When Grindhouse came out in theaters back in April, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters as I was busy taking care of a newborn son. At the the time I felt badly that I wasn’t able to participate in what was supposed to be the great film geek-out of the spring. But as word spread, I was actually kind of relieved. Not because neither of the two films that made up the double feature were bad movies. But from everything I heard, the fim’s first half – Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror – was a goopy, gory mess and I wasn’t enchanted by the idea of being trapped in the theater for an hour and a half before getting to see Quentin Tarantino’s contribution in Death Proof.

I’m not a great fan of zombie movies, excessive gore or things that jump out of you looking for a cheap scare. Familiar with Rodriguez’s work in Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn, I knew that there wasn’t the explicit whim of his inner 14 year-old that Rodriguez wasn’t adverse to indulging. You can imagine my anxiety sitting down to watch Planet Terror – available extended and unrated on DVD today, October 16.

The plot is typical zombie fare. A greedy bio-chemist played by Lost’s Naveen Andrews unleashes a chemical agent on a small Texas town that turns it’s residents into the walking dead. It’s up to a rag-tag group of misfits to fight their way to safety.

True to form, Rodriguez heaps on the carnage and mayhem. There isn’t an explosion too large or a sound effect to squishy or crunchy to be used in his arsenal. Everything in this movie is turned up to 11. When zombies are shot at, they explode like ripe water baloons filled with plasma.

What the movie lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for with it’s excellent cast. Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez turns in a surprising and commanding performance as the mysterious El Wray. Michael Biehn shows up as the town’s true-grit sherrif and Jeff Fahey shows up as his BBQ-obsessed brother. Bruce Willis plays it straight as a tough-talking army general and Rose McGowan, her acting somewhat wooden, creates one of modern cinema’s most indelible heroines in Cherry Darling – the go-go dancer/amputee with a high-powered machine gun for a leg.

In terms of visual excess alone, Rodriguez delivers the spirit of Grindhouse cinema. I can’t compare this extended version to the theatrical release because the DVD fails to include both. But nothing here feels overtly extrenious or draining to the film’s running time.

The DVD comes with an excellent collection of extras on the second disc including Rodriguez’s traditional “10 Minute Film School.” In it, he reveals a lot of the tricks used in the film to achieve it’s large number of practical effects. Everything from the explosions, the car wrecks, to composit shots and the CG magic behind the infamous machine-gun leg.

In “The Badass Babes and Tough Guys of Planet Terror,” we get to see how the casting of each of the roles influenced Rodriguez’s script as he was writing it. There is some slight discomfort listening to Rodriguez effusive praise of star Rose McGowan’s prowess performing her own stunts as well as what personality quirks she added to Cherry Darling in her ad libs. Considering the on-set affair the two of them had that resulted in the end of Rodriguez’s marriage to his wife and co-producer, Elizabeth Avellan, it feels like some of that could have been scaled back.

It gets more unsettling still as an entire bonus feature titled “Casting Rebel” focuses entirely on Rodriguez’s casting of his youngest son Rebel in the role of Marley Shelton and Josh Brolin’s son. “Meet your new Mommy, Rebel! She has a machine gun for a leg!”

All in all, those looking for a visceral thrill will find more than enough to wrestle with in Planet Terror. While the movie is intense, my initial fears of the movie being TOO intense were unfounded. Rodriguez injects just enough humor into the script to keep the scales from tipping over completely – All the while pushing the film into greater and greater parody of itself. At the point that Quentin Tarantino’s infected solider affectionally credited as “The Rapist” comes on screen, you’ve pretty much given yourself over to the cartoonish ridiculousness of things and just enjoy the ride.

↓ Transcript
Theater Hopper reviews Grindhouse: Planet Terror.