When you stop to think about it, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 GRINDHOUSE double feature was one of the most ambitious and radical ideas intended for the general theatergoing audience. After all, if you live anywhere near a good revival house, it’s not uncommon to catch pairings of two similarly-themed movies, share in the communal experience and just have a good night out at the movies. As the owner of the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles, Tarantino knows how great a night like that can be, and so the two filmmakers that grew up on a steady diet of double features just like this, which continued to fuel their imaginations and inspire them, just wanted to try to recreate that same feeling for the general public. Sadly, most of them didn’t get it.
I distinctly remember gathering together a large group of friends and heading to New York City to see GRINDHOUSE on opening night at a theater on 42nd Street. Granted, 42nd Street of 2007 wasn’t what it was in the heyday of exploitation double features in the 70’s and 80’s. Hell, it’s even more different now! But regardless, we wanted to try to create that experience by seeing it in the same location where the “grindhouse” experience originated. After Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR, an alarming amount of our audience starting clearing out, completely unaware that Quentin’s movie hadn’t even played yet. By the time DEATH PROOF started, my friends and I were shocked that the theater suddenly was half empty because people just couldn’t grasp the concept.
So when it came time for their release in foreign territories, the Weinsteins opted to split up both films into two separate movies, add a bit more footage to get them to the regulated and standard 90 minute running time and hope for the best. I still feel bad for people that didn’t get to experience it the way it was intended with fake trailers in between and all! But alas, a Blu-Ray version exists with the full experience, as well as the longer international cuts.
Last week, the New Bev hosted 4 full nights of both features paired up together, but this was even more special and unique than what was planned back in 2007. Screening for these exclusive engagements were both extended, European versions of PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF, both on 35mm film. All the fake trailers courtesy of Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright were accounted for. And Quentin added in a few extras including SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, HELLRIDE, as well as an old Warner Brothers cartoon to really round out the evening’s programming. My memory of the movies was somewhat vague as I hadn’t seen them since that original release, but my general thoughts are the same. Regarding the extended versions of both films, it takes about a half hour before each of them really kicks in and settles into their groove, but once that happens, they transform into the best audience pleasing movies you could ask for.
Sure, it helped that 40 seconds before the first trailer started, Quentin himself stood up from his seat in the middle of the sold out crowd and encouraged us all to “have a good time.” But really, this was what a “grindhouse” double feature is supposed to feel like. You’re not too sure what you’re going to see. You just know it’s going to be kind of crazy, over the top and will induce uncontrollable laughs and screams. I was with two younger kids who hadn’t seen either film yet, and sure enough, by the end of it, this will go down as one of their all time favorite theatrical experiences ever.
PLANET TERROR is Rodriguez’s wild and surrealistic, colorful zombie movie. It’s fronted by Freddy Rodriguez as el Wray, his girlfriend-turned-stripper/stand-up comedian Cherry Darling, as well as several other familiar faces including Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Fergie, Marley Shelton and LOST’s Naveen Andrews. The highlight for me though is the sibling duo of Michael Biehn as Sheriff Hague and Jeff Fahey as diner owner J.T. Sheriff Hague doesn’t trust Wray at all, until he learns some vital information about the tough guy, conveniently during one of the film’s “missing reels.”
He’s also been trying for years to get his brother J.T.’s secret recipe for BBQ sauce. It’s those subtle little bits that stand out, but really, KNB bring the gooey stuff when it comes to the slow bodily descent of the “infected,” not to mention exploding zombie bodies that get creamed by trucks. And who can forget the incredible comic book style image of Cherry shooting from her machine gun leg. Pure bliss!
Tarantino’s segment DEATH PROOF is designed somewhat like a “slasher” in disguise with Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a seemingly harmless looking bad-ass that slurps up his nachos while sipping on a virgin piña colada. But his motives are far more sinister than any traditional movie maniac could ever dream up. He’s made his car “death proof,” so it’ll be able to withstand any accident while keeping the driver safe. (Or as safe as you can be after surviving a wreck!) It’s his way of stalking a group of girls and murdering them in a way that doesn’t appear on the surface to be murder. But when he sets his sights on a group of professional movie stuntwomen, he gets far more than he bargained for and the tables turn!
Both films offer some of the most unique & unbridled approaches to the horror genre we’ve seen in the last decade. And both manage to magically win over the audience and have them cheering by the end. That’s the whole point of double features like this and it was made all the more evident by watching it with a pumped, packed sold out crowd.
My suggestion? Back when I lived in New York, I hosted double features at my place all the time, inviting over my childhood best friends, and providing some pizza, popcorn and beer. I tried to come up with fun, interesting pairs of movies. Things we could both laugh and cheer at, and open a discussion about immediately after. Having a night like that with friends completely reinvigorates and inspires you. It makes you look forward to the next time you can do it all again and it reminds you of the power of cinema. I think that was the point of Rodriguez & Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE. To encourage and inspire you to enjoy a great night of movies with the people you care about most.