Those lovely people at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse came up trumps again this past weekend by running a one-off showing of the now-infamous Tarantino-Rodriguez double-header from last year, Grindhouse. The film, a loving tribute to the cheap exploitation trash that was churned out in the 60s, 70s and 80s to make quick bucks for American theaters, died an equally quick death at the US box office, and was consequently broken up in to two separate entities for foreign markets, including the UK: QT’s Death Proof and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. Both films had their running times beefed up from their original cuts within the double-bill, but alas, for the distributors at least, they were largely ignored on this side of the pond as well.
All of which is a shame. I failed to catch either of the films in their lonely extended versions, mostly due to the fact that they lasted all of about a week at the nearest multiplex. In the end though, I’m glad I did, as I have now managed to see them as they were originally intended: short, sweet and to the point. I can’t really imagine watching either of them on its own now; a lot of the fun comes from the fact they are quite different beasts, each with their own strengths and faults, but quite clearly companion pieces, in spirit at least. Of the two, I preferred Rodriguez’s rather entertaining Planet Terror, a curious hybrid of zombie horror and sci-fi action, which throws all sense to the wind and revels in its own gratuitous action and goo. QT’s Death Proof was also pretty good, though a bit too talky at times; fun though the dialogue is, one suspects a true grindhouse audience would almost certainly be throwing beer bottles at the screen and calling for the next over-the-top death or scantily-clad girl to come along quickly, please. Still, when the stunts and deaths come, they are certainly worth it.
Naturally, part of the attraction is the whole ‘grindhouse experience’: the fake scratches and film damage, the 70s-style studio logos, the ‘feature presentation’ sequences (carried over from Tarantino’s earlier Kill Bill opus); and of course, the legendary fake trailers (advertising films that do not exist but look and act the part) from the warped minds of people like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright. These trailers are perfectly pitched and clearly a stroke of genius, sandwiched snugly between the two films. All of these elements combine to form a fantastical, late night, high-calorie, spectacular extravaganza. Only designed to look badly made and dirt cheap.
So to sum up, I would have to say: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as the saying goes (…I think?). If you can find a screening near you, and you’re into the whole sci-fi/horror/stalk-and-slash genres, and you haven’t seen either of the films yet, it’s well worth a trip. Here’s hoping justice is served and a dvd of the full Grindhouse experience is forthcoming.