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Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) is about to have a very bad day. She walks out on her job as a go-go dancer with high hopes of becoming a stand-up comedian. Instead, she meets an old flame (Freddy Rodriguez) and gets her leg ripped off by marauding infected people that have started to take over the town. At the same time, a young anaesthetist tries to get away from her psychopathic husband and the Sheriff and his brother fight over their late father’s secret barbecue sauce recipe, all against the backdrop of the spreading infection. As the rag-tag bunch of survivors gang together, can they survive or will they become the next course on the menu?

Planet Terror
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Planet Terror is the second DVD release from Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse feature, even though it made up the first half of that double bill. Death Proof was the intentionally more ‘realistic’ half of Grindhouse, whereas Planet Terror thoroughly revels in its silliness. The movie begins with the excellent ‘fake’ trailer for Machete, which is supposedly going to be filmed and released as a full-length feature, and the sight of Danny Trejo riding a motorbike with a minigun mounted on the handlebars sets the tone perfectly.

Planet Terror’s absurdity is no more evident than in the image that popped into Robert Rodriguez’s head which inspired him to write this movie. You’ll already be well past the believability tipping-point when Freddy Rodriguez straps a machine gun onto McGowan’s stump, which just happens to be exactly the right length to allow her to walk on and for some reason she never has to load it or even pull the trigger. Of course, the mechanics of having a machine gun for a leg are never supposed to be explained. It’s purely a device to allow Rose McGowan to be the female equivalent of Ash, with his chainsaw for an arm in Army of Darkness, and slaughter as many of the infected as she can just by waving her leg at them.

Planet Terror
Even though this is an ensemble movie with plenty of colourful characters doing battle with the infected people, this is very much Rose McGowan’s movie. As Robert Rodriguez states during the extras, she was central to his decision to make this movie and a lot of her personality goes into the character of Cherry. Her character trait of saying “useless talent number…” is what she does in real life and people tell her she should be a stand-up comedian so the screenplay was adapted to include this.

As Tarantino mentions on the extras for Death Proof, the movies of John Carpenter were the inspiration behind the setup of this movie and Rodriguez even played music from Carpenter’s movies on set to get the cast and crew in the right mood. A large cast banding together to fight a terror that is creeping up on them brings The Fog and Prince of Darkness to mind in particular, but the characters are pure Rodriguez, with Tom Savini making a welcome appearance as the town's Deputy. Tarantino’s influence is also evident with the fourth screen appearance of Michael Parks’ Earl McGraw. In Planet Terror was learn more about him and his family than in any of his other appearances. Unfortunately Tarantino himself shows up as a soldier and hams it up so much his performance should come with salad and two slices of bread.

Planet Terror
Of particular note among the cast are Josh Brolin as Doctor Block, who gives one of the most subtle performances in an over-the-top movie, and it’s always good to see Michael Biehn on the screen, especially when he’s playing a surly hard man with a heart. Bruce Willis makes a decent cameo appearance and the history of his character cements the absurdity of the movie. The whole thing is designed to not be taken seriously, with blood flying from gunshots like it’s being thrown from a bucket and a ‘missing reel’ that skips past plot and character development and cuts straight to the action. Rather than being a sly nod to the presentation of exploitation movies, this actually made me think that Rodriguez couldn’t be bothered to write those scenes, especially since he started to cast this movie having written only thirty pages of the screenplay.

Unlike Death Proof, this movie makes liberal use of CG effects and therefore left me feeling like it was slightly less credible as an homage to exploitation movies of the 70s. However, there are nice touches here that tie the two movies into the same universe, like the existence of Red Apples cigarettes and the mention of a tribute to Jungle Julia heard over the radio. In one inventive scene was also get to see how difficult it is to get into a car and drive away when your hands have been paralysed. This all adds up to a movie that is more gratuitous than its Grindhouse counterpart and more enjoyable in a broader sense, but for me the final product stands up less well as a stand-alone movie and is best viewed as one half of a double bill.

Planet Terror

Video


Unlike Death Proof, which significantly changes its video presentation at different points during the movie, Planet Terror is shown with a bad quality print for the full running time. The deterioration is used inventively to increase the dark mood of certain scenes. When tension is building, the picture becomes more scratched and dirty and when one particular character starts to change shape, the screen appears to warp at the same time. This is a clever use of the tools at the filmmakers’ disposal and is only really relevant to this release because it would look terribly out of place in mainstream movies. It’s good to see something being used to heighten the tension rather than the usual string section deafening the viewer to tell them they’re supposed to be scared.

However, due to the liberal use of CG, the bad quality of the picture suits the film less well because it’s just so unlikely that a print of a movie that contains the stunts of Planet Terror could have been left to deteriorate to this degree. This is just a niggle I have with the movie as a whole and is not a reflection of the quality of the transfer to DVD. I have nothing bad to say about the 16:9 anamorphic picture because any possible edge enhancement or artefacts will be lost in the mix of intentional errors.

Planet Terror

Audio


It’s a similar story for the audio quality of the Dolby 5.1 surround track. The crackling and other imperfections occur at just the right points to make you believe you’re watching this movie in a cinema in the 70s, but the effects you expect in mainstream action movies do not suffer from interference. The squelching of gore is sufficiently loud just in case you miss any of the splatter on screen and the music is a particular highlight. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter with occasional riffs lifted from Halloween, Robert Rodriguez’s score is excellent and the interpretation during the opening credits is exactly the kind of sleazy music you expect to be the soundtrack to an exploitation movie.

Extras


Disc one contains trailers for Planet Terror, Death Proof, 1408, the remake of Halloween and Black Sheep. An international poster gallery is also included. Robert Rodriguez provides a commentary track, and as ever it’s filled with interesting details about the stunts, make-up and how the different actors got involved. However, there is quite a bit of overlap between the content on the commentary and the interviews during the featurettes on disc two. An audience reaction track is also available but I’ll be honest and just say this wasn’t for me. If I’m going to the cinema, I want everyone else to shut the hell up so the idea of watching a movie at home with whooping and cheering in 5.1 surround sound is not my idea of a good night in. If that kind of interference floats your boat, then this is definitely the DVD for you!

Planet Terror
With not quite as many featurettes as were included on Death Proof’s second disc, the interviews with Robert Rodriguez come from the same sessions and Tarantino crops up from time to time to throw in his two cents. ‘The Badass Babes of Planet Terror’ focuses mainly on Rose McGowan’s involvement in the movie and everyone's opinion that “she was born to play this role”, but also highlights the fact that Rodriguez wrote many of the roles for particular actresses. This is also the case in ‘The Guys of Planet Terror’ where we learn how Rodriguez roped in some of the actors he’s previously worked with and also got Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey working together, when they have regularly auditioned for the same roles throughout their careers.

‘Casting Rebel’ is a short featurette that goes into detail of how Rodriguez’s son Rebel was cast in the movie. It’s interesting because it turns out the director shot a happier ending of the movie just for his son and will eventually reveal the truth about his character when he’s older. ‘The Stunts of Planet Terror’ includes interviews with the stunt coordinator and shows how Rose McGowan did a lot of her own stunts and wire work. ‘The Friend, The Doctor and the Real Estate Agent’ picks out the extras that are real-life friends of the director and interviews reveal the effects that starring in a Hollywood movie have had on them. Finally, Rodriguez’s ’10-Minute Film School’, which is a regular occurrence on his DVD releases, allows him to show how certain stunts and CG effects were put together. At the end he also comments that a ’10-Minute Cooking School’ will be included on the eventual release of the full Grindhouse double bill DVD.

Planet Terror

Overall


For me, Planet Terror was more fun than Death Proof, although I found it slightly less rewarding as a movie in its own right. If you’re planning on running your own horror double-bill at home, I recommend it because it’s probably best appreciated with friends and beers. The extras on this releases reveal about as much about the movie as the features on the Death Proof DVD did so it’s an excellent companion to that release and definitely worth picking up, although it’ll be interesting to see just how much more supplementary material they can put together for the double-bill release when it eventually arrives.


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