Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Planet Terror

The first half of Rodriguez and Tarantino's 'Grindhouse' double bill finally gets released in Ireland. 'Planet Terror' has some messy storyline about biological weapons turning the population of a Texan town into pus-dripping zombies. Unsurprisingly a small band of survivors must try to escape, but this movie isn't about story. The scenario has been done a thousand times, and not long ago either (remember 'Black Sheep'?). What should justify another outing for the tale is to do something a little different (like sheep, for instance). Does Rodriguez succeed?
It's not without some interest to the horror cineaste. Easy though it is to retell this familiar tale, Rodriquez knows the zombie subgenre well and one could namecheck the films of Carpenter, Romero, Fulci etc. referenced. But why bother? It adds nothing to the horror genre itself and says nothing of interest to its audience (unlike the critiques of society posed by Romero's movies, for instance). It's all just an excuse for outrageous stunts, disgusting imagery and outrageous violence.
But that's not always a bad thing. There is a lot of humour mixed into the brew. The same playfulness that made waterpistols and condoms weapons against vampires in 'From Dusk till Dawn', gives Rose McGowan a machinegun for a leg here. For me though outside of the live action cartoon elements, there's little to excuse a talented director like Rodriguez wasting his time on this flick. Think of what Rodriguez's own 'Sin City' did for graphic novel adaptations. He showed there that he could be entertaining and still do something original. Here, while it's all fun certainly, there's little else.
To the film's credit, the film doesn't have the same misogyny of its sibling, 'Death Proof'. True, there is a lot of female flesh on show, but the female characters are just as deep (or rather shallow) as their male counterparts. Rose McGowan, as the go-go dancer with the lethal leg, is the type of female lead familiar from the films of Carpenter and his hero, Howard Hawks. She becomes more go-go than cry-cry through the film, and so has more of a character arc than any of her fellow characters. To overemphasise this though would be a mistake. In aspiring to the grindhouse movies of the 70s, Rodriguez still keeps enough of that decade's (and those movies') sexism to prevent him ever being hailed as a feminist.
And what about that violence? Call me an old prude, but I am amazed at the rating this film got. Despite a fictitious "18's" rating at the start, the Irish Censor has given the film a "16's" certificate. Think of the furore that accrued to 'The Evil Dead' when that first came out and then look at the wholesale slaughter on show here. Tom Savini, the makeup man behind Romero's 'Dead' trilogy (including the infamous ripped body of 'Day of the Dead'), gets to play a cop ripped apart here, while all around him heads explode, entrails roll and testicles melt. True, this is cartoon violence, but it's still graphic and definitely gruesome. How the world has turned that no one now bats an eyelid. More than ever we have that strange dichotomy where extreme violence seems to be almost respectable, while sex still enjoys a taboo status. Strange.
Granting that this is only what it appears to be, it's still no turkey. The cast enjoy themselves and give a little extra to the stock two-dimensional characters they play (Josh Brolin does a good Nick Nolte impression). The effects too, while having that authentic 70's crudeness, are excellent. Especially well done is the incidental use of CGI to give Rose McGowan her one leg (like Gary Sinise's character in 'Forrest Gump'). And the action, once it starts, doesn't flag. But then why would it? This is Robert Rodriguez the director of 'El Mariachi', 'Desperado', 'From Dusk till Dawn', etc.; he knows how to do action. One just wished he tried to do a little more.

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