with a climax of almost non-stop action, bullets and explosions that really envelop you in the proceedings.  Rodriguez’ music score is a definite plus as well.

Features ***1/2

“This one’s a no-brainer.”

This disc is a little more loaded than Death Proof.  The first disc includes two bonus audio tracks, the first being an excellent, fun and informative commentary from Robert Rodriguez.  The second is an audience reaction track, so you can experience the movie the way it was in the theatre…that is, except for the fact that it’s not the full Grindhouse of course.  There is also an international release trailer, poster gallery, and some other sneak peeks.

Disc Two has a 10 Minute Film School segment showing how some of the shots were constructed.  There are featurettes on both the guys and the gals in the film, one on the casting aging, one on the stunts, and one on some of Rodriguez’ friends who ended up cast in the movie, including his landlord and his doctor.

Summary:

“You want the story?  I’ll spin it for you quick…”

It’ll make you squirm, it’ll make you scream.  It’ll make you cringe and chuckle.  Planet Terror is an exercise in pure adrenaline and reaction…you can’t sit still while you watch it.

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