EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE

EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE

As is my usual mode of operation, I showed up at the theatre before it even opened. First in line … if there had been a line. The outside of the theatre was a mess due to renovations, but inside of the theatre made the disaster outside look positively inviting. Discarded soda bottles littered the floor and torn out sections of the wall exposed wood and wiring to any who cared to see. A sign begged patrons to excuse the mess because the theatre owners were adding a couple new screens to the current array. (Hey, when there’s this much crap coming out, you need somewhere to show it.) It was the perfect atmosphere to see “”Grindhouse” in.

After emptying my bladder in a bathroom that wouldn’t look too out of place in Baghdad after a truck bomb has gone off, I took a seat in the empty theatre and listened to Green Day being pumped through the house speakers. As the seats began to fill up, I decided to do some people watching while waiting for my friends.

The first man I noticed looked a lot like William H. Macy. He brought along his eleven-year-old son, who seemed quite excited at the prospect of seeing people melting on screen. Gotta admire that.

The next person who caught my eye was Jittery Guy. I go back some ways with Jittery Guy. He was a customer at the comic book store I used to work at, and had the worst taste in comics (anything with Lady Death and any crap horror books). These days he frequents Borders, reading all the horror movie mags. (He also has horrible taste in horror movies. He once asked me if I was going to see “”Urban Legend.” I kind of laughed about it, and when I recommended a foreign horror film to him, he looked aghast that I would even suggest such a thing.) Jittery Guy is a little creepy. He’s bald, except for this wild halo of white and black hair that makes him look like he stepped out of an Ed Wood film. He always wears the same tan jacket on a daily basis (no matter the weather), and I have never seen him with a girlfriend (though at “”Grindhouse” he was with two women old enough to be his mother, which one of them may have been). As I sat there waiting for the film to begin, I imagined that all his sexual experiences involved hollow, unsatisfying meetings with hookers that ended soon after one ripped him off. (“”I’ll make all those slut cows pay,” he says as he stabs his pillow with a steak knife. “”You aren’t pink there, there or there!”)

Anyway, Jittery Guy was present, as were two older men behind me trying to be cool by riffing off some facts about the movie we were about to see. To solidify their coolness, one had to approach me when I took my jacket off, exposing a Misfits t-shirt. He wanted to see the shirt, comment on how “”killer” it was and then say, “”I like the Misfits, too.” I just nodded. I didn’t really care, and I didn’t want to get into a discussion. I am not impressed by such blatant acts that are meant to convey one’s “”coolness,” and the people who go out of their way to connect like that usually end up annoying me.

Finally, my friends appeared. Originally it was just going to be myself and Celebrity Watchdog George Anthony Watson taking in the show. We last saw “”Hostel” together, and he really didn’t enjoy that film very much. He spent portions of it making weird, sick groaning sounds like some creature out of a H.P. Lovecraft story that would dwell in the dripping darkness of some long forgotten tunnel. The day before we were supposed to see the film he told me that a girl with a meat fetish would be joining us, and at the last minute a mutual co-worker decided that a group of three would be better if it were four. I didn’t care, though. I’m not much into watching films with groups of friends, but I liked all these people, and I was seated on the aisle so that I wouldn’t be caught in any cross conversations.

Let the show begin.

When all was said and done, I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing. Quentin Tarantino’s piece was a bit self-indulgent, but was great when it fired on all cylinders. Robert Rodriguez seemed to be having more fun with the entire project, which was to everyone’s benefit, and Eli Roth’s “”Thanksgiving” trailer was an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon brought to life. I’m not sure I’d want to see that film if it really existed (it’s kind of one-note), but I’ll be damned if that trailer didn’t have me laughing out loud at its excesses. The audience seemed to love it, too. The mutual co-worker who sat next to me, a man who turns red if you say “”penis” in his presence, let out a loud exclamation at the final scene of the trailer (unexpected sodomy can do that to a man). In response, I loudly stated, “”That’s just like the dream you told me you had.” I don’t know if he found that funny.

The final verdict? It deserved to be fourth at the box office the opening weekend, though I had no desire to see any of the films that came in ahead of it. And that’s okay. It was a long movie that didn’t get as many showings as the other films, and it was geared toward a bit of a specialized audience. For someone like me, however, a guy who loves exploitation films, it could only be a bit of a letdown. Sure, the special effects were better and the deaths pretty inventive, but a film needs more than that. “”Death Proof” had far too much dialogue, which was padding in many exploitation films, but the way it was used here was pure Tarantino (complete with a scene that mirrored “”Reservoir Dogs”). “”Planet Terror” was more on the mark, but kind of gave the audience an all-knowing wink from time to time. Instead of taking the best elements of the films before it and expanding upon them, “”Grindhouse” came across as more of a parody at times, and I wasn’t too fond of that.

Tarantino did it best with the two “”Kill Bill” films. He set out to make a revenge film that was an homage to all the films he loved, and he did it perfectly. The story, while taking elements from just about every hallmark grindhouse/exploitation genre in existence, was also its own entity and never tried to mock that which created it. There weren’t any moments that were painfully self-aware, and the dialogue wasn’t nearly as out of place as at least two of the scenes in “”Death Proof.” So what happened to Tarantino?

I think Tarantino didn’t have enough time to do the film he wanted. The running time just wouldn’t let him, so he kept in everything he thought was cool and let the chips fall where they may. What you want to see is Kurt Russell. What you get is girls talking about boys. Not good for a movie about a psycho who kills girls with his car.

What Rodriguez got right or wrong is of less concern to me. Not that he doesn’t matter, but I think his career has been a bit spottier than Tarantino’s. His movies are fun to watch, but none stick with me like Tarantino’s.

For all my complaints, though, I’ll still buy the DVD because I’ll want to see everything that was missing from the theatre. I know I’m a fool, but I feel that the trailers alone are worth the price of a DVD. “”Werewolf Women of the SS”? I want to see that. “”Don’t”? Yep. “”Machete”? I heard that’s actually coming out.

The days of the grindhouse are truly over. Every once in a while a film will filter through that will recall those exciting days of exploitation films (“”Hostel” is one that I contend did that), but the era is truly a done deal. Movie theatres don’t cater to sleaze anymore. As a society we’ve become too politically correct, too sensitive, and we believe we’ve become too sophisticated. (We haven’t, but we do love our delusions.) If anyone could’ve brought them back, though, it was the people associated with the “”Grindhouse” movie. They didn’t, and that was to be expected. Now it’ll be another ten years or so before the current crop of independent directors who love this stuff have earned their keep grunting away in the pits before they’ll get a chance to hit the mainstream theatres. Will it be too late? Yeah, but I’ll be watching anyway.




Posted on April 18, 2007 in Blogs by
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3 Comments on "EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE"

  1. Felix Vasquez Jr. on Wed, 18th Apr 2007 8:54 am 

    Cool! A companion piece to my blog!

    A few points of response:

    When all was said and done, I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing. Quentin Tarantino’s piece was a bit self-indulgent, but was great when it fired on all cylinders.

    I won’t deny it was smug in some areas, but I enjoyed it much more than “Planet Terror.” Rodriguez seemed to satire the grindhouse experience in some ways, while Tarantino approached it with a straight face.

    and Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” trailer was an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon brought to life.

    Great indeed, I just wish all his films were that good or watchable.

    The audience seemed to love it, too.

    Oddly, the small group I was in at the theater dug them all. They thought Werewolf Women of the SS was so absurd. The sight of a werewolf firing a gun was hilarious to them, the Thanksgiving trailer they loved, and the trailer for “Don’t!” made them roar.

    “Grindhouse” came across as more of a parody at times, and I wasn’t too fond of that.

    I disagree with that. Tarantino just seemed to really head straight into this sick habit of a serial killer, and his comeuppance more with a sterner tone. The movie was at times smug, but I thought he gave us a better approach than Rodriguez, even though “Planet Terror” was excellent as well.

    Tarantino did it best with the two “Kill Bill” films. He set out to make a revenge film that was an homage to all the films he loved, and he did it perfectly.

    With A LOT of dialogue, too.

    What you want to see is Kurt Russell. What you get is girls talking about boys. Not good for a movie about a psycho who kills girls with his car.

    Actually, I felt that Tarantino objectified the first group of women exposing their flaws and inherent stupidity in the eyes of Mike. How could we NOT expect their deaths? Where as the next women were much less focused on and for good reason. Mike didn’t know what he was up against.

    For all my complaints, though, I’ll still buy the DVD because I’ll want to see everything that was missing from the theatre.

    Same here, I can’t wait.

    (“Hostel” is one that I contend did that)

    I’d dispute that claim.


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  2. Heather on Thu, 13th Sep 2007 12:06 pm 

    Tthere seem to be two types when it comes to Grindehouse… Those who liked Death Proof and those that liked Planet Terror. Me, I found Death proof to be an irritatingly crappy movie that is the worst of everything Tarantino has done. The repetative quality of the pointless dialogue made me want to kill myself…I mean…how many times do I have to sit through another movie with girls talking like guys about sex. Not interesting at all and completely over done. The only interesting parts of this movie was the final chase scene….and Rose Mcgowan’s death scene. So, to me…Death Proof was really only a 20 minute movie at best. I am one of those people who loved Planet Terror. Perhaps it was the fact the Rodriguez actually managed to capture some of the true feel of a grindehouse movie (Tarantino couldn’t seem to stomach marring the look of his film with more than a few artistically placed scratches). Who knows, really. It’s more a matter of taste. In the long run…neither of these films were really grindehouse movies. They had huge production values and the flaws were strategically placed through out. Tarantino should have known better…but even he can make a crappy movie.


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  3. zupakomputer on Wed, 23rd Jan 2008 8:26 am 

    Why are the trailers not on the fucking DVDs? Not everyone has informationsuperhighway fucking internet speeds and the multi-GB download allowances that are needed to get DVD-quality video (and audio) at proper-sized TV screen size and frame rate.


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