AN AXE TO GRIND: “GRINDHOUSE” Review
“By Pick. By Sword. By Axe… Bye Bye!” — Tagline from poster for The Mutilator
To me, it’s almost like Poltergeist. Times Square. 42nd Street. NYC.
The developers came. And seemingly overnight, the district went from Red Light to White suburb, sex shops to souvenir stands, nasty pussy to Hello Kitty. At the corner of 42nd and 8th now stood a safe, family-style restaurant. People ingested food there. Time was, at that same corner, food often projected in the other direction. The legendary grand dames of the exploitation circuit were whitewashed away, leaving behind a newly, safe, sanitized trail for Midwestern tourists to flock to, and the only crabs they’d ever come in contact with would be when Disney stages “The
To those who strove for a newfound safe-haven in the epicenter of the Greatest City On Earth, this was success at its highest.
But they only moved the headstones. They didn’t move the bodies.
Somewhere, less than 12 blocks from where I type right now, someone is about to recline in a lovely, plush, red velvet theater, unaware that their $110 orchestra seat was once entrenched with more human DNA than an Anna Nicole Smith paternity trial. Ah, Venice.
Forgive me for waxing nostalgic but I still get a little stirring deep down inside, unless it’s just delayed hepatitis, when I think of The Deuce. Look, I’m no poser. I cannot nor would not ever claim to have been there for the heyday. But I did live to see Basket Case spawn a sequel there, down a bottle of SocoFo there, and see a pimp in his (this is not a joke) a powder-blue, leather suit get blown by two of his girls there, while a junkie carved his name (?) in the seat behind me with a stiletto.
And I can still remember the torn, eroded poster for “The Mutilator”, the last ephemera of a lost civilization, crookedly clinging to a closed ticket window on the North side of the street like Lady Liberty’s torch from the end of Planet Of The Apes.
The irony is I’m not even sure The Mutilator ever played there.
Yes, I remember the Grindhouses. They were truly something to besmell. But after seeing GRINDHOUSE-Rodriguez & Tarantino’s $100 million dollar requiem to hair in the gate-I think I’m now on Disney’s side because I think I’d rather watch a musical adaptation of “The Boatniks” than this self-indulgent piece of shit.
First off, let me come clean. I am often accused of hating movies before I see them. Untrue. It’s usually during. Furthermore, I have nothing against Rodriguez or Tarantino (both who have individually made movies I’ve loved) except for the fact that this project is fighting an eternal, uphill battle that only Raiders Of The Lost Ark has pulled off.
…. and that is to homage something respectfully yet somehow make it better.
Because here’s the dirty, little secret. And this is coming from someone who owns the Cheerleaders “Box Set” on DVD. Most of the grindhouse movies… sucked.
Yes. True. That’s why junkies went to them to go pass out in them. C’mon, even sitting through “Secrets of The Ya Ya Sisterhood” would be interesting if you were doped up on quaaludes and getting a hand job from a pre-op trannie. The truth is, most exploitation films are just god-awful. I didn’t say I don’t watch them with many friends after several drinks. I’m just saying they’re pretty god-awful.
Now certainly, of course, there are gems. Just like Hollywood. Hollywood films are pretty god awful too. But Hollywood has its Citizen Kanes and Roger Rabbits, just as 42nd Street had its Switchblade Sisters and Dolemites (mother fucker). Good movies are good movies so long as they succeed and what they intend to do. I have this old belief that you either should make something different or make something better.
And this is where I think Grindhouse completely fails at both.
Take Grindhouse’s first “feature”, Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR. Now the irony here is, if this had been an actual exploitation movie from the Golden Age Of Sleaze, it would have been a legend. But that’s like saying David Blaine would be one of the greatest magicians, if he could actually fly. Had Rodriguez gone out and really found a one-legged stripper who can fire guns at mutant zombies, he would’ve had me at olla. But the mere fact that this entire movie is one, giant post-production effect goes against the very grain (no pun intended) of the movies he claims to “emulating”. I assure you at no point in “Invasion Of The Fleshhunters” are there any motion-tracked green screen.
In fact, I bet they spent more money on faking a grainy, scratchy negative than guys like Hershel Gordon Lewis spent on actual film stock in their entire career (Plus, they really overdo the “shitty print” effect. We get it. Sweet Jesus, even my old, 12th generation, VHS bootleg of Cannibal Holocaust never looked this bad). He’s gone back to the sleazy well of sweat, piss and whisky but he’s just splashed it on like cheap cologne. Yep. It’s quite the cool tattoo. Too bad it washes off with soap.
Ok, so fine. So we know it’s not 42nd Street. It’s Sunset Blvd. But the big question is… Well, does it at least deliver the goods?
Yep. And way, way too much.
The entire Toxic Avenger trilogy never had this degree of on-screen radioactive splat, (not to mention done by top-notch, Oscar-nominated fx artists). I can’t believe how many individual scenes of effects there are. Sure, grindhouse auteur, Lucio Fulci, gave his gore tons of screen time but he kept using the same fucking shot (and furthermore, when Fulci’s film was released in the U.S. with some reels out of order, no one noticed).
Yet for all its gore, it goes blood simple. You’ve seen one tooth-splitting, semi-melted, shot-gunned head trauma, you’ve seen them all. It’s From Dusk Til Yawn. It makes no sense why Rodriguez would spend so much time faking the minutia when he completely missed the big picture. Great, you nailed
the font. Now work on the script.
Simply put, PLANET TERROR is not a grindhouse movie. It’s a pose. An act. It’s a rich kid spending $300 on designer jeans that have been pre-torn, pre-faded and pre-made to look like he found them at the Salvation Army. I’m sorry but you just can’t claim to be a Troublemaker when you have the same capital as “Titanic”. For this budget, Larry Coen would’ve made 100 films.
But then we have the other extreme.
Tarantino’s “DEATH PROOF” is so underwhelming, if it played a real grindhouse, even the legless veterans would have walked out. I really cannot comprehend how anyone who claims to love this genre (for god sakes, the man re-released “The Mighty Peking Man”) would have made an exploitation film as boring as this. It’s almost as if Quentin took the name of grindhouse legend “Make Them Die Slowly” a little too literally.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk. Dick. Dick Dick.
I have never seen anyone so in love with their own dialogue (and this is coming from someone who writes 5 page movie reviews). You’re not Mamet. At this 2 hour point, you’re not even Rodriguez. Why the fuck are you making an exploitation film about a bunch of women talking? You have gone beyond Jack Hill to Nora Ephron. It’s like being trapped with the Simpson’s Comic Collector in a mid-riff.
Sure, it all begins promising enough with a cool opening credits sequence– and unlike Planet Terror–for the first minute or so, you have no idea exactly what it’s going to be. But soon the answer is evident. It’s going to be nothing.
So is that the big Tarantino “twist”? To do a grindhouse movie with no grind? Or is it supposed to be a meditation on the representation of actively-sexual, female protagonists in a normally male-dominated genre while doubling as a self-reflexive homage to the very nature of homage while exploring the works of progressive 70’s exploitation filmmakers who may have subverted the very medium of exploitation to explore–
Why am I analyzing this?
THIS IS A FUCKING GRINDHOUSE DOUBLE FEATURE, YOU FUCKING ASS.
Shut up and show us your tits. Your audience is supposed to have passed out in vomit reading “Jugs” and “Fangoria”, not the Cahiers Du Cinema. Plus, any director who casts an actor as bad as Tarantino is not a good director. Only M. Night Shaymalan is worse. My god, I can’t think of two directors more in love with their presence in front of the camera as they are behind it. They make Mel Brooks seem camera shy. The two of them should just finally get together, film each other touching themselves in a mirrored room, and then take turns acting out the “FeelAround” scene from Kentucky Fried Movie.
And then there’s the car chase. Wow. Maybe if it hadn’t happened three hours into the movie I would’ve still been awake enough to see it. And it’s fine. A good stunt as seen in a nice, wide, long shot. For about 20 minutes. But is does not a story make and, c’mon, is it really anything that much above and beyond Burt Reynolds in “Hooper”?
Oh, and don’t you dare play the Russell card. Everyone loves Kurt Russell. I know. No bigger “Thing” fan than I. But merely inviting a cool person to your party doesn’t make you cool, especially when you’ve paid him to come. And I’ll be honest, I don’t think this a stand out role for Russell (wait, Kurt Russell playing a charming-but-still-dangerous tough guy-oh, pinch me!). He’s just doing what he does best. Even Mickey Rourke somehow transcended his own tough guy image into something new—and that was under 10 pounds of make up (at least. I…I think that… was… make up). So yes, I know Kurt Russell was Snake Pliskin. But I will gently remind the court he was also Capt. Ron.
Fortunately for Grindhouse, the one thing they do get right is that none of the exploitation movies were ever as good as the trailers. So I gotta give kudos to NYU-alum, Eli Roth for his “Thanksgiving” (the voice over nails it) as well as to whoever did the “Don’t Open The Window”/ “Don’t Go In The House”/ “Don’t Go In The Basement” sub-genre parody (here, simply re-imagined as “Don’t”). I’ll even go so far as to say Rob Zombie’s fake S.S. Werewolf Women trailer is 100 times better than his real “Halloween” one.
In the end, I’m with ya that it’s fun to remember the days of the Grindhouses through rose-tinted lenses (or I guess, slightly-yellowish-brown tinted ones). But it’s also way too easy. Even the most obscure, 70’s cult film is posted on YouTube. Somewhere right now, an Indian Manitou is crying.
So in an age where someone is probably adapting the Quisp cereal box into a three picture deal, I’m not impressed by merely referencing the past. Anyone can copy something that’s been done before (or as Stephen Sommers calls it, “directing”).
For that’s all this is… one, long, inside joke-a hip, 100 million dollar, 70’s theme party seemingly thrown just because they can.
Then again, for all of its self-indulgent, self-absorbed, show-off posing, in some ways maybe they have captured the true spirit of the Grindhouse after all…
As I have just paid $10 to watch someone else jerk off.
P.S. And as for Rob Zombie’s forthcoming Halloween remake, he has apparently honed his skills. He is now able to rip off both Carpenter and Hooper in the same shot.
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