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Grindhouse presents Planet Terror & Death Proof
2-Disc Extended and Unrated Special Editions - 2007 (2007) - The Weinstein Company (Geniuis Products)

DVD reviews by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Grindhouse presents Planet Terror: 2-Disc Extended and Unrated Special EditionGrindhouse presents Death Proof: 2-Disc Extended and Unrated Special Edition

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Film Rating (Planet Terror): B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B


Film Rating (Death Proof): B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C-


It's not really fair to review either of these two films without mentioning the other, so why not save you the time and me the energy and just look at these two films together, huh? At the end of the day, DVD-wise at least, there's not much difference.

So first, a little fact about a member of our writing staff; a fella I hold in very high regard and actually consider a member of my immediate family. Wanna know what it is? I'll tell you. The good Dr. Adam Jahnke is an elitist snob.

I know, he doesn't seem that way by looking at the films he writes about - any and all cult, foreign and Z-grade monster movie will slink its way into his column in some form or fashion. You'd think he'd be open to just about any film as long as it proclaimed itself cinema in any way, shape or form. But believe me - he's a snobby little bitch. Why do I lay this accusation upon his already massive shoulders? Well, amongst the many films he simply loves (and it's a lot - seriously, have a conversation with him about the cinema of Miike, Tourneur and Fuller, and you'll know this guy eats, sleeps and dreams about some of the greatest cult films of this or any generation) are a handful he hates with the most acidic venom of any person I know and for whatever reason, Planet Terror and Death Proof are the highest on his hate list. You'd think they would be completely up his alley. On any given night, you'll find Jahnke at the Egyptian in Hollywood or catching a double at the famed New Beverly - two notorious cult flick dumping grounds. But noooooo; he hates these two films. And it's not the acting, the length, the cinematography or even the aged stylizations so many people complained about when complaining about these flicks. For the life of me, I can only think of one reason he hates these movies so much: because they only resemble classic grindhouse fare on the surface. Other than that, everything about them is very much a product of their respective filmmaker's ego. And that, my friends, pisses Jahnke off; because in paying tribute to these grindhouse films, they thumb their noses at them at the same time. Is Jahnke wrong to hate them? No. He's actually right, and it's kinda cute to see him rant about them (corner him at Comic-Con this year and get him going - it'll be fun). I just would have thought that if anyone would love them for what they were attempting to accomplish, it would be Dr. Jahnke. They seem made for him.

Okay, on to the movies themselves. Death Proof is a Car Flick - plain and simple. Oh, but it's also a Serial Killer/Girls in Peril flick. Both of those genres are very much grindhouse. Mashed together into one film, with more dialogue than an 90s Gen-Xer film about relationships, and it's something that could only come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino. Is that a bad thing? Not really. But it's not a great thing either.

Oh, here's another thing about Jahnke: he is also an ardent traditionalist. Grindhouse films should cost nothing to make. These two films spent more on DAILY catering than most grindhouse films cost to distribute. And sadly, that gloss is up there on the screen. You can add all the flicker, grain, scratches and lint that you want, but this is still a good looking flick. Simply calling it 'grindhouse' doesn't necessarily make it so.

I dunno... I feel like I'm getting off subject. Let me tell you what each one is about, and since we're already talking Death Proof, we'll start with Death Proof. Death Proof follows a shady guy named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), who drives around in a badass muscle car and kills girls. He's probably impotent. The first set of girls he sets up are straight out of the "Girls In Peril" genre. It's usually a group of lovely girls and stupid male arm candy, who are getting ready to spend some time up in the woods at a cabin with sex-a-plenty, weed and booze. So in comes Stuntman Mike, who eyes the girls and we just know he's going to go up into the woods following quietly behind them and stalk and kill each and every one of those horny co-eds until only one remains - the smart money being on the hot but smart Vanessa Ferlito aka "Butterfly." But right before the horror film can start, Tarantino decides to switch gears on us and shitcans that whole movie in one gory flash, and instead turns the film into a standard car chase flick more in league with Vanishing Point or Two Lane Blacktop. Hopefully, you won't be scratching your head wondering what the f**k happened, otherwise you may miss one of the best car chases ever filmed wrapped into this sequence. There's also a nice twisty end that will put a smile on your face - but it's all sound and fury signifying, uh... nothing, to quote my high school English teacher. Death Proof is all about QT sitting in his director's chair, whipping it out and stroking it for the entire world to see. Kill Bill was equally masturbatory, but at least it gave us some story to follow and a hero to root for. Here, it's like Quentin had two ideas and Robert said, "Dude, do 'em both. That would be killer." And Quentin said, "You know what, I AM a genius! I can make it work." Problem is, he didn't. Sure, he gives us a bunch of cool sequences and some fun scenes with hip dialogue and a wicked camera trick or two, but without that cohesive story, it's only frustratingly unwatchable at the end of the day instead of fully immersive. I liked it when I saw it in the theater, and I liked it when I saw it on DVD. But a problem is a problem, and this film has it's share. When sitting down to try and defend the kills to Jahnke, I realized I only liked "things" about it. But I liked so many "things" about Death Proof that I tricked myself into thinking I liked the whole movie. And you yourself may end up liking a lot of it and end up liking it as a whole as well. But the truth is the truth, and Death Proof isn't a very good film or a great grindhouse flick. It just is what it is... for better or for worse. And for Quentin to think that's enough is a shame, because he should know better. Don't shit on a plate and call it a waffle. There are plenty of fecalphiliacs who will love it and say "Oh golly gosh Mr. Tarantino, thank you sooo much for this wonderful meal." But it's still a piece of shit on a plate.

Damn, with all this talk of bodily fluids, this must be what it feels like when Harry Knowles writes a review. Maybe I should tell you guys how I started my day. “So my very good friend Robert Rodriguez called me this morning and said..."

Speaking of ol' Double R, let's jump into his entry: Planet Terror. Planet Terror is the more over the top, straight ahead "Monsters Are Among Us" flick. More often than not in this genre, the Monsters happen to be zombies, and for all intents and purposes that's what RR used here. These zombies are less Romeroesque and owe more to the modern definition of "infected," "violent" and "fast" types of zombie.

So let me break away here and just say for a second: F**k you MTV, with all your fast cutting, shaky cam and high gloss. You finally killed the zombie genre. Hope you're happy.

Anyway, Planet Terror is about a small town in Texas that gets an outbreak of a mutant virus that corrupts the human organism so fast that your mind doesn't know your body is dead, and so you turn into a walking dead person hungry for... flesh? Or something else. Maybe you're just pissed. It's never really explained what this virus does exactly - just that a black ops military group needs it to stay alive because they were exposed to it while killing Osama Bin Laden. I guess. Hey, is that a large breasted woman with a machine gun for a leg? Sweeeeeeeeeeet. Explosions are cool.

Now, is Planet Terror a bad film? Nope, far from it actually. It's stupid fun, and it embraces a certain 80s drive-in film vibe, but it doesn't quite catch any sort of grindhouse vibe. Grindhouse is very specific as a genre, and this isn't really grindhouse. It's more like a John Carpenter film you discover on VHS as a teen. Well, if Carpenter fell off a motorcycle, and suffered severe head trauma but still kept making movies. You know, it's just that the movies he made seemed... kinda off. And don't listen to QT and RR drone on about how this is the best "John Carpenter film he never made" - it's no where close to being a best, great or even good Carpenter film. Although, come to think of it, Bill, Jahnke and I did get the pleasure of watching a sequence at Comic-Con a few years ago with the temp music pulled from Escape from New York and it worked really well. Rodriguez hinted at the panel that he was in talks with Carpenter to score the film with original music, but I guess that fell through. No mention of this factual nugget is too be found on the disc's special features.

Speaking of, the special features are a little bit of bait and switch, especially for Death Proof. There's a lot of stuff on these discs to be sure, yet there really isn't anything of value (save for the commentary track on Planet Terror). Most of the rest of it, in fact... actually, scratch that: ALL of the rest of it is fluffy EPK pablum and a seriously missed opportunity.

Let's break tradition and talk extras foist, and we'll start with Death Proof.

Spread across two discs, Death Proof is the fluffier of the two sets. Disc One has only a handful of things: the Death Proof international trailer, which goes out of its way in showcasing the film as its own entity, which we shouldn't forget was for international audiences (especially after the double feature angle flopped so hard). You also get a stills gallery of images focused mainly on poster art and lobby cards from the European and Asian markets, where the film played on its own card. For the marketing fan, you'll also find a collection of trailers for Planet Terror's international release, as well as such similar gems as Black Sheep, 1408 and Feast.

It's with Disc Two where you find the more meaty extras. And if you like your meat from an all-you can eat buffet, you might be happy. But friends, I'm here to tell you, I'm a Morton's man.
All of these extras are featurettes done up more like EPK footage and "how great is this?" talking head stuff. It's interesting for sure, but it's not new, nor is it cool, and I for one thought that both of those words would have come up when reviewing these discs. Sadly, they don't. Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof focuses on... yes... the stunt driving featured in the film. Lots of behind-he-scenes stuff, lots of congratulatory interviews. Yawn. Introducing Zoe Bell is a session of "car waxing" as P.T. Anderson calls it. Zoe is cute as a button, and I love her more every time I see her, but this is just a bunch of nothing. It's like a Double Dare extra feature more than a grindhouse extra. Kurt Russell As Stuntman Mike is another wax job, this time over Kurt "MFin' Snake Plissken" Russell. I love him, you love him, everyone loves him. I don't need a 10-minute featurette reminding me of that. Finding Quentin's Gals is an orgy of car waxing. Oh Lord, I'm not even going to go into it. Frankly, at 21 minutes or so, maybe 5 minutes is useful to a fan - the rest is just mouths moving open and closed with nothing coming out. The Guys of Death Proof is a bit shorter (since there aren't as many guys in this film) but it's equally boring. Now, Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke is a featurette where I could have used more than the 5-minute running time. Hearing about how the two work together is what should have been focused on, not how cool, hot or funny the cast was. This featurette also shows a really fun bit of clips where cast and crew say hello to Sally before and after takes, knowing she's going to be the one who sees it. Finally, it may be just me, but I think Elizabeth Winstead is a doll, so the Uncut Version of Baby It's You Performed By Elizabeth Winstead is essentially viewing. She can sing, and she can wear a cheerleader outfit. Even if she can't cook, she may be the perfect woman. I mean, hell... I can cook. I don't need that. Anyway, this piece is what it says it is: Winstead singing the entire song in the car with Stuntman Mike doing his thing. Creepy but better than most stuff on this disc. Oh, and I almost forgot - you'll also find the trailer for Double Dare, the documentary mentioned above that focuses partly on Zoe Bell and the queen of stuntmen, Jeannie Epper. If you haven't seen it, shame on you. It's awesome.

Death Proof comes to us in its original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. All the fake grain and print damage is here. This is the International Cut of the film, adding in a few pieces here and there, and giving us the lap dance sequence "missing" from the double feature American theatrical version. The transfer is actually very, very good with nice definition, strong color representation and nil edging. Sound is a straight Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, in English, French and Italian. The mix is quite good (especially during the second half car stuff) and it does its job well. All the hiss, pops and flubs are preserved here and don't distract at all. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Planet Terror's supplements are a bit more worthwhile, but not that much. Done up much like Death Proof, with extras spread over two discs, the notable exception is a really nice commentary track from writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor/composer Robert Rodriguez. Considering he did all the above jobs - he has a lot to say. Disc One also has a waste of space: an Audience Reaction Track. You'll listen to it for a second and turn it off. Also like Death Proof, the disc is topped off with an International trailer for Planet Terror amongst others.

The second disc is where they put all of the featurettes. The only one of value is the 10 Minute Film School with Robert Rodriguez, where the maestro explains once again how he works, giving us examples of special effects work and further touring his extensive home studio. The guy is awesome. I hate him so much. Following a trend set up in Death Proof, there's the not very informative and very fluffy The Badass Babes of Planet Terror and The Guys of Planet Terror. You want waxing, they have waxing. Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror looks at the stunt work in the film. There's requisite behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews with cast and crew to be found here. Casting Rebel is all about Rodriguez casting and working with his son, and some discussions of how the process worked - especially since the character Rebel plays has a not-so-slight gun mishap. It's cute how they got around explaining heavy issues with the young boy. This featurette is actually pretty watchable. Finally there's The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent, a featurette where Rodriguez tells us how he cast three friends and associates in the film. No discussion on what their real jobs are though. See, there's just not a whole lot of good stuff on this set. Insulting us even more, there's a on-screen card telling us that the double R cooking lesson that shows up in all of his special editions will appear on the double feature edition. Apparently, they knew before-hand that this was going to be the not-so-special edition.

Planet Terror is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic and it looks like shit. That's a compliment, by the way. This movie is supposed to look like hell... and it works. In terms of the transfer, colors are solid, detail is strong and blacks are deep. It's a good-looking flick in its way. Sound is in the same format at Death Proof: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and Spanish, subtitles in English and Spanish. Sound design is a key element of this film, and you get plenty of play in all of your speakers. It's a fun film to play at home, even if it's philosophically frustrating.

So I think we now know... Jahnke isn't wrong to hate these films. For him, this SAT question would be true: "Ironic (the song by Alaniss) is to the definition of irony what Grindhouse the movie is to the grindhouse genre." When it's all said and done, neither film will win any awards unless Fan, Spike or MTV is somewhere in the Award Show's name. But will these DVDs win awards? Not good ones at any rate. I just wanted more. A LOT more. And better. Maybe I'll get it when the double feature version comes out on Blu-ray or something.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com
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