Wednesday 19 March 2008

Planet Terror (2007)

Wednesday 19 March 2008
Writer & Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rose McGowan (Cherry Darling), Freddy Rodriguez (El Wray), Josh Brolin (Dr William Block), Marley Shelton (Dr Dakota Block), Jeff Fahey (J.T Hague), Michael Biehn (Sheriff Hague), Rebel Rodriguez (Tony Block), Bruce Willis (Lt. Muldoon), Naveen Andrews (Abby), Julio Oscar Mechoso (Romey), Stacy Ferguson (Tammy Visan), Nicky Katt (Joe), Hung Nguyen (Dr Crane), Tom Savini (Deputy Tolo), Carlos Gallardo (Skip), Electra Avellan (Crazy Babysitter Twin #1), Elise Avellan (Crazy Babysitter Twin #2), Quentin Tarantino (Jones), Greg Kelly (Rapist #2), Michael Parks (Earl McGraw), Jerili Romero (Ramona McGraw) & Felix Sabates (Dr Felix)

The residents of a small town have to defend themselves after a toxic substance infects the locals with a blood-crazed need to kill...

Originally the first-half of a double-bill with Death Proof (as part of the failed Grindhouse "experience" last summer), both films suffered worldwide ignominy because of their combined failure in the US. Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof was a tedious bore and, despite being more minute-to-minute watchable and perversely deranged at times, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror isn't much improvement...

It's your typical schlocky zombie horror, seen through the acquired-taste prism of "grindhouse" – a name given to flea-pit cinemas where low-budget offerings of nudity, sex, violence and seedy exploitation were shown. Planet Terror has an appropriately thin storyline, broad characters, and lashings of icky gore, but it doesn't inspire much affection or keep your attention focused for long.

I didn't enjoy Death Proof, but it at least resembled a 70s grindhouse flick –- whereas Planet Terror is a pale approximation. There are too many times when the technical prowess of modern filmmaking is evident, no matter how many scratches and dirt Rodriguez smears the screen with.

Rose McGowan is the only reason to watch Planet Terror as (eventually) one-legged go-go dancer Cherry Darling. McGowan's bad-girl pout, sleepy-eyed good-looks and petite, curvy body is perfect for the role, and Cherry's icon status is assured the moment an assault rifle is attached to her leg-stump. The opening credits pole-dance didn't hurt either...

Actually, nobody is particularly bad (within the context of the film), but only a few performances actually register. The aforementioned McGowan is spunky fun, Josh Brolin is enjoyable as Dr Block, Marley Shelton gets to play black-comedy as Dakota, Jeff Fahey makes an impression as a sauce-obsessed BBQ chef, and I always enjoy seeing Michael Parks reprise his Earl McGraw character (the good ol' boy who appeared in From Dusk Till Dawn, Death Proof and Kill Bill: Volume II).

Other actors lack appeal, or just don't have a decent character to play with: Lost's Naveen Andrews looks promising as a testicle-collecting baddie (but vanishes for ages), Freddy Rodriguez has firecracker energy but no personality, Bruce Willis looks half-bored in a few short appearances, Quentin Tarantino stinks up the screen with another of his signature supporting roles, while make-up maestro Tom Savini (Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn) and 80s cult hero Michael Biehn (The Terminator) are tragically wasted.

Your appreciation of Planet Terror will be measured by your fondness for zombies and zero-budget 70s-style horror, but there's some fun to be found in Rodriguez's handling of a few moments – while the zombies (or "crazies") explode fountains of syrupy blood with every injury, which should please gore-hounds.

It is what it is, basically. There are a few revolting shots (most memorably some real-life photos of infected genitalia on a hospital monitor), plenty of bubbling, puss-filled, blood-squirting zombies, the odd exciting/funny scene, a prickly performance from McGowan, but little else. It's a 20-minute plot stretched to 105 minutes, with no surprises or twists in the narrative – beyond the way the film jumps the last half of Act II thanks to a "missing reel" (cruelly arriving in the midst of a McGowan/Rodriguez sex scene).

Planet Terror pales in comparison to Rodriguez/Tarantino's own From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – which more effectively updated the grindhouse experience with 90s spit n' polish. This film and Death Proof are both unwanted throwbacks to films most people never saw and filmgoing experiences most people never had -- and does nothing to convert you to their gruesome "charm".

The faux trailer for Machete (starring Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo), which plays before Planet Terror starts, is far more exciting than the feature – working brilliantly as a fun pastiche of 70s grindhouse cinema that achieves Planet Terror's aims in a bite-sized portion: leaving you craving more, not shifting around in boredom having had a gut-full.

Dimension Films
105 minutes

PICTURE: 1.85:1 SOUND: DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1 / SDDS