This homage to the grindhouse cinema of the ‘70s is set in the present but it has plenty of throwbacks to the days of the drive-in cinema. The crackling picture, the exploitative nature of the film, many of the set pieces, and the filter that was used to shoot this flick make it look as though it could be a lost relic from the ‘70s.
Planet Terror sees a biological weapon escaping into the atmosphere and turning those infected by it into zombie-like creatures with postulating sores all over their body. The dwindling group of survivors band together in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease and work with the creator of the epidemic to finish the formula for the antidote before it’s too late. Did I mention that there is a machine gun leg? No. OK, I’ll get to that later.
The plot sounds outrageous because it is. Writer/director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn) pays brilliant and intentional homage to the exploitation pictures that played in drive-in theaters throughout the ’70s. Hell, the film even contains a missing reel message that anyone who frequented grindhouse cinemas will likely look back upon fondly.
Rodriguez puts his characters in ridiculous and life-threatening situations where they crack jokes rather than grasp the serious nature of what is going on. While that behavior sounds counterintuitive, it was the perfect approach to take. The entire film is so far fetched that it easily lends itself to comedy. And if the cast isn’t taking things too seriously, it’s easier for the audience to have fun with the film’s deliberately preposterous premise.
As a director, Rodriguez lets his actors make their characters their own but provides just the right amount of guidance to perfect each performance in such a way that it amplifies the tongue-in-cheek tonality that is present throughout the film. He gifts star Rose McGowan (who plays Cherry Darling) with some of the picture’s best lines. Case in point: When costar Freddy Rodriguez (El Wray) says. “I like the way you say f**k” she casually replies with “Good. F**k you.” McGowan really steals the show as Cherry. She owns her machine gun leg like she was born to wear it.
Speaking of the machine gun leg, this gag could have been trite and ill-conceived in the wrong hands but McGowan fully commits and makes it seem like having a weapon as a prosthetic limb is the most normal thing in the world.
The machine gun leg is tame compared to the majority of the film’s assortment of gags and gross out sequences: Exploding jars of testicles, melting faces, Quentin Tarantino’s melting penis, and more await the strong-stomached viewer in this gory little flick. While the violence is certainly gratuitous, it’s intended as an homage and is not done for the sake of pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Thirteen years after its initial release, the film holds up incredibly well. In fact, I find something new to love about this flick every time I watch it. Rodriguez managed to outdo his pal and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino by making the better film in their double bill. But that’s another story for another day.
Director(s): Robert Rodriguez
Writer(s): Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Michael Biehn, Bruce Willis
Studio/ Production Co: Dimension Films
Length: 106 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Zombie Epidemic