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Planet Terror

dir: Robert Rodriguez
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Now this is more like it…

The essential argument I’m going to put forth here is that Planet Terror gets right what Death Proof got wrong. The great difficulty I’m going to have pushing this barrow is that I can’t really pinpoint as to why, exactly.

Not ‘why’ as in ‘why am I bothering to inflict my thoughts again on an entirely uninterested populace’ but why as in why it works. And it does.

Fully embracing the 70s trashy movie aesthetic that it aspires to, Planet Terror is a balls-out, at times hilarious celebration of the best that trash cinema used to offer. The footage is deliberately grained up, butchered and cut and with all sorts of flaws and imperfections, including fake film burns and ‘missing’ reel segments. It also has the kind of dialogue that is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

And it has a hot stripper with a gun for a leg taking on legions of zombie enemies with head and chest bursting alacrity.

Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a go-go dancer who cries every time she dances, much to the consternation of the management. She decides to up and quit one night, which works out quite handily.

She bumps into ex-beau El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) at a local, uh, establishment called the Boneshack or the Meathut or the Feedbag, something like that: its claim to fame is that it has the best chilli in Texas. They argue about jackets and stuff, and the failure of their relationship. Gee, I wonder if they get back together or not?

Only time will tell. Speaking of time, simultaneously a group of military types and a testicles-obsessed scientist (Naveen Andrews) argue about some mysterious chemical that the military types, led by a strange, bubbly skinned guy called Muldoon (Bruce Willis) are desperate for. This evil green gas is released into the atmosphere, which probably isn’t a good thing from an environmental point of view. Nor is it good for the poor citizens of the town.

This flick has no shortage of subplots and ancillary characters. A nasty doctor (Josh Brolin) with a hot, lesbian adulterous doctor wife (Marley Shelton) get into some nasty domestic arguments at work whilst people are being brought in to the hospital with some ugly symptoms. Acne, some zombiism, nothing too serious.

El Wray and Cherry are attacked whilst driving, and, wouldn’t you know it, the bastards rip off her right leg. In other films this would result in a character dealing with the aftermath over the course of several painful months as she comes to terms with the loss, the blow to her self-image, the difficult rehabilitation and readjustment to her life as a disabled person. It’d be a five hanky weepy, at the very least. Starring Julia Roberts or Jodie Foster.

In a flick like this, though, El Wray whacks a table leg in the stump as a stop gap measure, and they’re off to take on the world.

I can’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed the insanity and general shlocky cheesiness of this whole confection. Actually, now that I think about it, of course I can. If I couldn’t there’d be no point writing the review. Robert Rodriguez not only directs but he does everything else bar the catering on the flick, including coming up with the kind of 70s John Carpenter soundtrack that his flicks were known for. It greatly meshes with the whole production. And the tone is just right throughout.

The acting, which is pure Roger Corman biker picture over-the-top, perfectly synchs as well with the production, leading to numerous gem moments. I really enjoyed little pocket rocket Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, especially when the police’s attempts to keep him gunless result in scenes where he straps on the surgical gloves and brings out the knives in order to go to town on the town’s zombies in the most gory and acrobatic manner possible.

It is so gloriously over-the-top that when the moment arrives where El Wray lovingly attaches a machine gun with a rocket launcher attachment to Cherry’s leg stump, it doesn’t seem either out of character or out of place. Of course, when she starts using it to propel herself around and to mow down the opposition, I defy anyone not to consider these scenes the funniest shit of this or any other recent year.

Rodriguez has made flicks like this before, with far too many characters, with excessive violence and a complete disregard for logic, gravity, common sense or any sense, for that matter. Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a case in point. Not to belabour the point, but for me, it never worked for a second there, but works ever so well here.

Of course he knows it’s self-parody, and that it can’t be done in any other way. The profound difference betwixt the two halves of Grindhouse, or at least Rodriguez’s flick and Tarantino’s instalment Death Proof, is that Planet Terror doesn’t take itself anywhere near as seriously yet still manages to be highly entertaining.

Also, there isn’t the relentless hipster self-love that permeates almost everything that Tarantino does. You can’t help but feel with Tarantino that many of his cinematic moments are constructed with the intention of beating the viewer over the head with just how fucking cool Tarantino is for knowing and celebrating obscure songs and film references from the 70s, and especially for including them in his flicks. How grateful we should be to him that he deigns to brighten our miserable lives with his constant homaging of homages. He’s *so* dreamy.

Rodriguez doesn’t bother with that shit. Sure there are a million references and a shitload of ripoffs here, but his intention is to make this as insane and as entertaining as Sin City was, rather than just replicating the circumstances created in some other era alone. And he gets the actors to play stock characters in a way that is simultaneously straight and camp at the same time. There’s a passion here that is palpable but distinctly different from the self-pleasuring reach-around Tarantino goes for.

I’m not totally sure; maybe it’s just that Planet Terror was a hell of a lot more fun. It’s not some flick that will manage to illuminate audiences as to the horrors of genocide in Darfur, the ethical wrongness of the blood diamond trade, or the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict, but it sure as shit manages to be entertaining. And had I been drunk when I watched it, I bet I would have thought it was the greatest B movie ever made.

And I ask for little else. Still, you prospective watchers/downloaders need to know that my aesthetics and sense of humour are significantly different from your own. I mean, you’re an epicurean, a picker and sampler of the delights life offers in smorgasbord/ buffet form. I’m more like the guy who puts tartare sauce on good food in order to be able to choke it down with my cheap cask wine.

So wonder much, wonder often when I dare to make my proclamations about the relative worth of various movies. But I thought this was the bee's knees.

8 times Cherry and her gun leg are one of the most brilliant iconic film image I’ve seen in many a year out of 10

“I’m Cherry.”
- “You sure are.” – Planet Terror