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PLANET TERROR (2007)
A Reassessment File by Paul McMahon – “The Distracted Critic”
GRINDHOUSE was a much talked about curiosity when released in theaters in 2007. Billed as a double feature, it consisted of two movies back-to-back. The first, PLANET TERROR, was directed by Robert Rodriguez, and the second, DEATH PROOF, by Quentin Tarrantino. I remember a lot of mixed reviews for it, the most common complaint being the three-hour-plus run time.
When it came time for the DVD release, they did what any self-respecting capitalistic company would do, they split the movie into two separate films. Suckers like me, who didn’t make it to theaters for the three-hour extravaganza, got to pay double for the complete experience. PLANET TERROR, which I’m focusing on this month, impressed me with its over-the-top hardcore nature.
The music gets your attention right off the bat. This is one sick intro, set to Cherry Darling’s (Rose McGowan, PHANTOMS, 1998, and the other half of GRINDHOUSE, DEATH PROOF) exotic dancing. It ends with tears running past her smile as the tail notes of the music twist into a lion’s roar, while the camera focuses on Cherry’s open mouth. After, in the dressing room, she unzips her right boot while telling the club owner she needs a drastic change in her life. She quits and leaves, walking through spooky, foggy streets. Military trucks barrel past, and she jumps out of their way, landing in a pile of trash. She stands and discovers a chunk of broken glass jammed in her leg. Pissed, she limps off.
The convoy pulls up in front of a chemical factory. Abby (Naveen Andrews, of the Netflix Original TV series SENSE8), a scientist, steps out of a convoy truck to confront the leader of the group at the factory. The leader points to a destroyed shark cage, says the three subjects have escaped. Abby demands the man’s balls as compensation for his failure. Once that grim ritual is completed, Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis, DIE HARD, 1988, and 113 other movies listed on IMDb) steps out of the truck, demanding possession of “everything.” He says Abby’s been holding out on him. Abby shoots the machines in front of the factory and a green gas escapes into the air. Muldoon winks at him and walks away.
An overheated car rolls into “The Best BBQ joint in Texas.” The driver, Tammy (singer Fergie) leaps out and opens the hood. Immediately, J.T. (Jeff Fahey, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, 1992, and MACHETE, 2010), owner of the restaurant, yells at her to get away from the pumps. She assures him this is just a radiator leak. She’s also not interested in eating, only in getting water for her car. J.T. gives her a gallon that he’s bottled himself, and she’s on her way.
The Doctors Block wake and prep for a busy night at the hospital. Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton, SIN CITY, 2005, and the other GRINDHOUSE feature, DEATH PROOF) arranges for her friend Tammy to pick up her son and his suitcase and take him away. Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin, MIMIC, 1997, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, and currently filming DEADPOOL 2 as “Cable”) is suspicious, and it’s obvious Dakota is terrified of him.
Cherry steps into the restroom of J.T.’s BBQ joint and pulls the glass out of her leg. Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, LADY IN THE WATER, 2006, and “Rico” in the TV show SIX FEET UNDER) pulls up in his truck and comes inside. He sees Cherry and goes to talk. It’s obvious they used to be lovers. She tells Wray she’s going to be a standup comedian. Wray tells her she’s not funny. He tries to walk away, but she smiles through her tears again and asks him for a ride.
In the hospital, Dr. Bill Block’s first patient is Joe, a friend, who’s been bitten on the arm. While Block and another doctor consult on what should be done, Block sees Joe’s tongue, which is pustuled and writhing with sores. Block tries to drain the abscess and one of the pustules explodes in his face.
Tammy is stranded on the side of the road because her overheating car has crapped out again. This time it’s not the radiator. She doesn’t know why the thing won’t run. She gets out to walk, but seconds later she’s jumped and killed by pustule-infested people hiding at the side of the road. As they tear her to pieces, Wray and Cherry drive by. Wray tells her it was just people collecting a roadkill deer for food. Then he shouts and the truck skids, hits the bank, and rolls. The pustule-people wrench open Cherry’s door drag her away. Wray frees himself and chases after them, but comes face-to-face with more than he bargained for.
You just know this is going to be one’s going to be one of those “overnight global annihilation” movies.
Director Robert Rodriguez, who’s directed the SIN CITY franchise, the SPY KIDS franchise, and the MACHETE franchise (which will include MACHETE KILLS IN SPACE, which has just been announced), has dressed PLANET TERROR up to give homage to the seventies Grindhouse movies. There’s scratchy film stock, film spots and glitches, and even a burned-up “missing reel” with some implausible plot resolutions craftily “lost forever.”
In 2007’s HOT FUZZ, Nick Frost’s character PC Danny Butterman asks if there’s a gland in the human head that, if you shoot it, it will explode. This is one of the movies that would give him that impression. The gore effects are unflinching and over-the-top. Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are having tremendous fun with this. You can almost hear them giggling during some of the more… slimy shots.
In fact, it seems everyone is having fun. The actors have been encouraged to camp it up and chew as much scenery as they can. Just about every new scene brings in another actor you recognize. From Michael Biehn (THE TERMINATOR, 1984, and ALIENS, 1986) as Sheriff Hague; Nicky Katt (INSOMNIA, 2002) as Joe; Tom Savini (makeup artist and actor in DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978) as Deputy Tolo; and Quentin Tarrantino (director of PULP FICTION, 1994, DJANGO UNCHAINED, 2012, and DEATH PROOF, the other half of GRINDHOUSE), credited only as Rapist #1. Rodriquez even introduces us to the memorable Electra and Elise Avellan, collectively known as The Crazy Babysitter Twins.
The only drawback, the only time I was jolted from the magic of the movie, is when Dr. Bill Brock reveals his friend Joe has a 105-degree fever. This news comes as a complete surprise to Joe, but the reality is there’s no way he’s walking around, let alone coherent, with a fever that high. Even at 103, about the only thing you can do is cross your eyes and hum random snippets of old Dr. Demento Funny Five tunes. Still, though, with the sheer outrageousness of this film, I wouldn’t call that a significant problem. That’s just the type of movie it is.
PLANET TERROR is a fun ride. There’s nothing new to see here, possibly because every aspect of the feature reflects on the many Grindhouse pictures of old. This half of 2007’s GRINDHOUSE achieves just what it sets out to achieve, a gory, zombie-filled, hardcore good time, which I enjoyed even more this time around.
Original assessment: 3 knives.
Reassessment: 4 knives.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon