planet-terror-mcgowan6. Planet Terror (2007; dir. Robert Rodriguez) – Not enough people saw Grindhouse when it was in theaters. I’ll admit it: I didn’t see it. I remember hearing about it, but I didn’t rush to the Bridge to check it out. And yet, I think that’s because I didn’t really understand what it was. Yeah, yeah, back to back exploitation flicks by Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez, sounds kind of cool, but I can wait for video (as I do with most of Tarentino’s movies). What I didn’t realize was that they were offering two awesome movies for the price of one ticket, that these movies would have amazing fake movie trailers between the showings directed by prime horror/exploitation directors (might I point out that the studio maybe could have marketed these movies better?). The combo bombed at the box office, and I now look back with regret that I didn’t shell out my cash to support this idea. Both Death Proof and Planet Terror are amazing and tons of fun, but here I’ll be focused on Planet Terror, since this is the zombie half of the Grindhouse billing.

So what’s a Robert Rodriguez zombie flick like? It’s what you’d expect: El Mariachi with the undead. And I know how that sounds: AMAZING! Right? One thing a director should know before venturing into the well-charted waters of zombie lore is what came before. This helps to take things one step further over the top, and true to form Rodriguez must have done his homework.


Planet Terror picks up with a premise previously used in 1985’s Return of the Living Dead—that the government has developed a toxin which brings people back from the grave—and quite honestly, uses that premise to make a superior movie.

Planet Terror serves as a prime example of a director using style to serve his subject matter, working in a mode he’s not only familiar with but a master of. Even though this section of Grindhouse was shot in digital video, both he and Tarentino deteriorated the prints to achieve the old drive-in theater effect. This is big studio low-budget, and that charm is evident. They hired Naveen Andrews of Lost along with Bruce Willis on the easiest payday of his career, since his only line seems to be: “Where…is…the…shit?” while Naveen takes his supplicants’ testicles with strange surgical implements. Rodriguez brought in London Bridge’s Fergie (her first shot being at the “Bone House” no less) only to have her pulled apart by flesh eaters, later identified by the brains missing from the back of her head (go figure?). There’s even Josh Brolin of No Country for Old Men playing a sadistic doctor, and Jeff Fahey, who, if he was this good in everything probably wouldn’t appear here. There’s also effects wizard Tom Savini as an asshole deputy and Michael Biehn, time-traversing soldier of the first Terminator movie and secondary hero of Aliens. But the main attraction is Rose McGowan (of Scream and dating Marilyn Manson fame) and Freddie Rodriguez (no relation to Robert but often fantastic on Six Feet Under), as the lead couple El Wray and Cheery Darling.

El Wray? Well, that dude is a bad-ass mofo. He’s so bad-ass he could pretty much kill everyone he comes across but let’s the bumbling police force take him into custody without a hitch, recognizing the larger picture. There’s a catastrophe going on, and he has to keep his head to save the beautiful love of his live, Cherry.

Sections of film are cut, and if you’re interested in creating suspense, that’s a cool technique. Whole scenes are even “missing.” And though that probably shouldn’t work, it somehow does. Bone Shack besieged, (frames lost and the “Lapses in Information”), Bone Shack burning to the ground,  assailing zombies at every entrance. Gun-fight, knife-fight, guns….missing reel, Bone Shack as safe haven with good cars and tough guys. But what I really wonder is, does the scene storming the hospital featured in the clip below work because it looks like a video game or in spite of it?