Grindhouse is one of hundreds of branches of cinema that I find myself having no real knowledge of. I’ve seen a couple of B-Movies over the past few years, but I’ve never had the heart or intrigue to find explore the realm of grindhouse, low-budget exploitation films that rely on horror, gore, and unintentionally hilarious performances. Robert Rodriguez, then, presents a love letter to the genre, Planet Terror is the culmination of wanting to bring together a formidable cast in a gory zombie flick. Starting with a film made in jest and good humour of the genre it looks to implement isn’t probably the best place to start, but it provided the splattered action I was looking for.
Set in the lead-up and aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, Planet Terror is a sadly conventional, setpiece driven film with just enough guts and gore to keep me entertained. It’s strung along rather poorly at times, with leading performances that don’t exactly exude talent, but this type of film attracts a certain calibre of actor. Don’t be fooled by the inclusion of Josh Brolin or Bruce Willis, they’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things, but they make for nice inclusions in a film otherwise populated by a handful of passable performers.
Rodriguez’s detailing and commitment to gore throughout makes him a rather strong editor. What removes me from the moment though is the artificial additions to the camera. The scratchy texture of the film intended to replicate a battered piece of film reel would be a nice touch, but ultimately comes across as rather forced and unengaging. It doesn’t inhibit the film from reaching its gory heights, but it soon falls into being rather forgettable and a tad ugly. With Rodriguez’s direction, I can’t help but feel a certain disconnect. His characters and settings here are certainly fitting of the narrative, they feel slimy and a bit grim at times, but this translates to his direction also. There’s nothing that’s all that incredible about his use of the camera, most of his time goes into some admittedly nice special effects.
Still, that’s the aim of Planet Terror. Creating the sleaze and slime surrounding the glory days of the grindhouse genre. In that respect, it’s successful. By replicating the atmosphere of what I expect a typical grindhouse film to be, Rodriguez does successfully adapt the style. Adaptation is a very different scenario to that of replication, though, and there are times where Planet Terror convinces me that an actual grindhouse flick would be worth the investment. The film never convinces me that what I’m watching is worth it though, and some bland moments filter out the more entertaining parts.
There’s only so far Planet Terror can go in its passionate take on the grindhouse style of filmmaking. It feels rather faux, a film that fits the bill of grindhouse, but in a way that doesn’t feel accidental or all that authentic of what I had expected from the genre. A few great moments scattered throughout prevent it from being a wholly wasted venture, but Planet Terror suffers from a style of direction from Rodriguez that I simply dislike.