I’m always on about how great old horror movies are. And I also like to bore my friends with my dreams of how somehow, film makers could bring the classic horror elements from the iconic movies of the 70’s and 80’s into modern films and make horror great again.
Up until recently, this was all just a crazy dream… Until I finally got around to watching Planet Terror.
Initially part two of the Grindhouse double feature (alongside Death Proof, which I didn’t like), I approached Planet Terror with scepticism. Director/writer Robert Rodriguez’s CV should have left me with no doubts that the film would be good, with Sin City, The Faculty and Desperado sitting quite prominently at the top of his list of achievements.
However, his close relationship with Quentin Tarantino is what concerned me most. I wasn’t sure about From Dusk Till Dawn, as I felt that it was disjointed, and after being subjected to Death Proof and its numerous irritating Tarantino-isms I was almost tempted to avoid Planet Terror altogether. Thankfully I didn’t.
As the film begins, you’re introduced to a go-go dancer named Cherry (Rose McGowan of Charmed fame). After quitting her sleazy job in search for a more fulfilling career, and literally on the day of this life-changing decision, she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Just outside town, a deal is taking place between two groups involving what appears to be a toxic chemical. A gunfight ensues, during which the chemical containers get caught in the crossfire, releasing the hazardous substance into the air.
Unfortunately for the residents of the local town, the chemical gets into the water supply and proceeds to turn a vast majority of them into zombies.
The storyline contains the most random of elements. Ranging from go-go dancing techniques, to secret barbeque sauce recipes. But such is any film that Tarantino has had a hand in. Thankfully this time (as is NOT the case in Death Proof) his random meanderings have been kept on a tight leash so as not to detract from the story too much.
What follows, is a zombie flick that has a giggle at, whilst paying homage to, all of those great cheesy zombie films.
There’s action, gore, romance and a few laughs. The action side of it being particularly impressive as the budget for this film was obviously pretty high.
There are numerous great actors that make an appearance too, Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn to name but a few. And they really do bring a sense of quality to the film. Yeah, there are silly parts, and at times they are almost too distracting (the escape on using the tiny mini-moto motorbike springs to mind), but the quality of the cast, the excellence of the effects and the great pace and structure to the story all make problems like that fade away – like a toxic zombie gas escaping into the atmosphere.
The cinematography adds to the whole mood of the film. The artificial weathering of the footage, gives the impression that you truly are watching an old ‘grindhouse’ movie reel. The film remains dark, staying faithful to the lighting expected from low-budget monster movies. And the music with its sexy sax, amped up electic guitar and exagerrated synths are a Tarrantino-esque twist on the standard issue horror soundtrack.
At times the film gets pretty crazy. As the cover illustrates, our main character ends up with a large machine gun in place of her leg.
But even these moments are soon justified as the film de-evolves the mind of the viewer, back to a more innocent time: when horror was entertaining AND scary; When the balance was there; When we could all see a film about mutant space zombies and believe that there was a slight possibility that we might one day meet some – and run away screaming.
Special effects are created with precision, with gore, which is technically sophisticated, but also retro-styled. Heads blown apart, explosions cause showers of entrails… Everything that we used to love watching in the good old days
Ultimately, this is a film that pays tribute to the classics. From it’s cast to its genre defining soundtrack. There’s no doubt that those involved in its production had the utmost love and respect for horror, and a good sense of what is missing from it in modern times.
My only disappointment is that there aren’t more people following this bolshy example!
Additional film information: Planet Terror (2007)