Blood and guts, cars and sluts

When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez announced their partnership in a project called Grindhouse, hardly anyone was surprised.

When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez announced their partnership in a project called Grindhouse, hardly anyone was surprised. Both directors’ careers have featured films heavily indebted to the grindhouse genre. Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a representation of blaxploitation cinema, and the Kill Bill series was similarly a classic revenge film with numerous odes to the various sub-genres of grindhouse cinema.

What this all means though, is that Rodriguez and Tarantino went out of their way to recreate the classic grindhouse experience. Grindhouse is a double-feature, with Rodriguez’s zombie-flick Planet Terror up first and Tarantino’s revenge-thriller Death Proof winding up the nearly three-and-a-half hour film. It should be noted that, in true grindhouse style, fake movie trailers are shown in between the two features. The whole package was textured for added grit and “realness.”

Planet Terror is a standard zombie film. The plague of the undead is unleashed upon a small town, and the survivors band together to fight their way out. There are a couple sub-plots going on, mostly leading nowhere (just like a real crappy movie from the ’70s) but mostly, there are just a lot of zombies being killed by a heavily armed militia. At the end the survivors make it out by taking over helicopters from evil Army types.

The film is everything one would expect from a director exploring a well-developed genre. Blood n’ guts make many searing appearances, creating the film as it is. It is all a completely satisfying–if gooey– experience. The acting is fine, but one feels like intentional moments of continuity error are held up with pride. A whole reel of exposition is intentionally left out, which really speaks to what viewers want out of movies like this–visceral violence.

Death Proof is a more refined beast, featuring classic Tarantino dialog situated amongst the background of a slasher film. A serial killer who uses his car to murder (Kurt Russell) kills one batch of women during the first half of the film, but ends up in a fight for his life in the second.

The abrupt shift from the first half of the film to the second is jarring. The first half is all exposition and dialog, which sets up basically nothing for the second half, except for the fact that Stuntman Mike is a serial killer. The second half of Death Proof is all car chases and action, and is the most gripping part of the whole Grindhouse experience.

Overall, Grindhouse is just plain awesome. It might be big and dumb, allowing little room for nuance and artistry, but it is fun. In fact, I think I used the phrase “off the chain” when describing this movie to a friend. Yeah, it’s stupid, but it also works wonderfully, just like Grindhouse.

Exploitation ain’t what it used to be

Grindhouse film, as a genre, is supposed to be everything “good” people hate. It makes extreme violence, racism, sexism, among many other horrible “isms,” a source of aesthetic joy. It wallows in human shit, the suffering and destruction in our world, and at the end of the proverbial tunnel finds nothing but a few laughs (or a few dead bodies). It is art at a low form, playing exactly to the basest carnal desires of our entertainment. Yes! I want to see that guy’s head get blown off! And yes, I want to laugh as the blood drains down the walls.

Maybe that’s over thinking it all a bit much. I love grindhouse movies because they are simple, repulsive products… and you know what? That’s enough. Here are some of my favorites of the genre, the classics of sleaziness, debauchery and downright hate.

Kung-fuExecutioners from Shaolin

So this film, by kung-fu pioneers the Shaw Brothers, is about dudes in ancient China who want to kill each other. Like most movies of this ilk, it’s about clans battling each other for power or authority, generally making a film where there needs to be a lot of fights. Someone dies, someone else needs to avenge their death and so on and so forth. What makes this film notable is the crazy scene where the evil master Pei Mei grabs people using his crotch (!!?!). It’s not really an effective fighting maneuver, but it sure is weird.


Blaxploitation star Pam Grier was in many of the genre-defining films of the ’70s, framing what it meant to be a strong black woman who will kick your ass. In Coffy, she does just that, blasting her shotgun on the way to the top dope peddler in New York. This film is a great measure of grindhouse versatility, because it has so many trademarks of the genre. Gore-inflected murders, gratuitous nudity, a funky soundtrack, not to mention a distinctly ’70s-esque sleaziness, Coffy is a good primer in grindhouse film.

HorrorZombie (Zombi 2 in Europe)

When talking about horror movies within grindhouse cinema, director Lucio Fulci is an important name to remember. Zombie is great not because of the acting, but because of the wicked-awesome gore factor. Oh yeah, and a zombie battles a shark! For no reason! This film is what would happen if a 12-year-old with a penchant for excessive violence were allowed to create a movie. It doesn’t really tell a story as much as it showcases some really hilariously sweet sequences. Eye gouging, nudity and blood, oh my.