Although overall it could’ve used more babes and less blood, Grindhouse is one of the best times I’ve ever had in a theater. Opening night at The Vista theater in Los Angeles, best described as an indie knock-off of Grauman’s Chinese outside (e.g. handprints of the Swingers cats instead of John Wayne) and Grauman’s Egyptian inside (pop Egyptian decor). The line was buzzing with excitement. Representatives from all the LA hipster nations in attendance: Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park…

Pre-Roll

The fake trailer “Machete” (by Robert Rodriguez) immediately got everyone into the grindhouse spirit. As it becomes more and more apparent it is a Mexsploitation version of Shooter the crowd is laughing and whooping and hollering. The biggest reaction came right after the line, “Where are my wife and daughter?”

The old animation for ‘this film is Restricted’ is great. I feel like a lot of this vintage film clutter comes straight from Quentin’s private collection.

Planet Terror

Robert Rodriguez’ zombie flick was ridiculously entertaining. There was a laugh or gross-out moment nearly every thirty seconds. By the time Rose McGowan dons a machine gun leg, let’s just say it seems plausible. Rodriguez has found a genre that truly lets him cut loose. With lost plot strands and wooden characters nearly a requirement, Rodriguez places them strategically for maximum laughs. I had to pee nearly the whole movie, but I didn’t want to miss a second. Like with Borat, which I also saw opening night at The Vista, I had no idea what crazy shit would happen next. It was splendid.

Intermission Trailers

Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the SS” seemed like a one-joke trailer until the surprise Fu Manchu cameo, which absolutely brought the house down. The Acuña Bros. commercial was spot-on. I thought it was real until I saw Jungle Julie sipping an Acuña cup in Death Proof. Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” was kind of bizarre. It seemed so amatuerish, I thought it was a contest winner. The girl on the trampoline though… yowch! Edgar Wright’s “Don’t” trailer was perfect. The super-fast announcement of the title brought the house down.

Death Proof

Where Robert Rodriguez opted for a parody of the grindhouse aesthetic, Tarantino as usual chose his subtle homages. I have no doubt the bad sound editing and camerawork were all precise homages to particular movies. The best use of false amateurism occurs right up front, when the film’s original title is spliced out and “Death Proof” spliced in.

The second movie of the double feature starts with some deadly-slow dialogue scenes. I was still in the Planet Terror mindset, waiting for death to come leaping from outside the frame. I was disappointed again and again and I finally got up to pee.

When I got back, Kurt Russell and Rose McGowan’s characters had been introduced, but I didn’t feel like I missed much. Everyone kept talking their self-aware Tarantino-esque dialogue. It occured to me that he was intent on replacing Rodriguez’ pyrotechnics with pyrotechnics of the verbal kind. Finally, there was a Psycho-esque twist that divideed the plot neatly in half. From there until the end, it was a girls-bent-on-revenge movie.

The breakout star of this flick is real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who plays a stuntwoman in the movie. Bell not only has great screen presence, she’s an incredibly natural actress, making Tarantino’s artificial speeches roll off her Kiwi tongue better than her fellow hotties Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and (especially) Tracie Thomas. After we are charmed by her, Tarantino puts her in a very real, insanely dangerous action sequence. I. Could. Not. Breathe.

Death Proof is a dumb, poorly-plotted piece of cinema. In other words: nearly perfect. Other than the refined directing and acting, it is spot-on grindhouse. Rodriguez’ movie may have had more laughs and screams, but Zoe Bell’s stuntwork is such that will not be soon forgotten.

End Credits

Two great songs. I’m guessing the images they kept doing subliminal cuts to are old makeup tests. There were also a few frames of out-take in there. I don’t know if this was a grindhouse tradition, splicing random frames into the credits, but it seemed almost avant guard and was kind of wonderful.

The whole package was fantastic from beginning to end. There is talk already of more exploitation double-headers under the grindhouse label. I’d love to see a kung-fu or martial arts movie in the next go round, and maybe a movie where the missing reel isn’t the sex scene. I don’t know if it was Tarantino and Rodriguez’ intent, or the MPAA’s, but this Grindhouse offers way more of the violence side of the grindhouse’s double draw of sex and violence.

META: Speaking of sex, reportedly Rodriguez got hot and heavy with Rose McGowan during filming, and his wife is divorcing him. That’s a damn shame. It makes the dialogue in the car at the beginning of the second half of Death Proof, about a director who slept with Daryl Hannah’s stand-in, seem suspiciously like a defense of Rodriguez’ actions. Considering that his wife has been his producer on every film, bore him five children, and supported him financially when he began making movies, this seems like a horrendous betrayal. Say it ain’t so, Rob Rod, say it ain’t so.

MORE:
Elvis Mitchell interviews both directors, sold separately, on The Treatment.
Robert Rodriguez WIRED interview.
Breakdown of how various effects were done by ballergoods.

UPDATE:
Why Grindhouse didn’t make more box office bucks.