Making a pact to film back-to-back movies, to be released as Grindhouse, their cinematic joke fell flat when distributors couldn’t make cinemas show both together. So Tarantino’s lukewarm Death Proof and Rodriguez’ altogether more savvy Planet Terror got separate releases.
Lucky for Rodriguez: viewed on its own terms, Planet Terror is a brashly amusing, tongue-in-cheek, gore-drenched movie whose own taste for excess would’ve been overblown by a back-to-back release. And while Rodriguez is lesser known than Tarantino, he’s much more original.
Less snappy on the dialogue he may be, but Rodriguez’ visual daring and sense of fun are still a better prism for critiquing cinematic pop culture. And Planet Terror boasts more bodies, blood and bravado than you can shake an Uzi at: even an Uzi that’s strapped to a girl’s thigh in place of a bitten-off limb.
A virus, leaked from a military base, has turned the inhabitants of an American town into blood-thirsty mutants. A bunch of plucky souls hole up to fend off the nightmare. But the street-wise youth-with-a-secret, his former amour, and a nurse with a homicidal husband – soon find that it’s the humans you’ve got to watch out for.
If jars of testicles, exploding heads, drooling sex organs and eye-jabbing needles float your boat, then this is a blast. Caricatures they may be, but Rodriguez’ characters are coloured-in enough to care about. And while Planet Terror cranks up the clichés – in keeping with the Grindhouse joke – it’s still a slyly effective shocker.
But at heart this isn’t a comedy horror movie. Quality outings like Slither still win on real scares and splatter. This is Shaun of the Dead on acid - hellfire humour and a homage to the kind of fleapit flicks you’d have seen in seventies Soho.
Ironically, Rodriguez is too good a film-maker to make a throwaway film, which is what grindhouse movies were. But he’s come pretty close with Planet Terror: you can easily live without it.